Doug Armstrong has been in charge of the St. Louis Blues for 12 years, making him the second longest-serving general manager in the NHL. While he’s not sure what to do with his team this season, he does know one thing.
“I’ve never been part of a group with such a variety of games and results,” Armstrong told Sportzshala over the weekend. “Our peaks are high and our valleys are low. And we quickly get to both.”
The Blues have had a very dramatic start to the season. A franchise-record eight-game losing streak was followed by a seven-game winning streak.
Along the way, the Blues exhibited some bad habits, such as allowing a one-goal deficit to quickly turn into two or three. They have also staged incredible returns such as Saturday; Losing 4-1 early in the third period, St. Louis stunned Florida with an overtime win.
“I know what our identity has been in the past and I don’t think this team has an identity yet,” Armstrong said. “This is one of the challenges our coaches are facing right now. You spend a quarter of the season and you still haven’t found anything to hang your hat on and say, “This is what a good game looks like.”
With an average age of over 28, the Blues are the eighth oldest player in the NHL. And they’ll have big decisions to make soon: The two highest paid players (captain Ryan O’Reilly and winger Vladimir Tarasenko, tied for $7.5 million each) will both become unrestricted free agents this summer.
But for now, Armstrong is showing patience despite his team hovering around .500 in the competitive Central Division. With tenure comes perspective, and Armstrong knows how to weather the storm. During an extensive conversation, the Blues’ general manager explained why seismic shifts are unlikely this season and rebuilding is not on the team’s plans anytime soon.
Quarter mark too early to panic
Back to the 2019 Stanley Cup. The Blues had their worst record in the league in January and have already undergone a coaching change, replacing Mike Yeoh with Craig Berube. Last summer, the team acquired several big free agents: O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, Pat Maroon, David Perron.
“A lot of experts thought we were a strong team, a Cup team, but we didn’t play like that,” said Armstrong. “We wanted to be careful not to throw the baby out with the water. Good players have bad years. I learned this early in my career from Bob Gainey. not everything will be remembered. You don’t want to make a mistake out of frustration.”
While touring the Western Conference, a shift began shortly before Christmas. “We didn’t win games, but we started playing really well,” Armstrong recalled. “It didn’t feel like we were turning a corner, but inside it felt like we were turning a corner. Jordan Binnington came in January and after that was the storybook season.”
Most noise is just noise
Every Blues player, including captain O’Reilly, saw his name in the trade rumors. Armstrong laughs and says he has learned to live with white noise.
“People just come up with things that they think will work because they want to play with GM,” Armstrong said. “I’m not sure how many deals that were made up actually materialized. You know that people have work to do – whether it’s on TV or radio every day or on Saturday nights. society, and we, as managers, players and owners, must understand this.”
When asked specifically about O’Reilly, Armstrong said, “At the end of the day, he’s a good player and he’s been a good player for us for a long time. a month or two, he should be a big part of it.”
The trading market is actually not that reliable
“I don’t even know the last time there was a shake-up,” Armstrong said. “Out of season. And in the off-season, for me, these are forced contract deals or deals to change direction. Not the “I want to get people’s attention” deal.
Since the Blues won the Cup four years ago, roughly two-thirds of the league’s general managers have come into office as rookies. Unfamiliarity reduces the likelihood of making franchise-changing deals, Armstrong said. There is also the aspect of risk aversion.
“I think it’s easy for managers, myself included, to say, ‘The salary cap makes trading difficult,’” Armstrong said. “In fact, I just don’t think there is a desire to do these deals like there have been in the past. It has become a seasonal industry where you make a deal on a deal deadline and in the draft. You’re always communicating with the teams, but it seems like it’s more talk and less action.”
The Blues don’t want to retool or rebuild
“We all have different definitions of what it means to retool or rebuild or whatever, but really it just means you’re taking a step back,” Armstrong said. “For me to take a step back to take two steps forward, I have a vision of what it will look like. But taking eight steps back and trying to get into the top five for the better part of five or six years sounds great. in July, but in January they are not very cheerful. And if you do it year after year, it takes a special market to be able to sustain the income and keep the fans willing to come out and see this team. in the teams that did this, their traffic dropped significantly. When they come back, they will probably have a lot of traffic again, but at the end of the day it’s still business and we still need to put the product on the ice. who can sell tickets.
Armstrong is proud of the team he has created and wants to realize his vision. And there’s one particular reason he thinks the Blues can prevent a rebuild: second-round pick Jordan Cyru (2016) and No. 20 pick Robert Thomas in the first round (2017).
“They both score points per game. If you reformulate these guys, they’ll probably both make the top 10,” Armstrong said. “In my opinion, we went through a rebuild without having to do so because our amateur scouting staff did a good job of getting us competitive players. players, you have players that you’re trying to get into the league.”
Kira is 24 years old. Thomas is 23 years old. They are both signed to an $8.125 million ceiling contract extension that will take effect next season.
“Because we have these building blocks moving forward, we can keep our veterans together and work with the best teams,” Armstrong said. “So I don’t think the rebuilding for us will look the same as it does for other teams. If you just look at these two players, they are too good to always let us go last.”
Parity reigns now more than ever
“Teams that rebuild get better faster than teams that were good get bad,” Armstrong said. “So we all meet in the middle.”
The style of the game has also changed, which has led to even more unpredictability. “Now no lead is safe because defense has become a secondary process for most teams,” he said. “They play on offense – and offense is great when you score, but it poses a threat to the other team when you don’t. It’s an interesting style of hockey, but it creates so much variety from day to day and from team to team.”
And it also created crowded league tables.
“Boston and New Jersey are at the top,” said Armstrong. “Besides that, you have five or six [.500]and four or five under [.500] for 26 teams. The emergence of new teams is good, because we are in the entertainment business. And that’s the beauty of the hat system. Every organization, every owner, every group of fans believe they have to be competitive. But the reality is that half of the teams will not make the playoffs and three-quarters of the teams will make the playoffs within two weeks.”
The Blues are looking for consistency off the bench
Craig Behrub extended his contract by three years in February 2022. This faith has not wavered. After the Blues lost five games in a row earlier this month, Armstrong decided to take care of the media himself and give players and coaches a day off. And during this session, the grandmaster confirmed the confidence of his coaches.
“We weren’t playing very well at the time, and usually calls for a change of coach are the most annoying thing,” Armstrong said. “None of us is immune. Craig took this job, I took this job, and every day we wake up, we’re one day closer to being fired. This is the nature of the beast of our profession, and we accept it. But this is not something we would take lightly.
“I thought it would be good for me to talk about it because we lost five games. If we lost another game or two, I knew it would be narrative. you have to come to terms with this. But also… Craig is a good coach. Like O’Reilly, he has to get us out of this too.”