Doug Armstrong met with media today to answer some questions about the Blues' first round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks and the state of the team in general. Jeremy Rutherford has a transcript of part one of the interview available here, and it's fascinating reading. Armstrong is honest and reflective on both his mistakes and the team's errors, and it answers some questions that fans have been having. His answers also give rise to a few more.
Ed. note - any emphasis added on any portion of these quotes was done by me.
Q: How alarming is it that the nucleus that has been here for six or seven years hasn't been able to rise to the occasion in three straight playoffs?
Armstrong: "The six or seven years, I don't really believe in. To me it's the three years. Players were put in positions here to learn on the job and that’s difficult in this league. I look at the regular season success this team has had over the last three years. I think our point total is probably in the top three or four in the NHL over that time frame. So, we’re doing some things correctly. But we’re not doing enough correctly to win in April, May and June. Quite honestly, I got to quit worrying about May. We got to get out of April first and we’re not doing that yet. My job responsibility is to peel back the layers and see if we can work together with this group to get to a new level, or make necessary changes to get to a new level."
I'm assuming that Armstrong is not including the time where the core players were developing on this one. He's 110% correct - the guys were brought up to learn with minimal time to get their sea legs. The team is doing a lot of stuff right - one more win in the injury-plagued last six games, and the team gets its second Central Division championship in three seasons. There's a disconnect somewhere, and if it's in the core, then something's concerning.
Should you evaluate that based on this season? Probably not. T.J. Oshie and David Backes (as well as Patrik Berglund) were all bruised and battered. Equal parts "core" and "non-core" failed to step up. Is the core the problem? It's hard to say that without implying that the rest of the guys get a pass.
I appreciate his self-assessment here, and I believe that he is correct. Putting the cart before the horse doesn't get you anything but a confused horse and a silly looking driver. Would goalteining've been an issue come May if Jaroslav Halak had still been in net? Possibly - but to get to May the team needed something else.
Q: You made a move that was considered to be an all-in move to trade for Ryan Miller. Could you assess his performance as a whole and specifically the playoffs?
Armstrong: "Yeah, I think as a management group, what you want to do at the trade deadline is assess your team. You don't want to spend fool's gold at that time. At that time, you say, 'OK you're either buyers or sellers or neutral.' We believed that neutral was going to be fine unless we could make one trade to get the goalie. I think that Ryan and our team ... we win as a team and we lose as a team. I thought Ryan wasn’t the reason that this series ended in six (games). The series turned on a couple of things. Obviously the last one was our inability to score power play goals. That’s haunted us for two playoffs now. That’s nothing to do with Ryan Miller. ... He gave us an opportunity, we got shutout in Game 3. We had the opportunity to grab a lead and extend the lead in Game 6 and we didn't do that. I go back to playing with a hot flame as long as we do burns you at certain times and the inability to score power-play goals ended up hurting us."
Does this mean that the trade for Ryan Miller was a "trade for trade's sake" as it has been accused of being? No, and frankly I never believed that it was. It was a trade to fix a perceived need; unfortunately, that perceived need superseded the actual need of a second line center or someone to put the puck into the net. Having one of those two things probably could've gone a long way to remedy the problem that the Blues were having with the whiffing for the past three postseasons in a row.
Q: How are you going to move forward with the goaltending for next year?
Armstrong: "I'm going to obviously let things settle in here. I'm trying to come up with a good analogy. It's like going to the dentist. The freezing is coming out and now it hurts. I'm going through that freezing coming out and it's really painful. Today is a lot harder than it was yesterday, I know that. We got to figure out a way to get better. With the goaltending, Jake Allen is going to be here next [year]. He’s earned the right. He’s the top American League goalie. He's got that team in the playoffs, now we're going to see how far he can take it. He will be one of two. Who his partner will be will be discussed at the appropriate time and that will be over the next few weeks. It's a two-way street with Ryan at this time. He has opportunities. I want to sit and talk to him, I want to get his feelings about our organization, how he felt about coming in, where he thinks we're at ... see if he even has any interest being a St. Louis Blue."
Nice to see that Jake is going to be here next year. He deserves it - he's more than proven this season with the Chicago Wolves that he's ready for some big-time hockey. I believe that his goaltending "partner" won't be Ryan Miller, though. If he is, will Allen get the playing time that he needs? Miller's future with the team, just based upon this quote, sounds tepid. Might I suggest Brian Elliott as a 1B/mentor? It seems like he has this whole "goaltending" thing down ok, and might be able to provide some guidance to the young Allen.
Q: Are the Blues' best players good enough to compete with the other teams' best players in the playoffs? If not, how important is it to act on those evaluations this summer?
Armstrong: "Well we haven’t got it done and we have to find out if the chemistry is correct. It’s a difficult league to acquire players. My job is to find a way to get it done. But I look at what happened at the trade deadline, I look at people signing their free agents ... we did it with (Jay) Bouwmeester, we did it with (Alexander) Steen. ... Then it's getting a team to want to move a top-scoring player and I know the cost of doing that. I haven't found the team that really wants to give us the 50-goal guy yet. But I know the two or three names they're going to ask for and that's robbing Peter to pay Paul. ... It doesn't come down just to puck luck, but at some point we've got to start getting some puck luck. We're going to search the market, we're going to see how we can improve our team. But we're not going to do something that is a knee-jerk reaction or something that doesn't fit in to what we believe will be successful. There are good players out there. As I said, most of them usually stay with the teams that they're at. If we can improve our team, (but) I trust the players that are here. I have trusted them now for three years. The coach has trusted them and more importantly they trust each other."
Glad to hear that nothing is going to be knee jerk - not that anything has ever really been that with Armstrong. I trust the players that are here too. Trusting them, to me, doesn't have anything to do with whether or not you believe that they need someone extra to push them over the edge (which I do) or if you believe that some players are being both misused and overused (I also do).
And the money quote from DA:
"We need that killer instinct, we need to be able to when you have a team down 2-0, you need to take the knife and jam it through their eye into their brain and kill them. We don't do that."