Doug Armstrong doesn’t care for emotions, yours or his.
Once known as the suit who got contract extension happy (Patrik Berglund a few times), the St. Louis Blues General Manager works at a methodical pace these days. Trades happen, fan favorites go, and the next season begins. He’s a machine, devoid of extra emotion or care for nostalgia.
He let David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo, fan favorites and captains, walk. Heck, he would have let Chris Pronger walk too. Nothing personal, that’s just his nature. Forget about it. There’s no room for heartfelt grace in a sports business executive’s job title. Recently, Vladimir Tarasenko demanded a trade and Armstrong responded by essentially stating he had already been talking to teams about moving him.
Jaden Schwartz, a longtime Blue, was left to sign with the Seattle Kraken, the expansion NHL team that had already claimed Vince Dunn, a defenseman once propped to carry the Blues defense into the next phase. Big-time goal scorer or solid defender, if your value drops or a contract isn’t being built for you, the next year could feature a different jersey. Armstrong deals in absolutes, the way that GMs have to in order to keep their teams competitive and owners happy.
If only John Mozeliak dealt with the same precision as Armstrong. When Mo lost Albert Pujols in free agency to the Los Angeles Angels, he publicly noted how tough it was to lose an icon. Armstrong says goodbye to them every year and moves on. He also doesn’t make one big trade and then call it a day. Come to think of it, Armie may have given his contract extension bug to Mo a few years back. I digress...
Last week, as free agency kicked off, he acquired Pavel Buchnevich in a trade. He acquired him before Schwartz or free agent winger Mike Hoffman signed. Armstrong filled the hole before it could be vacant; that’s a smart, practical businessman who has learned his lessons and taken his lumps in order to know how transition works in a hockey team.
Buchnevich, a longtime New York Ranger left winger, is a guy who can put up 16-20 goals and 45-50 points without making an ass of himself on the ice defensively. Armstrong quickly locked him into a four-year contract. He is just 26 years old.
But was Doug finished there? Nope. He didn’t hang his hat on one upgrade and go back to sleep.
Brandon Saad, a perennial 20-goal scorer who spent time with the Blackhawks and Avalanche, was next up. He gave the Blues a hard time in their matchups too, so you lose those goals against next season. Saad will be 29 on Oct. 27, but has a lot of good hockey left in him. Armstrong signed him to a five-year contract.
Two guys, 20 goal/50 point potential, modest contracts. Good players recruited for the next Cup run. That’s what Armstrong has been doing these past few years.
He’s gone from the Ryan Miller WTF trade fall guy to the Ryan O’Reilly trade master. He’s the GM who fleeced Philadelphia for Brayden Schenn before he got the best of the Sabres for his current captain. I wouldn’t doubt if Colton Parayko finds himself on the market here soon. If there’s no money left to keep him here past his current contract (which expires after the season), expect a trade. It’s the Doug way.
General managers have to make choices. This guy or that guy. And if that guy wants to go, who could replace him and his stats? When Armstrong signed Justin Faulk a couple months after winning the Stanley Cup, he was already preparing for a Pietrangelo departure. A safety net was in place before the guy was even gone.
Love or hate his decision not to pay Petro the extra cash and give him all the contract stipulations required, but it was pure business. Armstrong does what’s best for the Blues, not the fans. It’s the same reason fans shouldn’t be general managers.
It doesn’t always work out. #27 went deep into the playoffs this summer while the Blues couldn’t make it out of the first round, but there were other contributing factors involved. There always is. Armstrong knows this.
What he cares about is winning. Winning hockey games. Going after another Stanley Cup, and doing so in an unflashy way. Interviews aren’t his style. Every time I hear Armstrong talk, it feels as if he’s trying to not slip all of his master plans. He fidgets, starts and stops, regroups mid answer, and doesn’t always sound like a pro. But he is.
Armstrong is an emotionless assassin when it comes to trades and transactions. That’s the way it should be. That’s why he’s the best-working GM in St. Louis. Armed with a salary cap that isn’t soft in any way and a payroll that doesn’t reach over $100 million, he still gets it done.