The St. Louis Blues announced a contract extension for Doug Armstrong as September came towards its end in 2021. The team will have the services of their general manager for five more years beyond this one.
Despite the usual detractors that every team and every general manager has, that is great news. One can nitpick about this move or that failure to make a trade, but the bottom line is Armstrong has been fantastic for the Blues.
Armstrong is one of just three Blues GM’s to make it to the Stanley Cup Final. He is also the only one in team history to form an actual championship team.
However, as the team continues to push into the future and transition the makeup of the front office, Armstrong needs to learn from the St. Louis Cardinals. By that, I mean, he needs to not remove himself from the position of decision maker, whether by perception or reality.
In 2017, the Cardinals made John Mozeliak the president of baseball operations. At the same time, they made Michael Girsch the general manager.
There is nothing wrong with this in principle, but the problem is the perception. Regardless of how things actually work in the office, most fans believe that Mozeliak still makes all the decisions and Girsch is basically just there to take the flak.
By taking himself out of the main view of responsibility, Mozeliak has essentially given himself a cushion against being fired. If the team performs poorly, or as they have in recent years performs under expectations, Mozeliak retains the option of firing Girsch or any other general manager.
From his own perspective, this makes sense as it gives him longer job security. From the perspective of everyone else, this just makes things feel convoluted.
Who is to blame for poor trades or lack of offseason moves? Who is actually in charge?
If Girsch is really the general manager in more than just name, then why is Mozeliak still so prominent in the media? That seems like it should be the GM’s position.
If Mozeliak still makes most of the decisions and even has final say about contract terms, then what is Girsch if not just a figure head? Perhaps the situation is quite clear to the most hardcore fan, but your average fan and some in the media still don’t know where to look regarding the leadership.
While Pleau was still technically given credit for trades and signings, we all knew that Davidson had the final say. It all just feels like it takes the power away from the team GM.
There is nothing concrete in the works for a similar situation for the Blues right now, but the ingredients are all there.
Armstrong was named president of hockey operations when he was given his contract extension. Mere days before that happened, the team also brought in Peter Chiarelli as VP of hockey operations and assistant general manager.
Is the plan to eventually promote Chiarelli to full general manager while Armstrong slides only into the title of president? Again, this is fine for the men involved, but it does not send a clear picture of the leadership structure.
Fans don’t need someone to blame, but when there is no clear person making the decisions, it just fractures the fan base. Some would blame Armstrong simply because he’s at the top when Chiarelli might be the one actually making the decisions.
Or, they might blame Chiarelli for a poor season when Armstrong really put the team together and Chiarelli simply followed orders. It simply makes things messy.
As it stands, it seems odd enough for Chiarelli to be brought in. It is good to have differing opinions and not be surrounded by yes-men, but you can also have too many cooks in the kitchen.
If Armstrong just wanted to give a job to his friend, so be it. Army needs to stay in charge of these decisions and have it clear that he is though.
Some people might want him to make more deadline deals or bigger splashes into the free agent market, but Armstrong has been steady and smart. While he has overpaid some of his own free agents, he has not crippled the Blues with any of his contracts. When we’re talking about $5 million for an aging player being one of his worst deals, he’s still ahead of the curve.
Let guys like Ken Hitchcock or Chiarelli make their suggestions in the office, behind closed doors. Don’t put them in any position where there is a question of who made the final call.
Armstrong needs to simply remain the general manager as opposed to making someone else a figurehead GM. Anything else muddies the water.