Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun published what amounts to a montage of NHL GM confusion and adulation - believe it or not, GMs seem to enjoy the mystery that they themselves helped create. Through trades to dump contracts and protect players, and selling other players short, they all directly contributed to the Stanley Cup Final that we are about to watch today. The Vegas Golden Knights may’ve been pieced together by general manager George McPhee, but he had help.
To their credit, most interviewed for this piece seem to have accepted their role in this season’s biggest Cinderella story. Nashville’s David Poile sums it up nicely:
“Regardless of what anyone says about the rules being favourable and all that went their way, this is not a fluke. What George McPhee and Gerard Gallant have done this year is something worth studying. They were one of the most consistent teams all year long. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, this is a really good hockey team.
“How did it happen? I don’t know if I can answer that. They have six defencemen who played in the NHL last year and none were top pairing guys on any of their teams. They weren’t top-four in most cases. And it’s working, somehow it’s working, whether it’s system, coaching, confidence, pairings, playing fast, whatever they are doing, it’s working.”
The money quote for Blues fans comes from our own GM, Doug Armstrong:
“They’ve broken every template that’s ever been constructed on hockey,” said Doug Armstrong, general manager of the St. Louis Blues. The Blues are one of 12 NHL teams that have never won the Cup. They haven’t been in the final in 48 years. How could Armstrong explain to a Blues fan that their team is out of the playoffs and the Golden Knights are playing for the Cup?
“I don’t know how I would do that,” he replies. “The reality is, they’re not supposed to be here, they’re not supposed to be this good. I don’t say this with envy. I say this with excitement. I’m hooked on the story.”
I can hear you pulling out your throwing tomatoes from here, everyone.
Simmons goes on to ask the question that Blues fans have been asking themselves for years: “why not us?” Why is it that a team can be cobbled together from perceived cast-offs (and James Neal, and three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury) and be successful, while the Blues’ front office can’t seem to put together much more than a few top defensemen, one top line, a bunch of third liners, and goaltending that is a carousel of madness?
It’s not like Doug Armstrong doesn’t try - the deal to get Brayden Schenn here was an acknowledgement of the need for a center and scoring; the deal to get the pick that eventually became Klim Kostin was another move in that same vein. But for every deal that recognizes the team’s need to fix shortcomings, there’s an element of shooting onself in one’s own foot. Yep, the team drafted Kostin, but dealt away a locker room guy that apparently was well-needed. Sure, the Blues shipped off Jori Lehtera, but it also sent off two first-round picks.
Then there was the flag-waiving contract dump that was the Paul Stastny deal - without any improvements to the Blues at the trade deadline, it signaled a content with the status quo at best, and a resignation that not making the playoffs was ok at the worst. Sure, getting Stastny’s contract off of the books was a good thing, but with the benefit of hindsight, it seems like it may’ve been a contributing nail in the coffin to the Blues missing the post-season.
It’s well and good that GMs are enamored with what is happening in Vegas. Nearly everyone else is - and I don’t think it’s fair to get angry at a first-year team for accomplishing what the Blues haven’t been able to do since 1970. I just hope that the GMs who are praising McPhee are also taking notes - and taking a long look in the mirror.