When a GM is in a job for over 10 years, as Blues GM Doug Armstrong will pass into this summer, it’s either a sign of an organization’s inertia or incompetence, or a sign of sustained success. Or in the case of the Hawks, both. And it may be that’s the case in St. Louis as well.
Armstrong ascended to the GM chair while the Hawks were on their way to their first parade, and as things always worked with the Blues, everything they did seemed to be not to measure up to the class of the division (it was Detroit in the past), but to be in opposition to it. Of course, the Blues set some of this in motion when former GM Larry Pleau took Erik Johnson instead of Jonathan Toews.
But while the Hawks and others were getting faster and more skilled, the Blues seemed determined to plod and crush their way to success, which had predictable results. They hired Ken Hitchcock, which only made them more defensive. We know they emphasized size and GRITHEARTFAAAAART. And while they have been a consistent playoff team, there was only one conference final appearance.
It was the kind of record that usually gets GMs fired, and so would have the coaching boondoggle of installing Mike Yeo as an heir apparent to Hitchcock, and then watching all of that go to shit when the players rebelled against both of them. It culminated with the Blues missing the playoffs in 2018.
But that kicked a new direction and sense of urgency for Armstrong, something we’d love to see around here. Maybe he knew his job was on the line. But they traded for Ryan O’Reilly and signed Tyler Bozak to give them the center depth that they’d lacked and the Hawks or Sharks or Predators had picked apart in years previous.
A shift in drafting before that though were the real tracks. Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Vince Dunn, and an absolute theft of Brayden Schenn out of Philadelphia set the Blues on a path to be fast, dynamic, and skilled. All the things they hadn’t been before. And clearly, Armstrong was rewarded.
The final stroke, and perhaps the act of a man who was sure he was headed for printing up a bunch of CVs, was correcting the mistake of installing Yeo as coach after the players had turned on him and giving Craig Berube the job. Suddenly the Blues were playing faster and more aggressive, because with the speed Armstrong had installed in the lineup they could. We know how the rest goes.
Only Armstrong and his bosses will know how close he was to the axe, but everyone seems to think it was very much on the cards had the Blues not turned around at New Year’s last year. Armstrong deserves credit for realizing the mistakes of the past, seeing how his team had to adjust, and not being afraid to switch gears. Perhaps the Blues ownership deserves credit for letting Armstrong have the time to do it all.
Would that work here? Hard to say. Stan Bowman’s recent drafting record is already a strike against that. Recent player acquisitions would suggest they haven’t even diagnosed the problem yet. He’s made his coaching change. though Armstrong has been allowed three. And for every Armstrong who’s been allowed to dig themselves out, there’s Boston, Pittsburgh, Carolina and others who have found success changing things in the front office. There’s no set model for it.
What a state of affairs when you look down I-55 and wonder why things can’t be like that here. Life is meaningless.