Due to the actions that have transpired over the last week I think a lot of Blues fans have had their eyes opened to some of the bad decisions the Blues front office has made over the last five years. And while I don’t believe that none of the parties involved (players, coaches, front office, owners) were totally innocent, I do agree with the majority of Blues fans who think the wrong person took the fall for the team’s underwhelming play.
In Tuesday’s and Thursday’s editions of the Game Time paper contributor Jeff Fahrenkog did an honest and balanced assessment of general manager Doug Armstrong’s time with the Blues [If you would like to take a look at both of these issues of Game Time please email me at jmannigel01 at gmail dot com. I believe it should be required reading for any Blues fan].
The first section of the two part series evaluates Armstrong’s coaching hires and trades. It is quite obvious that Armstrong’s hiring of coach Ken Hitchcock will probably be remembered as his greatest accomplishment while with the Blues organization. Under Hitchcock the Blues amassed the most points of any team in the NHL during the same time frame as well as qualifying for the playoffs every year he was behind the bench.
Unfortunately, this part of the article was published the day before the news of Hitchcock’s firing had been released so Jeff did not have the opportunity to fully evaluate Hitchcock’s tenure with the club because, at the time of publication, the results of the coach’s final year were unknown.
However, now that we know how the last chapter ended I think it’s safe to say that although hiring Hitchcock was a great move, Armstrong’s inability to realize that this year’s team and Hitchcock were a bad match will always be regarded as a monumental blunder.
Everyone in the NHL from the owners to the general managers to the zamboni drivers know what kind of coach Ken Hitchcock is. He is a hard nosed, abrasive coach who demands that his players execute a perfect 200 foot game night in and night out. And while he is a masterful tactician who is widely revered as one of the greatest hockey minds ever, his stubbornness and stand-offish demeanor tends to wear his players down, especially after years of exposure to his system.
Despite all of this being generally excepted by everyone around the league, Armstrong’s failure to except these known facts and act accordingly during this past-offseason has many people calling for the general manager to suffer the same fate as the Blues former head coach.
Doug Armstrong broke the first rule of management, he allowed his feelings towards his subordinates to cloud his judgement and it ended up causing his friend to suffer a much more humiliating fate then if the two would have parted ways during the summer.
Many people, who have much more hockey sense than I do, had suggested at the start of this season that this team and Hitchcock were obviously not a good match. The style of play that Hitchcock was known for coaching and the style that this team was going to have to play to be successful were not the same.
So I have to ask, if people that were that far removed from the club could understand that the team and the head coach should have parted ways last June, why was it so hard for Armstrong to see?
The truth is Armstrong knew all along there could be problems but Ken Hitchcock was his best chance at covering up some of the glaring holes in his team’s roster. What Armstrong failed to realize was that David Backes had been the little dutch boy with his finger in the dam. Without a good buffer between the coach and the players it didn’t take long for the levees to break.
However, despite some deeply troubling decisions with the club it’s doubtful that Armstrong is going away anytime soon. Not only will he finish out the season with the Blues, he may very well be offered a contract extension.
During his weekly chats Post-Dispatch beat writer Jeremy Rutherford is routinely asked about Doug Armstrong’s future with the Blues and his answer never changes. Not only does he strongly doubt that Armstrong will be fired, he is fairly confident the ownership group will extend his contract.
While many of us will consider that decision to be idiotic, it is important to remember Armstrong’s version of the story could vary greatly from yours and mine.
Yes, his decision to keep Hitchcock was wrong but the possible success of Mike Yeo may very well be his saving grace. If Yeo is able to turn this team around and if they can make the playoffs Armstrong will walk out of this shit-storm smelling like a rose.
Even if the Blues do miss the playoffs he might be able to convince the owners that it was the stubbornness of the players and not Hitchcock himself that was the problem. Also, he can confirm his dedication to the franchise by pointing out his willingness to fire his best friend in order to save the Blues season. Never mind that it was his ineptitude that caused the problem in the first place.
For every bad extension or bloated contract that Armstrong has awarded underperforming players over the years there are as many that have worked out in the club’s favor. For Jay Bouwmeester’s there is Alex Pietrangelo’s. For Jori Lehtera’s there is Robby Fabbri’s and David Perron’s. For Carl Gunnarrson’s there is Kevin Shattenkirk’s.
Under the freedom of Blues new head coach Mike Yeo, Paul Stastny’s $7 million a year and Alex Steen’s recent extension may prove a solid investment. The Blues have one of the best goal scorers in the league in Vladimir Tarasenko and a smart two way player in the reasonably price Jaden Schwartz.
If Jake Allen can turn things around and become a top ten goalie then his new contract will be the envy of the entire NHL.
There are a lot of “ifs” in those contracts but the ownership group feels that those deals are reasonable priced (comparably) gambles. Some have worked out and some have not but in the end Armstrong has always appeared to operate with Blues financial interests as his number one priority and that is one thing you will never catch the owners complaining about.
Whether or not you believe Armstrong should still be an employee of the Blues is a matter of personal opinion but don’t be surprised if the worst contract extension in Armstrong’s tenure is yet to come.