Monday, June 6, 2022

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong

ST. LOUIS -- Doug Armstrong will forever be known as the one who orchestrated the phrase, "You need to take the knife and jam it through their eye into their brain and kill them." It's been synonymous with his end-of-year sessions with the Blues following many seasons earlier in his tenure as Blues general manager.

Following his media session last week, it wasn't one of those times. That's because the Blues took steps forward after two straight first-round exits from the Stanley Cup playoffs following the year of winning it all in 2019.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues president of hockey operations and GM Doug Armstrong feels the
team is headed back in the right direction after a strong 2021-22 season.

Everyone knows not only a structured, skilled and talented roster is needed to not only advance in the postseason and win, but luck is needed as well.

The Blues ran into some bad luck when facing the Colorado Avalanche in the second round, after prevailing through some impactful injuries in defeating the Minnesota Wild in the first round, losing your starting goalie when it appeared the Blues could grab the momentum in the second round, along with missing some key pieces on the blue line, wasn't enough to prevail.

And although Armstrong, who completed his 14th season with the organization, will continue to upgrade the Blues roster moving forward in 2022-23, having many of the pieces that produced 109 points in the regular season is a good place to start, so for a change, there may not be much the GM will have to do other than keep some of the pieces he already has, and if he is unable to do that, then there may have to be some important decisions to be made.

Armstrong is pleased with the direction the Blues are going in again, and he will be tasked with keeping it competitive after ownership gave him a five-year extension at the start of this past season

He talked about those things and other important topics from his season-ending remarks:

Opening remarks:
Thanks for coming today. We're obviously here to put a bow on the season. I'd like to thank our players. I thought starting in September, they had a focus on having a good regular season. We played a good Colorado team and could never get over the hump, but I thought they played well and played with character. What they did in Game 5 is a foundation-builder moving forward. Craig (Berube) and I talked about that. It would have been an easier time, if there was time to fold the tent and just say it wasn't our year and they didn't do that. Not only for that team, but you have (Jake) Neighbours and (Zachary) Bolduc watching us from a distance seeing the foundation and the character that this group has is only going to build us moving forward. To the players and the coaches, I want to thank them for a very good season. Obviously regular season, playoff disappointment is what it is, there's only going to be one champion. We know that we have to improve. When I look back since 2011-12, we've been a consistent participant in the Western Conference. Chicago has popped in there, we've had bouts with them; we've had battles with Los Angeles, Nashville, Winnipeg, now it's Colorado. But what I look at is we're the team that's there year in, year out and that's our focus moving forward. There's a couple more teams in the Eastern Conference like that. You have Pittsburgh, you have Washington, you have Boston. You look at those four teams and if you put us in there, we're trying to fight Father Time year in, year out. When you go back to the 2011-12 season, I was looking at it this morning, I think Colorado's had five top-10 picks and seven picks in the top 16. They're supposed to be good. We're competing against teams that are in a different growth pattern. We haven't had top picks and we're still trying to find ways to maneuver this roster and stay competitive. I thank Craig for taking this group of players and molding them into a competitive team. As I said, we're not happy that we're not playing right now, but our job is to get a little bit better and be a team that we're here next year and whoever wants to join us, we welcome them aboard.

Strides from last year to now; does this roster needs major tweaking:
The second part, no, it doesn't need major tweaking. In a cap system, we're in a really good spot for next season. We have so many returning players under contract. Obviously we have a couple good players in (David) Perron and (Nick) Leddy and other players, (Ville) Husso, I don't want to single each guy, but we do have a lot of returning players is what I want to say. Excited about our American League team. They're undefeated in the playoffs right now (until last night). They're in the conference finals. We have Bolduc and Neighbours, our last two first-round picks playing very good in their respective junior leagues trying to get to the Memorial Cup. There will be change. That's just the nature of pro sport under a cap system, but I do like the group we're bringing back.

On possibility of bringing Leddy back:
I thought he played very well for us. We understand what the salary cap's going to be. It's locked in stone now, so it's just massaging it to get a number of good players back, but I thought Nick came in here and you look at our winning percentage since the trade deadline, he was a big part of that. He's a calming influence, he's experienced, he's the player that I thought our pro scouts told me he was going to be and he came in here and he was that guy.

