Leopold Brings Veteran Know-How
When Jordan Leopold dozed off for his pregame nap Saturday afternoon, he did so as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. Waking up was a different story.
It began a 24-hour whirlwind that saw Leopold change teams in a split second. But the newest St. Louis Blues defenseman has been through this routine before, with it being his sixth National Hockey League stop.
The 32-year-old Leopold, traded by the Sabres to the Blues for a 2013 second-round pick and a conditional 2013 fifth-round pick (that can turn into a fourth-round selection should the Blues win a playoff round), got the call from Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier prior to the Sabres facing the Washington Capitals.
"I was pre-game napping yesterday to get ready and play the Capitals," Leopold said after flying in and taking a physical. "I woke up and got a call from Darcy Regier and (he) quickly said, 'I ended up trading you.' … I really didn't sleep (Saturday) night. I think I finally dotted out about 1:30 (a.m. local time). I got up at 4:30 (a.m.). It wasn't a good, quality night of sleep. After two short flights, here I am."
Leopold, who coach Ken Hitchcock said will be in the lineup when the Blues play the Minnesota Wild on Monday night, was able to have dinner with his three daughters, ages 9, 7 and 4. Then it was time to pack his hockey gear and take off to his new adventure, trying to get the Blues (17-14-2) into the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a couple disappointing seasons with the Sabres, who've had high expectations.
"It was a couple tough years," said Leopold, who's in the final season of a three-year, $9-million contract. "You look at last year, and then this year the start we got off to wasn't the way we pictured it. You get to this point of the season, and of course the trade deadline looms. Guys are going to come and go. Of course, UFA's are the first to go. It's just a matter of time to see where I landed and when. I'm really excited to be here."It is a fresh start for Leopold, who's also had stints with Calgary, Colorado, Pittsburgh and Florida. He will wear No. 33 with the Blues.
"I'm really excited," said Leopold, who has two goals and eight points in 24 games this season. "You look at where I just came from and where we are now, we're fighting for a playoff spot. It's a good opportunity for me. Hopefully I can be able to contribute and help the team accomplish that goal."
Leopold, who struggled at the start of the season, was a minus-8 in the first nine games he played. But he is plus-2 over his last 15 games and has four points in eight games since returning from an upper-body injury.
"When you get moved, you can't look at the team didn't want you," Leopold said of his situation with the Sabres, who are struggling at 13-17-6. "You have to look at the new (team) looking forward … the new team really wanted you, and it's true. It's a fresh start for guys. This is a fresh start for me. I got off to a rough start this year in Buffalo and ended up playing my best hockey when I came back from injury a few weeks ago. I look to just step in here and do what I've been doing lately."
Hitchcock plans to insert Leopold into the lineup playing alongside Kevin Shattenkirk, and if it needs adjustment the team will plan accordingly.
"He's a steady, kind of multi-dimensional defenseman," Hitchcock said of Leopold, who has played with David Backes, Scott Nichol and Chris Stewart on previous teams. "He's good on the power play, either in a 2-1-2 or 1-3-1 setup. Either way, he's fine. He's played both in Buffalo.
"He's very good at transitioning the puck. He closes. He's got good mobility at closing defensively 5-on-5. … He's got good transition speed, he's got good transition instincts. He sees the ice really well. He's a steady guy that's going to really help us."
"He was one of the vocal leaders for the short time I was in Colorado," Stewart said of Leopold, his teammate during the 2008-09 season. "He's a veteran guy who can make plays. I think he keeps the game easy. He doesn't try to do anything that's out of his personality. That veteran presence is definitely going to help down the stretch.
"He's one of those guys you don't notice in the game, but when you check the scoresheet, he had a goal and an assist and probably was a plus-2. He's going to log some quality minutes for us."
With Blues general manager Doug Armstrong making the trade for Leopold, it's an indication St. Louis, which woke up Monday morning in ninth place, one point behind Columbus for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference, is in fact going to do whatever it can to solidify its position and go for it.
"We've never doubted that we're out of this," Shattenkirk said. "I know Army feels the same way. He obviously has a lot of faith in this team. We all believe in this team. To see a move like that, it's a good sign.
"It makes you feel confident, and it's something that we need. I think it's going to work out well."
For Shattenkirk, he'll do whatever's necessary to try and get acclimated with his new partner after pairing with Wade Redden in recent games.
"It takes a little time, without a doubt," Shattenkirk said. "It's hard for me to say, because I'm going to be the young guy and he's going to be the experienced one. It's a tough situation there to be talking to him, but just try to talk through as many plays as we can, as many plays as we can go through. Once you get that communication level down, I think that's where the chemistry really starts."
Leopold, who has 65 goals and 202 points in 610 career games, will try and do his part.
"My game is moving the puck and getting it to the guys that can do something with it, getting out of our own end and playing some good defense and being able to contribute on the other end if the situation arises," Leopold said. "I try to keep things pretty simple. I'm not a flashy player. I try to complement my d-partner and make him better out there."