Thursday, February 25, 2016

Armstrong believes in current roster

Blues GM addressed media with NHL Trade Deadline set for 
Monday, reaffirms willingness to keep pending UFA Backes in fold

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is like his 29 counterparts in the League leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline, which will come to an end Monday at 2 p.m. (CT).

Armstrong is listening and he's talking. But as it stands, it will be hard-pressed for the Blues to make any major transactions to their roster without moving key pieces off of it because the Blues are pressed up against the salary cap.
Blues GM Doug Armstrong

And Armstrong, who addressed the media on Thursday prior to the Blues hosting the New York Rangers, made it clear that trading pending unrestricted free agent David Backes "for some form of a draft pick would be an injustice to the players in that room right now."

Armstrong has not ruled out perhaps trading for a backup goalie, which the injury-depleted Blues have been forced into with the recent lower-body injury to Brian Elliott. But unless money can be moved both ways in any potential trade or trades, Armstrong has maintained his stance of wanting to see what the Blues look like with a healthy roster.

Unfortunately, that won't happen before Monday.

"Not a good evaluation about our team getting healthy, but a really good evaluation about the character of our team and the ability to build a little scar tissue," Armstrong said. "I think this is the year we've taken the Cardinals (mantra) 'next man up.' We've lost goaltenders, we've lost defensemen, we've lost centermen, we've lost wingers. I've obviously been in the game a long time. I've been in organizations that have lost five or six guys at a time. What we've had this year is a steady drip of players out starting with (Patrik) Berglund and we've been in a long-term injury, which is a CBA term through the whole year. Every time we think we're going to come out and get a little space with the cap and try to build a little bit of war chest and someone else goes down. It's the level of players are going down that can't be replaced by one player. At different times of the year, you want to carry 21 players and create a little space and not have to carry that 22nd and 23rd player. When you lose a key player, it usually takes two players to replace them. ... It was difficult to gain any traction to gain (cap) space, so we find ourselves now at the trade deadline with long-term injury. It's not going to end until mid-March. That's just the facts and the way the season's gone for us."

As for Backes, the Blues approached him earlier in the season about a potential contract extension. Armstrong's conversations with agent Wade Arnott had merit, but both sides decided to play the season out.

"Right now, I've had a good chat with David and there is no ongoing dialogue," Armstrong said. "We had really good conversations over the summer and the feeling was lets let the year play itself out. He's going to be a big part of what we're doing over the next little while.

"When you go into the season in that format, you're hoping to have a good year and we have had a good year. We've positioned ourselves in a good spot. If we were in the 10th or 11th or 12th spot in the Western Conference, I'd probably be going to him right now and saying, 'Obviously you're an unrestricted free agent. Do you want to go to a contending team?' We are that contending team. We are a team that's in the top part of the NHL."

It appears that there's a belief system in place for the Blues and their management to go towards the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the roster they've assembled. Armstrong won't rule out adding help if it's economically possible. but with the being strapped because of the cap, it's becoming clear that it may be impossible.

So it comes down to getting Elliott, Alexander Steen (upper-body injury), Alex Pietrangelo (knee) and Steve Ott (hamstring), who Armstrong said he wants to sit down and speak with about if or when he can return, back into the lineup.

"They've shown to the world and to the hockey community at least ... you're in fourth place right now with all these injuries," Armstrong said of the Blues. "The reality is you get to the playoffs and you need health and then you need your good players to play well. But you have to go through 'Murderer's Row' here in the Central (Division). That's just the reality of it. If the playoffs started, really any time in the last month, two, three and four in the NHL are all in the Central Division. One of the top four teams, I don't know who it's going to be, is going to be out in the First Round at a minimum. If we get first, Chicago's got to play Dallas. And if one of those two teams gets first, then we've got to play them. Our goal is to stay in that rarefied era of first, second or third and ultimately even with these injuries, our goal is to push for No. 1 and avoid Dallas and Chicago if possible in the first round. But if they're there and we make it, you play the games for a reason too."

Armstrong said that if the Blues are to acquire a backup goalie, it would have to go along the lines of the rest of whatever else they could do: fit it under the cap.

"Well, yes, I think we're obviously going to explore it, but again, I don't want to get into technical parts and bore you, but it has to be a player that can go to the minors when (Elliott) gets back or else we're over the cap," Armstrong said. "Everything just comes back to having a finite amount of money. When we're healthy and not everybody is on LTI, everybody's salaries have to fit into the cap. Guys have to go to the minors when we get healthy, that's just the way it is. I'm actually looking at it as a positive thing. I'd love to have to make a hard decision on sending guys down because we have too many healthy bodies."

And looking into the future when Jori Lehtera's contract raises his cap hit to $4.7 million, pending restricted free agent Jaden Schwartz gets a raise from the $2.35 million cap hit he's at, RFA's Joel Edmundson and Ty Rattie up for raises, Backes brought back, the Blues have a trickle-down effect that plays into this equation.

"Yeah, it is a trickle-down effect. The salary cap next year, I have some indications what we think it's going to be," Armstrong said. "I'm not at liberty to say what it is, but we're going to have to try to slice that pie up as evenly as possible with keeping as many people as happy as possible. But the reality is, we saw this year that the cap didn't increase to the level ... this is the first year that there's really been a salary cap in the NHL, meaning every year we thought there was going to be something that was increased revenue that jumped it up $7, 8, 6 million ... now we're just finding it's taking the 5 percent kicker that the players enforce. When that's all that's going in, or if the revenues aren't what they were, that just spruces it up 2 or 3 percent, the pie is only so big. We've made a long-term investment in Alex (Pietrangelo), we've made a long-term investment in (Vladimir) Tarasenko, Schwartz is a player that we have high hopes to stay here for a long time. Yeah, there is a trickle down effect. It could be turning into a league of halves and halve-nots, but that's the system."

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