Like 2019, Armstrong keeping faith in current team,
which has won three in a row, back in playoff position
By LOU KORAC
Doug Armstrong is a believer.
Doug Armstrong is a believer.
The Blues' general manager has shown that belief in his players in the past, most specifically in 2019 when the Blues marched to their first Stanley Cup, and he's doing so again even as the Blues only made one move then, acquiring depth defenseman Michael Del Zotto.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong decided to stand pat at Monday's
NHL trade deadline.
The Blues made no moves on trade deadline day on Monday despite rumors swirling around that they could potentially move some of their bigger assets set to become unrestricted free agents, namely Mike Hoffman, Jaden Schwartz and Tyler Bozak, but with the Blues (19-16-6) one point ahead of the Arizona Coyotes for the fourth and final playoff spot in the West Division with a game in hand, it's in the hands that Armstrong and the Blues assembled at the beginning of the season to get the job done with 15 games remaining.
"Each trade deadline has its own uniqueness, but this one certainly with the shortened season, our fluctuation in play, it had our minds going in different directions," Armstrong said. "Certainly the play of the last three games and being in a playoff spot today was a reflection of really deciding to stand pat with this group.
"... Obviously we're in a playoff spot now. We haven't played our best hockey on a consistent basis, one of the things we talked about in a previous call was maybe we're going to get healthy at the right time and get on a roll. Maybe this last three games are an indication of that. As we all know, when we got Tarasenko back and we got Schwartz back, or goals-for sort of dried up and that shouldn't last with that caliber of players in our lineup when you add it to Schenn and Perron and Kyrou, that whole group, I know I'm missing some guys, but I think the goal scoring should continue to pick up. Both goaltenders have played great the last two games, but we're going to need everyone to push through here in these last three or four weeks of the regular season to get into the playoffs and then when you get in, anything can happen, but there's no guarantee that we're going to get in and we're going to have to play and focus every day like it's a life or death situation."
The big name was Hoffman, who the Blues brought in on a one-year, $4 million contract who, before Saturday's two-goal game that helped lead them to a 3-2 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild, was a healthy scratch the previous two games and three of the past six, and it was becoming increasingly evident that perhaps the player didn't fit into the style or system that Blues coach Craig Berube was running for the goal-scoring sniper.
But it all changed with Saturday's reinsertion into the lineup and Robert Thomas being sidelined with a shoulder injury stemming from Friday's injury late in the third period that will keep him out of the lineup for at least a couple weeks.
Or did it?
"Not really," Armstrong said. "We're hoping it's not a long-term injury that he'll be back. I didn't really correlate those two together. Obviously if Thomas didn't get injured and (Hoffman) didn't play, there might have been something different, but when he gets in there and scores a couple goals and you know depth is important, I'm not saying it made it easier or harder or different, but he's a guy that we're counting on right now and you move forward with that information."
As was written in this space on Saturday (https://bit.ly/3s8KQts), the Blues need to find a way to utilize the player they already have because this was going to be a tough market to maneuver in due to circumstances involving the shortened season, the COVID-19 situation, the flat cap, and most importantly, the situation every team will face this summer, one in which they don't want to make the mistake of happening when Vegas entered the league in 2017, and that's the expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken.
"Oh for sure, for sure. When you're looking at if you're going to protect three defensemen, seven forwards, OK, if I acquire this player, what's the acquisition price, and then am I going to be able to protect him and what's it costing me on the other side," Armstrong said. "I think everyone has learned a lesson on what Vegas, and I say that with the utmost respect for George McPhee, at that time of sort of manipulating the NHL to work under as the puppet master. I think teams are less likely to have that happen again. I think everyone was a little more cautious of what was coming up at the expansion draft."
The Blues were supposed to face the Wild for a third straight game, but the NHL postponed the game, "out of respect for the community, following the tragic shooting that occurred in Brooklyn Center, Minn., Sunday afternoon."
The game has been rescheduled for May 12 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
They prepared with a morning skate in search of their fourth straight win and feeling good about recent games, including a pair of wins over the Wild (9-1 on Friday and 3-2 in overtime on Saturday).
