This year’s St. Louis Blues exit from the NHL Playoffs was followed by cliche comments from local sports journalists and rink rat hockey trolls. Many took the form of personal attacks on the players. Bernie Miklasz, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s sportswriter extraordinaire and one of the journalists in town I believe to have legitimate game wrote the Blues were missing the "tough-minded, character wins" the Chicago Blackhawks found to sweep the Minnesota Wild out of the playoffs. Psychological? I have tons of respect for Bernie as a sports analyst, not so much as a psychoanalyst. A rink rat hockey trolls wrote, "If those players (the Blues) aren’t willing to pay the price to win the Cup once the post-season gets here, then there is nothing any coach can do with that group until they have a heart transplant." Cardiology does not come to mind, although given his tone I feel like directing this rink rat hockey troll to my colon rectal surgeon wife.
Once Dr. Bernie got his frustrations out of the way, he expertly diagnosed the Blues’ ill. They could use a better goal scorer or two. As he eloquently put it, it is "nuts" to think otherwise (sorry Freud). While I will leave the boring chit-chat of prescribing a cure to goal scoring to us rink rat hockey trolls, I am sure it does not involve the reincarnation of Dr. Sigmund Freud or Dr. Christiaan Barnard.
I think there is something to be said about digging in the corners going for the loose cultural puck.
Consider two observations. As a kid, if I came home from a practice complaining, my late mother would have said in her loving way, "Quit whining!!" The fact is that the Blues are a very good NHL team and the players work hard. We have not had a player stomp a cab driver over 19 cents in change (Patrick Kane), have a drug orgy at the MGM (Jarrett Stoll) or lose ice time because he beat his wife (Slava Voynov). The Blues players are stand-up professionals. It is fun to cheer for them. For heaven sakes….they won the Central Division. Was the franchise motto, "Our Town Our Team", conditional on winning play-off games? The choir singing for Dr. Freud or Dr. Barnard is totally out of tune.
Remembering Dr. Bernie’s diagnosis, player acquisition and development are the responsibilities of General Manager Doug Armstrong. I know I am in the minority of people that think Armstrong’s player moves took a disastrous nose-dive after the high point of drafting Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko in 2010. I will save the detailed analysis for a rink rat troll convention. Bottom line is the scoreboard. We know Armstrong’s assemblage has not done well in the playoffs. He claimed to accept part of the responsibility but then publically slammed his players into the boards.
When asked about his job security, Armstrong threatened management. "If there’s a decision to be made that they (owner Tom Stillman)want a new manager and I can’t get another job as a manager, they should fire me……..I’m comfortable in my own skin. I want to be here. I want to see this through." I am not the only one to interpret his comment as ‘I can get another job if you dump me. I dare you.’ This is the kind of organizational leadership that causes businesses to fail. When the manager’s arrogance takes center-stage, the workers know it.
Armstrong’s rant reminded me of another example of executive arrogance. The University of Iowa football team throttled the University of Nebraska on the sacred grounds of Tom Osborne Field in Lincoln 38-17 at the end of the regular 2013 season. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was asked about his future the same way Armstrong was asked about his. Pelini said, "If they want to fire me, go ahead. I believe in what I’ve done. I don’t apologize to you. I don’t apologize to anyone, myself or this staff. My record, our record since I’ve been here, speaks for itself. And this program is heading in a good direction."
Pelini was known for his aggressive, hostile, public outbursts. He embarrassed Nebraska officials and made personal attacks on players. Armstrong’s response after the Blues 2014 playoff exit at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks was quite Peliniesque: "We need that killer instinct. When you have them down 2-0, you need to take the knife and jam it through their eyes and into their brain and kill them. We don’t do that." Armstrong is not as inappropriate as Pelini. Still, public murder metaphors do not build organizational culture.
Establishing organizational culture is the foundation to success. If it were my organization, I would have been embarrassed by Armstrong’s arrogance, outbursts and his public lack of loyalty to the players. It is not a winning culture for St. Louis.
By the way, Pelini was fired exactly one year after he issued his dare.