Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Blues say goodbye to GM after 13 seasons

Pleau steps aside, will remain with club
in some capacity; Armstrong takes over as GM

ST. LOUIS -- Larry Pleau's first transaction as general manager of the Blues came with little or no fanfare.

However, the initial Pleau stamp that brought the Blues defenseman Alexander Godynyuk -- who never wore the Bluenote -- and a 1998 sixth-round pick from Hartford for winger Steve Leach was the first of countless free agent signings, trades, firings and other dealings that challenged Pleau as Blues GM.

But after 13 seasons, Pleau will not be a part of those dealings directly on a regular basis anymore. A new voice will take the place of one that has been a trademark for the Blues since 1997.

The 63-year-old Pleau, the third-longest tenured GM in the National Hockey League behind New Jersey's Lou Lamoriello and Buffalo's Darcy Regier, steped down from his position as Senior Vice President and GM Wednesday. The move has been in the works for some time.

Pleau succeeded Ron Caron on June 9, 1997, becoming the 10th GM in franchise history. Doug Armstrong, the team's vice president of player personnel the last two seasons, officially takes over as GM beginning today.

"It's kind of sad, there's no doubt about it because you've been there for a long time," said Pleau, who saw the Blues win the Presidents' Trophy following the 1999-2000 season and make it to the Western Conference final in 2001. "But we did it for the right things. It's going to give me a lot more time with (his wife) Wendy.

"I've got no complaints, 13 years here, it was a great run," Pleau said.

There have been many transactions that Pleau has made where he either had to absorb the fans' wrath or basked in their approval. The fluxiating mood swings by fans comes with the territory.

There have been memorable deals, such as the signings of Scott Young, Dallas Drake and Barret Jackman along with big-names that came to the Blues in trades: Scott Mellanby, Doug Weight, and Keith Tkachuk to name a few. He also orchestrated trades that seemed insignificant at the time but were crucial for the future that brought the Blues back vital draft picks, a couple that turned into Lee Stempniak and David Backes.

Pleau even brought back Blues radio color analyst Kelly Chase to the franchise via trade, a popular move at the time.

But there were also the unpopular moves, ones where fans were flummoxed to say the least.

There was the trade of popular goalie Grant Fuhr, the firing of coach Joel Quenneville, who recently won the Stanley Cup as coach of the Chicago Blackhawks, allowing Brett Hull to leave as a free agent, which still has some fans stewing and the one Blues fans will never forget: the trade of Chris Pronger to Edmonton that brought Eric Brewer to St. Louis that goes down as one of the, if not most, egregious trades in Blues history.

Unfortunately, Pleau was and is often still seen as the villain of the Pronger trade. In essence, Pleau was forced to capitulate under the ownership of Bill Laurie despite the GM's resistance.

But Pleau was able to work through the PR nightmare and helped a new ownership group, led by Dave Checketts and team president John Davidson, begin to lay a new foundation for Blues hockey moving forward.

"Larry has had one of the most accomplished careers in the history of hockey," said Checketts, who worked with Pleau while the two were in New York together. "He is one of the main reasons this franchise is poised for great success and I am grateful that he will remain with us so we can enjoy the fruits of his labor together going forward."

Pleau signed a two-year extension in 2008 despite health issues with wife Wendy, which turned out to be cancer.

There's no doubt Pleau can still make a difference on the job, but growing concerns over his wife's health was the primary reason for the decision at that time. And even though Wendy Pleau is in remission today, the opportunity to spend more time with his wife and eventually become more of a grandfather to three grandchildren played into effect.

"She still has things she's dealing with, but from a year ago, it's a 100-, 200-degree turn ... just a huge reversal," Pleau said of his wife. "It has a lot to do with everyone around here, the team and the fans, all the support. Without that, she couldn't do what she was doing."

The Blues came close a couple times to competing for the Stanley Cup during Pleau's tenure, but they were shocked in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs in 2000, losing a seven-game series against No. 8 San Jose and then falling to Colorado in five games in the Western Conference final in 2001.

They haven't come close since.

"You just would have liked to have won the Cup," Pleau said.

Pleau will not ride off into the sunset, though. He will remain with the Blues in some capacity yet to be determined. Pleau's made it a smooth transition for Armstrong, who spent 17 seasons in the Dallas Stars organization -- the last six as the Stars' GM. He's open to whatever role he may play going forward.

"Whatever the involvement is, I'm looking forward to it," Pleau said. "We're going to stay in St. Louis for a while anyway, and I would love to be able to stay involved."

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