The state of the art GM Translator 2000 EZ.
New Blues general manager Doug Armstrong spoke with reporters on a conference call after the team announced the new contracts of Vladimir Sobotka and Alex Steen. Signing those two restricted free agents was all that the Blues accomplished on Thursday, the opening of free agency in the NHL. Then the Blues were gracious enough to place a recording of the call on the team website. We have a few observations.
First of all, I don't care if his wife, his kids, his pastor and all the players in the dressing room call him Army, I think it's odd when reporters use the general manager's nickname in a professional setting. It screams, "Hey buddy, I want to be your friend. You know I'm your friend, right Army?" Awkward at best.
Second, when they got to the Ilya Kovalchuk issue, Armstrong sounded kind of surprised that the reporters would bring the free agent up. Maybe he was too busy to read Game Time this week. Or maybe he did.
And finally, some of the things he said, it just screamed out: "GO TURN ON THE GM TRANSLATOR 2000 EZ!" So I did.
In case you're new around here, we have a magical machine we found at a Jefferson County flea market a few years ago. It looks like a dot matrix printer. It works and sounds like a dot matrix printer. But what it does is analyze the words of hockey general managers and spits out a translation of what the GM actually meant. Armstrong was asked if his day on Thursday went as planned. Here is what he told the reporters:
Things have gone as planned. I think we've been very consistent since our season ended that we believe the strength of our team and the success of our team is going to come from the people who ended the season last year.
That sounds fair enough. He wants the young guys to step up. I type that into the machine, I push a button, it whirrs, coughs, puffs a little blue smoke in the air and spits out the translation. Here's what Armstrong really said:
No one should be disappointed we didn't sign a big free agent today. We told them we wouldn't. And we didn't. Promise made, promise kept. David Backes better not start off slow again, or we're going to look pretty stupid. By the way, we're poor.
That's an interesting interpretation. And yeah, he did kind of make it sound like there's no money for outside players but didn't say it. Here's a short one for the machine:
We're not looking to remake our team from the outside, we're looking to grow internally.
The puff of smoke was a little bigger. Pungent. Burns the nostrils. The translation:
We cannot afford free agents. I told you, we're poor. Let me put it another way: We can barely afford this conference call. Have you heard the largest investor wants to pull out? Don't even ask me about that Russian dude everyone thinks we should sign. He is not a Blues draft pick. I cannot acquire him with Blues draft picks. Therefore I am not interested in him. Since he was not drafted by the St. Louis Blues, I do not consider him a great player. And I only want great players. Who were drafted by the St. Louis Blues.
Gotta hand it to the translator. Lots of subtext there. Alright, pushing play on the audio...and the next question is about Kovalchuk. Oh snap. They want to know if Army was interested in him. Here's his response on the conference call audio:
A player like Kovalchuk, there's a certain point in an organization that you feel comfortable making that plunge. Right now we think that with our younger players continuing to grow, it's better for the long term to find the growth pattern of these players. Once we do that, we'll have a much better understanding of the direction where we need to go. While Kovalchuk is a great player, he's not the right player for this organization at the right time.
A 50-goal scorer is not the right player for this team now? Seriously? Translator just printed the words in red ink. I didn't know it could do that. Here's what Armstrong really said.
This team is not based in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles or Detroit. Someone married into the Wal-Mart fortune does not own this team. Therefore now is not the time for this team to sign Kovalchuk. That would have been about 10 years ago. And while my job would be a lot easier if I could sign the best free agent scorer to go on the market in years, I would be fired if I signed him. So we'll stick with draft picks. Homegrown talent. Don't ask about him again even though everyone says he's a great player. Which he's not. Pricks.
A little hostility there. Ok, I can see that. And the next question is what Armstrong thinks about the prevailing thought around the league that the Blues would be interested in Kovalchuk. This will be...interesting.
It has to work not only on the ice but in the framework of the team's budget. There's many components that go in there. Kovalchuk is a great player, I'll never deny that he's not a great player. But right now the way we're situated it's not the right player for us. I think that at the end of the year John addressed that saying we weren't in the market for that type of player this year.
He just mentioned the team budget when the Blues are about $12 million under the salary floor. Granted, they still have to sign Erik Johnson, David Perron and Jaroslav Halak, but after signing them that's still a lower payroll than last year - after a ticket increase for next season. Now I'm pissed off. Translator, tell me the truth.
Ok, fine. Kovalchuk is a great player. You got me. And that means we cannot afford great players. Therefore, we cannot afford Ilya Kovalchuk. You reporters must have flunked algebra. Let me spell it out: Seven years multiplied by the letter X equals Kovalchuk's total contract. To me, X equals a gazillion dollars. Don't have it. Never will. And I know at the trade deadline that John Davidson said he had discussions about trading for him, but wouldn't do it unless he could negotiate an extension. And then at the end of the season, JD told you we wouldn't be in the market for an expensive free agent like Kovalchuk. You should have believed John the second time. Obviously.
Obviously. Last response we're going to feed the translator deals with a reporter wanting to know if the Blues are looking at signing any free agent forwards. Here's what he said:
You're always talking to people finding out what is available. You never know what tomorrow might hold. You never know when someone will call with a trade that we really can't pass up that will really improve the team. If it makes sense short and long term, we'll take the plunge.
And the translator looks tired. I'm going to shut him down after this response, which looks a little short:
Am I going to sign a free agent forward? No. So I will talk about lopsided trades which I love, by the way.
And I'd say now we know...the rest of the story.