The last time I thought about Petr Cajanek, it was October 2007. That was the day we learned he was leaving the United States to play in Russia after the Blues made him their first player to get a contract buyout. That was the last time I thought of the buttery-soft center, that is until Wednesday night when he skated next to Jaromir Jagr on the Czech Republic's top line in the Vancouver Olympics. I was shocked too.
Cajanek was an eighth-round pick of the Blues back in 2001. In three seasons sandwiched around the lockout, Cajanek played in 269 games and scored 153 points, 107 coming on assists. He was a decent defensive forward but was one of just a few skill forwards on the team when the Blues finished last in the NHL in 2005-06. But even on that squad of misfits and rejects, the team was never happy with him. He was making $2 million a year, not exactly a huge salary even in the salary cap era, but he didn't seem to be earning it. The guy always looked confused, hesitant, out of it, apathetic. Maybe it was a language thing. Maybe he didn't like playing on the smaller ice surface of the NHL. Maybe people got weirded out by the spelling of his first name (Petr Sejna was a can't miss prospect who missed hard. Coincidence?). Who knows.What was clear was that it wasn't going to work here in St. Louis.
At the beginning of the 2007-08 season, the Blues sent him down to Peoria. They did this with the single goal of calling him back up and having him pass through re-entry waivers. The thought was another team might see some value in a 40-something point guy for just $1 million. And not one team claimed him. So they basically cut him, buying out his contract. He immediately returned to Europe and signed with the AK Bars Kazan team in Russia. He scored 33 points in 33 games. He's also played for the Dynamo in Moscow and is currently on the roster for SKA in the KHL. In 49 games this season, Cajanek has 41 points at age 34. Good for him.
I will never say the Blues gave up on him too soon. He was old when he was drafted (25) and had some issues with performing in the NHL. In Europe, he's a reliable offensive player. I can't believe he's on a line with the 38-year-old Jagr (who has a mullet again!). I get the feeling that if he had stayed in North America, he would have been beaten down and might not be in a position to play such a key role for his country.
So if the Czech Republic earns a medal, the Blues should get an assist.