The St. Louis Blues are not even close to a quarter of the way through the 2018-19 season, but it seems their problems are just beginning. Despite a vocal public sentiment to the otherwise, this time the blame is not with the general manager.
The St. Louis Blues had one of their best starts to a season in team history in 2017-18 and missed the playoffs. While the start to the 2018-19 season is not historically bad, it is hard to imagine the team doing a reverse and making the playoffs in spite of the start.
However, the growing sentiment that this is the fault of Doug Armstrong is just plain wrong. In fact, I am not exactly sure what else the Blues general manager was supposed to do.
Armstrong has never been a perfect GM. While he has made some good deals, he has been somewhat reactionary. He has rarely headed off problems before they affected the team and has been hesitant to make deadline deals the way other contenders have.
But, there are too many people focused on teams like Chicago and Pittsburgh. Those teams got to where they are by being really bad for several years, hitting the jackpot in the draft and then supplementing that talent with other good players.
Despite the faults listed, the Blues have never been bad enough to get those lottery players. So, Armstrong had to be savvy in the draft and the free agent market and then make the occasional trade on top of that. The Blues have rarely had the sustained success as they have seen under Armstrong.
Even so, the fans are growing restless. While everyone wants that next step, it does not mean that Armstrong is not doing a good job.
While you can blame Armstrong for putting Mike Yeo in charge in the first place, the team he has assembled should be good. On paper, they have really good depth, solid scoring and, until 2018-19, a steady defense.
Unfortunately, the depth has had to be utilized in an unorganized fashion. While Yeo and Craig Berube searched for answers, they both constantly shift the new pieces and the old around, leaving little room for cohesion.
The Blues biggest problem has been the defense. You can rail against the goaltending all you want, but the best goalie in the league does not have this current Blues team in contention.
Again, you can say that Armstrong built this team, but Let’s be real. He had no reason to make additions on the defense unless something jumped in his lap and he got something for nothing.
Armstrong’s biggest items on the to-do list in the 2018 offseason were to add to the offense, find ways to improve the power play and net front presence and win more faceoffs. He ticked off every single box.
He added offense by bringing David Perron back and adding Ryan O’Reilly, both of whom had 60 points or more the season prior. O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak brought in a big faceoff presence. Pat Maroon has been a big body willing to go to the front of the net.
Armstrong addressed every problem this team was supposed to have. The biggest question mark going into 2018-19 was supposed to be goaltending because the defense was supposed to be solid and Armstrong made the necessary improvements elsewhere.
He also dumped some albatross salaries. He got rid of Jori Lehtera during the summer of 2017, something we figured would never happen. After that, he got rid of the burdensome contracts of Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka in 2018, both of whom many fans had grown tired of.
Again, he is to blame for some of those deals. He overvalued his own players and it has been costly in dropping them. Despite picking up quality players, from a production standpoint, he has lost first round picks in consecutive years.
However, that circles back to the draft issue discussed earlier. If the Blues are not in the lottery, how much are these picks truly worth? We have seen first rounders flame out and third rounders prove to be stars.
It’s all a gamble. Frankly, Armstrong’s staff has done a pretty good job with being tucked in that middle ground each summer.
So, what else is Armstrong supposed to do? He is not a perfect manager, but there are none. Not all Stanley Cup GM’s were great and some great general managers never assembled that perfect team.
On top of that, I’m not sure what fans fully expect. Players are not going to change because their general manager is different. So, what is the point? You can argue they might play harder since their jobs would be on the line, but given what we have seen from this group at times, I don’t think anything really bucks their current trend.
Changing GM’s just puts you in a waiting period anyway until the new person can make the necessary changes, none of which will happen overnight despite what the vocal minority thinks.
Armstrong has done his job. He made quality moves when he had to, even if we wished he did a bit more.
As I have said several times, this is not video game hockey. You have to have trade partners to make deals and each team is looking to get something over on the other. It’s been amazing Armstrong has been able to get rid of some of the players he did, even if it took longer than some of us would care.
After a certain point, the general manager should be able to wash his hands of certain messes. I understand in business the person at the top is held accountable, but he is not out on the ice. The talent he has assembled should be good and, for whatever reason, it is not.
However, we all want to view things in hindsight. The mark of a good GM is how you viewed the deal when it was made. If you take that viewpoint, I cannot think of a bad move he has made.
Yes, there were deals a certain section of the fan base might not have cared for, but there was never a deal that had the entire Blues nation up in arms.
Maybe this team makes a move if they keep flaming out. Personally, I don’t think there is someone out there that would have done it better to the level some think can be attained.
I don’t see the GM being the major problem, nor do I think firing him would bring in an entirely different culture.