(HockeyStL) -- Success and potential were common themes when the Blues hosted a press conference on Wednesday to announce that they had extended general manager Doug Armstrong.
Players were happy to see the man responsible for bringing a good majority of them to St. Louis was remaining onboard. To them it meant their team’s future would be in good hands.
Armstrong has been the general manager of the Blues since the 2010 offseason, and will remain with the Blues through the 2017-18 season after signing a five-year extension on Wednesday. Armstrong is a seasoned veteran when it comes to managing a team. Prior to joining the Blues, Armstrong spent 17 years in the Dallas Stars organization including six as general manager. Plus he has spent a lifetime around the game as his dad, Neil, was a Hall of Fame NHL linesman.
“Doug gets it,” said the Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “Doug’s a guy that he knows his experience in Dallas and knowing what it takes to win is really, really important. You can’t fool Doug on players and I think that’s important. He knows the short and long term on all the players and he has a great feel for the league. He knows what guy is going to end up being and what his potential is going to be, and that’s really valuable for us as coaches.”
Armstrong brought in Hitchcock last season after building a solid relationship with the head coach in Dallas, where Hitchcock coached for seven seasons. The past experience played heavily into Armstrong’s decision to hire Hitchcock early last season. That decision was the transaction of the year, and, in large part, was responsible for the Blues making the playoffs.
Doug Armstrong also won general manager of the year as a result of his decision to bring Hitchcock to the Blues. Under Hitchcock, the Blues had their best season since the 1999-2000 season, finishing second in the Western Conference with 109 points. But Armstrong is challenging the Blues to not settle as a one-and-done team.
“I think you learn from those experiences and it’s not an indictment on the group over the last three or four years,” said Armstrong.
“You’re building towards something. Making the playoffs, having a winning month is a good thing and then having a winning two months. But now we’ve opened the window of our time where we should have success. One of the things I truly believe in that I’ve challenged Ken and he’s challenged the players: we don’t want to be a cute one year story, a team that had one great year and faded back into oblivion. That’s not why I signed up, that’s not why Ken signed up, and more importantly that’s not why the players signed up. We’re going to challenge them and then we’re going to hold them accountable to that so I think our goals are within our reach.”
“I think we learned a lot last year. I think we learned that there’s a different level that’s needed to go to with every round and unfortunately you have to learn from experience. A lot of the veterans on this team haven’t played in the playoffs, haven’t won a playoff game. So that first series was rewarding that we won it, but then we saw a team that had failed before, that had had setbacks in the Kings, and they were ready to push on. I think our group has learned that lesson,” Armstrong stated.
The Blues are nearing the end of training camp, and the beginning of a 48-game season. The shortened season has been called a ‘sprint to the end’ because of how many games will be played, and how much ground will be covered in such a short time, but Armstrong doesn’t want his team thinking that when the 48-game season ends, it’s time for rest. In fact, Armstrong and Hitchcock are stressing to players that playing into late June needs to be the team’s goal for the year.
“Ken (Hitchcock) and I, are trying to push that into our players that this isn’t a 48-game schedule, this isn’t a sprint,” said Armstrong. “It’s going to be a sprint to make the playoffs but we have to be thinking that we want to play till June. This isn’t get yourself in shape for 48 games; it’s to get yourself into position through those 48 games to play another two months. That’s physical toughness and mental toughness and I think we learned those lessons last year that we have some growing to do there and I think we’re down that path.”
When the Blues take the ice on Saturday, it will be Armstrong’s 165th game as the Blues general manager. It will be his first under new owner Tom Stillman. The Blues are expected to have more financial flexibility with the new ownership group, which in turn will make Armstrong’s job significantly easier.
The timing of Stillman’s takeover was perfect, to say the least, as the Blues most active summer is yet to come. Alex Pietrangelo, Chris Stewart, Andy McDonald, Patrik Berglund, Matt D’Agostini, and Kevin Shattenkirk will each be looking for a new contract, and in some cases, a significant pay increase. It will be a summer of many tough decisions for Armstrong, and arguably his most difficult since taking over as the Blues general manager.
“We understand the economics of the NHL and we don’t shy away from that,” said Armstrong. “There’s a salary cap in the league and then there’s a budget in the league and we’re going to be a budget team. My job is to poke Tom and have Tom poke the rest of the ownership group to get as much as I can out of them but we understand we’re going to work within a budget. Finances will never be a reason why we don’t reach our goals here. I know Bruce Affleck and Mike Caruso and that staff are working very hard to fill this building. We’re working very hard with our civic leaders to get them behind us to generate the revenues that we can pay the players. I don’t think economics will be a reason that we don’t win here.”
Regardless of what transpires in the coming year, the Blues have faith in Armstrong. His five-year contract extension shows just how much Stillman and the Blues value him, and they feel Armstrong is the guy that gives them the best chance to bring the elusive Stanley Cup to St. Louis.
“The grass isn’t always greener but in this case the grass I know is not greener anywhere else in the NHL,” said Armstrong. “This is where I want to be. This is where my family wants to be and thank God Tom (Stillman) felt the same way.”