On shuffling the D, want a rhythm on D moving forward:
I was actually talking to one of the players on the number of days this year, I didn't have the answer, of the 82 regular-season games and playoffs, how many times did we have our full roster on there. I'll bet you it was less than a handful. It was a strange year that way. Of course you want continuity. Continuity is good. For the players on the ice, they understand once you've played with someone long enough, we've seen that obviously with Perron and O'Reilly, that sixth sense of knowing where a guy's going to be. With the rotation that Craig had to maneuver this year on the back end, the number of guys coming in and coming out, I look at Game 4 of the first round, we had -- according to our depth charts -- our eighth, ninth and 10th defensemen playing in that game. I give guys a lot of credit for fighting through and finding ways, but for sure, I'd love to have continuity and less movement on the back end if we can.

On bringing Perron back, his impact on this organization:
I sure would. I feel like I've been here a long time and he proceeds me. He's been in and out over that term, but when I got here, he was here back in, what, would it be '08? So he's been around a long time and he's a helluva player. He fights Father Time better than anyone than 95-99 percent of the NHL. What he did this year was spectacular. Obviously the injury he sustained in Chicago was nerve-wracking for everyone involved, but when he got back here, he showed what he can do down the stretch and in the playoffs, he's a very good player. More importantly, he's a better person. I've seen him grow and become a husband and a father. I've seen the influence he's had on our younger players. They see the competitiveness that he has on a daily basis. He's a true pro and been a very good St. Louis Blue and if we can make it work out, I'd love to.

See Leddy, Perron AND Husso all return:
I wouldn't say no (laughing). We're going to go to work. That's our job is to try and find a way to bring as many good players into the organization, whether they're here, whether they're from the outside, but yeah, the cap is the cap and everyone knows the numbers. But if we can make it work, we will. We're not just throwing our hands up in the air and saying, 'We can't bring anyone back.' That's not how the St. Louis Blues have operated and that's not how we're going to operate moving forward. We're going to try the best we can to put out the best team next year and if those players on a good team this year, they'd be good players on a good team next year.

Get any sense if Husso wants to look around:
Ville and I had a conversation this morning. He's put himself in a very good spot; he had a great regular season. Obviously the playoffs were up and down for all of us. He was put into a really difficult situation coming into the Colorado series. I'm a Ville Husso fan. I told him I'd love him to come back, but also it's a business for him also and he's put himself in a spot now where if he wants to test the market, I would understand it. For all of these guys, it's a long time between today and July 13th when they're allowed to hit free agency. We have some time to work on it. I think the tandem and Craig can probably speak better to it than I. They seem from a distance to get along very well. One thing I said to Ville today was I was impressed with his ability to stay positive and push (Jordan) Binnington and understand he was part of a team, and I was also very impressed with Binnington's ability to stay positive and push Husso until he got the opportunity. Sometimes you see tandems that view that as competition and they can't see past that and do what's best for the team. I thought both of those guys did what was best for the team on a nightly basis.

On Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich, your biggest acquisitions last off-season:
I thought they came in and played very well. Saad for me was a more known quantity. Know the player. We've seen him in the Western Conference for a number of years. He was a championship player and so he came in and was as advertised. With Buch, I thought it was a really good year he had prior to. He was still a player defining himself. When you look at his year, I look back, I don't have to ask the coach what he thought of him. How did he use him? He used him on the power play, he used him killing penalties, he used him 5-on-5. I think Buch had a great first year. With him and Kyrou and Thomas, they give us something to build around as we move forward. We have great veterans here, but those guys needs support, and Buch, (Jordan) Kyrou and (Robert) Thomas are that group we need to support that group of forwards coming in and then as I said, you're going to have guys pop up next year, whether from junior hockey or the American Hockey League, a guy like Brownie who I thought showed really good promise. He got caught in a numbers game. I was talking to one of the players just a few minutes ago and I said when you're a competitive team, it's very hard to crack the lineup, but when you crack the lineup, it's very hard to be taken out of the lineup. So now a guy like Brownie's job is to get in there and then when he comes in, he knows he's not concerned being in and out. I'm not sure if that makes sense to you guys. It's a hard group to crack, but when you crack it, it's really a hard group to get taken out of. That's part of being on a competitive team year in, year out. When you've gained the coach's trust and you're doing the job, the coach trusts you for a long time.