"We're doing a good job of coming together," forward Zach Sanford said. "We had a tough stretch there, but we were able to stick together and battle out of it and now we're on the winning side last few games. Obviously another huge game tonight against Minnesota and they're all going to be huge from here on. We have to stay focused and stay dialed in. We're going to continue to play some more good hockey."
But the days leading up to trade deadline day has all players on edge feeling nervy. They just want to get past it and focus on hockey.
"It's a crazy day throughout the league," Sanford said before the game Monday was postponed. "I'm sure you guys have heard it all before, it's business and whatever happens, happens. I think for us, it's focus on the game tonight and getting ready for that and worrying about everything else after.
"There's always extra chatter on the side going around, especially on a day like today. For us as players, focus on the game tonight and worry about everything else after that."
The players have to feel a sense of relief that Armstrong will allow them to play this out and see what they can do. Now it's up to them to go out and perform.
"From Day 1, we've felt that we've had the roster that can do big things this year," defenseman Torey Krug said. "Obviously we haven't played up to our standards so far. We're getting close. If we can rally a few of these things off here and take it game by game, we'll be in a position to have a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup. It's definitely a vote of confidence. Any time you have this lineup coming out on the ice, we have a chance to win."
So what led Armstrong to alter course, because he certainly had reason to believe that during the seven-game winless skid (0-6-1) before this three-game winning streak that things weren't trending in the right direction?
"I would start with the goaltending," Armstrong said. "I thought that Ville (Husso) didn't have his best start (in a 6-1 loss to Vegas April 5) and we weren't good in front of him, but ultimately his job is to stop pucks in the Vegas game. At 2-1, that game could have gotten away from us. I thought he made three or four fantastic saves to keep it at 2-1 and then you find a goal. To me, that's how momentum starts. I thought (Jordan) Binnington, not as tested nearly as much in the game before (a 50-save effort in a 3-1 win against Vegas April 7), but came back with a one-goal game. So hopefully our goaltending is starting to play well. I think getting Schwartz, you could feel a collective sigh from himself and when he finally got one, and it wasn't for lack of effort or for lack of opportunities. Maybe the worm is starting to turn with our goal scorers. (Brayden) Schenn's the next guy up on that list and (Jordan) Kyrou to bury one and get us really running."
Armstrong is not one to shy away from being proactive on a day like today, whether he's making moves or not, but it was becoming increasingly evident that he was going to lay the faith at the feet of this team.
"Quite honest with you, when we were sort of in that state of flux, where we certainly didn't look to be buyers partly because of our salary cap -- we didn't have a lot of room," Armstrong said. "But when we were thinking about being sellers, we had a vision of if we were going to do something what we want in return. Quite honestly, I haven't had any meaningful phone calls in almost three days, maybe because if we were doing anything, I probably had a higher value on our own players than other people did."
And with that, the momentum of the past few days certainly changed the mindset of how the Blues were going to attack these past few days.
|(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)|
Mike Hoffman (left), subject of trade rumors, was not dealt by the Blues on
"Well, I certainly hope so. In my own mind, what I was hoping for last Wednesday was we have to get to next Saturday being a meaningful game in Arizona," Armstrong said. "We were five points back with a game in hand, now we're one point up with a game in hand. So the players have done their job of getting to that game because that's the team that we were chasing and now is chasing us. You want to make these games meaningful, and the guys have done a really good job of getting there. Right now we're going to have one or two games depending on tonight's game (being postponed) and then we're going to have a showdown with Arizona - a team that we knew well for 13 or 14 days. I'm looking forward to that game because it's now going to be meaningful regardless of what happens between now and then. But our focus is now on tonight and Colorado. I thought we played a heck of a game - Game 2 in Colorado. I think in Game 1, it was a good game. They scored that goal at the end of the second period that I thought deflated us. And then to come out and play as well as we did the next night, I was really excited for the players that they did find the resolve. It was a really difficult way to lose, a seeing-eye puck that goes in on a deflection. I felt bad for Huss that night, but they way they responded from that is good. Now we've just got to keep playing well."
As for Schwartz, Armstrong's stance hasn't changed. The Blues want to keep him here beyond this season.
"I don't want to get into specifics. We try and keep those things behind closed doors," Armstrong said. "But Jaden is a player that we talked about earlier that is a primary player for us that we'd like to keep here and nothing has changed since then, or until the day that we hopefully get him signed."