At an emotional press conference Wednesday morning at the St. Louis Ice Zone, Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong choked back tears and struggled to get out the words as he discussed the firing of Ken Hitchcock.
“Ken is paying the price for all of our failures, starting with mine,” he said. “I’m the manager. It’s my team.”
Through 50 games, the Blues are 24-21-5, good for fourth in the Central Division and tied with the Calgary Flames for the last wild card spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
“We don’t lose with pride,” said Armstrong, highlighting what he believes are flaws in the team’s culture. “It’s all encompassing. It starts with the manager. It filters down.”
There were several striking moments that came out of Armstrong’s answers, but one of the most notable was his description of the team as “independent contractors.” In that, he compared the team to the St. Louis Cardinals, saying, “the Cardinals don’t have independent contractors. When they do, they get rid of them.”
Blues fans expecting dramatic personnel changes, however, may be forced to continue to wait patiently. Armstrong deftly dismissed a question about Kevin Shattenkirk’s status, saying only, “I’m confident he’s not the only free agent in hockey.”
New Blues head coach Mike Yeo also said the team would not be making any drastic personnel changes, reinforcing several times that the team has only one practice to allow them to get ready for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
The Blues appear to be focused on salvaging this season and finding success. “This franchise should make the playoffs,” Armstrong said. “The fans deserve us to make the playoffs. Not only make it but have success.”
It was clear that the Blues are hoping that this move will free up players who may have felt restricted under Ken Hitchcock’s thumb, and that a spark of energy could propel the team to the changes that need to be made. Those expectations were laid bare when Armstrong was asked what his message was for his team.
“Spotlight’s on them.”
And yet it still burns bright on the management.