On Scott Perunovich:
Scotty, he's had a difficult career quite honestly as a pro. Injuries have not been his friend. I already talked to him about ... he's mature now where I said, 'Training camp starts mid-September. That's when we need you at your best. Whatever you need to do, you don't need us holding your hand anymore. You know your body, you know what needs to get done.' But it's a proof's in the pudding league. I thought he did a great job. I thought Craig did a great job again. It's one thing to dress somebody in the playoffs. It's another thing to say, 'We're going to put you on the No. 1 power play unit even though you haven't been healthy enough to play in a couple of months.' That takes a lot of courage as a coach, but more importantly, a lot of belief in the player that you're putting in that spot. As a coach you want to put guys in a position to succeed, not fail. For Craig to put him in that group, I thought was a great feather in Perun's cap. As a league, we look at a guy like Foxy and the Rangers right now and what he's doing. (Samuel) Girard was having a good year, (Cale) Makar had a good year. They're not 6-3, 230 any of these guys. There's the ability to play both of these guys on a nightly basis. For Scotty specifically, he has to come in and have a good training camp and he has to stay healthy enough where he's in that conversation. It's not that he's done anything wrong, it's just that's how the cards have been dealt to him so far and now he needs to reshuffle and get better cards where he stays healthy.

On Vladimir Tarasenko, will he be here next year:
I thought Vladi had a real good year. Big time players score big time goals. I think what we saw this year was a healthy Vladimir Tarasenko. Even when he's not scoring, the other team is nervous. When he's on the ice in any game, any playoff series, he's a circled player. Being a circled player, if he's not scoring, it opens up opportunities for other guys. I thought Vladi had a very good regular season. I thought he was a player that we counted on in the playoffs and we always have and he always delivers. I'm not concerned about Vladi for next year at all. I've already read some articles, local and national, well what about '23-'24 and these guys are all free (agents)? I'm going to worry about '23-'24, a year from now. Hopefully I'm not answering questions, 'Are you going to trade Ryan O'Reilly if you don't get him signed? Are you going to trade Tarasenko if you don't get him signed? Are you going to trade (Ivan) Barbashev if you don't get him signed?' I'm not sure the concern of everybody worrying about two years from now, let's just dissect this year, give us your information on how you think we did as a whole, get ready for next year. I don't want to spend all summer saying, 'Well, what about two years from now?' I just want to worry about next year when it's over. I'll then worry about the year after.

On the league going more towards speed and skill:
I would agree with that. The game's evolving. Goal-scoring is up, but there's also been a generation of goalies that have been at the forefront that are at the end of their careers or exiting the league totally. Now you have (Andrei) Vasilevskiy for me and then you have everybody else. The Ranger goalie (Igor Shesterkin) looks like he's trending that way, but the difference between him and Vasilevskiy is he's done it year in and year out, year in and year out. So this next wave of goaltending, they have to not only prove they can do it each year but every year moving forward. But as far as the game itself, I think the fans love the goals probably more than the coach loves the goals. It's a great game and it's entertaining, it's fast-paced. I also think when you get into the playoffs, quite honestly, you lose half of the team so the talent level goes up, then you lose another half and the talent level goes up. Same with the referees. When you get into the semifinals or when you get into the round of eight, you're down to the best referees, you're down to the best teams that don't commit fouls, that don't need to commit fouls to play a 60-minute game. I don't think we're going to see a lot of penalties moving forward because I see the refereeing game has gotten better but also the teams have gotten better. I think that they understand what's at stake but as a whole, it's trending towards a younger man's game. Younger players are ready quicker than before on and off the ice both at forward and on the back end. I do believe what we're seeing now is going to continue to evolve to more skill.

On do any players need surgeries:
Players are doing their medicals tonight, so I'll have better information. I know some guys are going to need some things, but we'll probably wait and do the whole laundry list in the next ... probably Thursday or Friday (of last week) when I get all the information.

Any poaching from other organizations on the coaching staff for head coaching jobs:
I hope there is. I really hope there is. I think that Robby DiMaio who was with us for a long time is now an assistant GM in Anaheim, I think that's a reflection on the great work Rob did here and also being part of a good organization. I think that our three assistant coaches, we have multiple coaches, but Steve Ott has come right from playing to coaching. I think he helped Craig with the power play, I think he did a really good job with that. I think he has the ability to be a head coach. Jimmy Montgomery has been an NHL head coach before, I thought he did a great job. I thought Mike Van Ryn has really touched everything, development coach, a minor league coach, an assistant coach. I think all three of these guys have aspirations to be NHL head coaches. I think they're all deserving. I hope they get interviews. I hope they get to reach the goals they want to reach. But if they don't, we'd love to have them back. Craig has told me that. I concur 100 percent, but also, I think part of any organization, you want to see growth and growth of those guys is commanding and taking part and running their own bench. If they get that opportunity, we'll endorse them, we'll push for them. But if they're back, we're a really good organization. But to answer your question quite honestly, I'm compiling a list. I think these guys are great coaches and I hope they get the opportunity.

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