Like any general manager, St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong is often under the microscope. Any look at social media, particularly around the trade deadline or the NHL Draft, will make you think he is one of the worst in the league at his job.
However, the truth is he has done a phenomenal job. He’s the only GM in team history to build a Stanley Cup champion.
While no GM is perfect, Armstrong has erased his few mistakes in short order. We can point to the extensions of Jori Lehtera and Patrik Berglund as blunders, but he flipped those players into Brayden Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly.
As we sit on the precipice of the 2022-23 season, there is a gripe about the contract extensions handed out to Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou. The main problem is not their upside, but the worry of consistency. If they live up to their potential, the contracts will prove to be steals.
Yet, lost in the furor of the Thomas and Kyrou deals is the potential for a huge mistake. Armstrong is apparently prepared to not do any further extensions until next summer.
As reported by Lou Korac, Armstrong seems to be willing to let the season play out and make decisions based on that. It should be noted that there is wiggle room when you read the entire quotation.
Armstrong is not shutting down any negotiations. He is not setting any deadlines.
He is not telling his pending UFA’s to decide right now or his office will be locked and his phone shut off when the season begins. He was simply stating that the team is in no rush to get deals done right this minute.
If you’re a glass half full type, you might even argue he was trying to shift the questioning back to the extensions that were done instead of those to come. Armstrong said that he wants the press conferences to be the culmination of the work done behind the scenes, not a day-to-day report on what was offered to whom.
Nevertheless, we have seen that this is not a tactic that works particularly well for St. Louis. We’ll never know how much the Blues truly wanted to keep anyone, but they we know they let David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo, Mike Hoffman, David Perron and others hit free agency and they’re all playing elsewhere now.
The problem you run into if you wait is that everyone overvalues themselves or the player. Teams are much more likely to overpay if they think they have to be the highest bidder to a player with no familiarity with their team or city. Players tend to think they’re going to cash in, much like people selling a house thinking they deserve some huge bidding war even if the plumbing is not up to snuff.
There were rumors that Perron was looking to get something like $8 million from the Blues. I highly doubt that rumor is true, but it makes it odd to settle for $4.75 million if you think you’re worth almost double that.
Backes thought he was going to get paid by the Blues. They knew his body was on the downside as far as health, the Boston Bruins did not and they overpaid.
Pietrangelo is still a top two defender, but the remainder of his career will determine whether he’s worth $8.8 million. So, with Armstrong seemingly making the right choice to let those guys walk, what is the worry this time?
The worry is that these are key guys, just as important as all the names previously listed, and multiple ones at once. You can absorb the loss of Pietrangelo by brining in a Torey Krug and only losing the one guy.
You can absorb the loss of Backes when you have a captain in waiting in Pietrangelo and younger players ready to step up. The same is true of Perron.
Perhaps you can bring in less expensive free agents, but you’re not going to replace the leadership of O’Reilly or the scoring of Tarasenko by anyone that is currently in the system. Maybe Zachary Bolduc is a player, but he’s not going to be a 30-plus goal scorer or the player that can stay late and arrive early to help the young players.
Maybe he’s those things later in his career, but you can’t ask a rookie to do that.
I still believe the Blues must re-sign one of their high profile players before the season. Most believe it should be O’Reilly and I would not argue.
Regardless, I would prefer the Blues know they only have $7-8 million in space next summer as opposed to almost $16 million. There is money there to keep one of the key guys and some ancillary guys.
I don’t trust the idea of bringing in several free agents next summer to replace what might be lost. Keep your current group if possible. Not doing so might be one of the few mistakes that Armstrong makes.