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Armstrong Must Sell If He Chooses Not To Buy

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If Doug Armstrong chooses to stand pat at the deadline, he’s making the choice to abdicate his most important responsibility.

Jeff Roberson/AP

When St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong traded Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals on February 28th, 2017, he was realistic in his assessment of the team.

At a press conference the day after the trade, Armstrong told the assembled media, “we’re not in the business of trading good players for prospects when your team has a chance to win the Cup.”

The Blues were fourth in the Central Division at the time and held the final wild card position in the Western Conference playoff picture. When they take the ice in Nashville on Sunday, the Blues will find themselves outside the playoffs, one point behind the Calgary Flames.

Certainly no argument can be made that this year’s Blues are superior to last year’s version. Why, then, is it now acceptable for Armstrong to hold serve at the trade deadline?

If Armstrong doesn’t believe that the Blues will become a contender by adding pieces by Monday’s trade deadline, then he’s obligated to try to move on from pending unrestricted free agents who may recoup value on the market.

Paul Stastny is in the final year of a contract that holds a $7,000,000 salary cap hit and which includes a no trade clause. Finding a trade for him might be challenging, but his 40 points so far this season are tied for the highest total of any so-called “rental player” with Buffalo’s Evander Kane. By comparison, Rick Nash of the New York Rangers has a mere 28 points.

Both Kane and Nash are expected to command packages including multiple assets. The Blues, without their own first round pick in this summer’s entry draft as long as it falls outside of the top ten, could certainly use the restocking boost. The team would also be in a position to retain up to fifty percent of Stastny’s salary in order to make a trade more palatable.

Other assets could also be made available. Scottie Upshall and Kyle Brodziak are both unrestricted free agents after the season. Brodziak is far and away the more appealing player of the two and is likely to be a target for a contract extension, but Upshall has almost certainly worn out his welcome.

Dmitirj Jaskin and Oskar Sundqvist are both restricted free agents at season’s end, and each is at risk of not receiving a qualifying offer. While neither is likely to have any sort of real value, an intrigued team may bite on the hook.

Rush, arguably the second most Canadian band of all time, features a line in their song “Freewill” that many people are familiar with: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

Doug Armstrong’s central responsibility is to position the St. Louis Blues to field a competitive team every season. If this year’s version fell short of expectations, it’s inexcusable to compound mistakes of the past by allowing the present to proceed unimpeded.

If the clock strikes 2:00 PM on Monday afternoon in St. Louis without substantial changes to the roster, then Armstrong will have unequivocally failed. He was rewarded with a four year contract extension earlier in the season, allowing him the freedom to take a long view of the franchise’s future. It’s vital that that vision doesn’t turn to complacency and indecision.