There is a particular St. Louis Blues opinion that I have been against for quite a while. That is until this season at least. That opinion is that Doug Armstrong is bad for the Blues.
The St. Louis Blues roster has been completely constructed by GM Doug Armstrong. As Doug has been the GM since the summer of 2010, it is safe to say that he is entirely responsible for the roster’s construction.
The Problem Overview
It seems like every year we are talking about the Blues being a piece or two away from being a legitimate Cup Contender. In recent years, 2016 was certainly the year they were the closest. Even then they were at least a player or two away from truly winning the cup that year and it showed against San Jose.
It was after that season the St. Louis Blues lost Brian Elliott, David Backes, and Troy Brouwer. At that point in time, their top nine was Jaden Schwartz, Alexander Steen, Troy Brouwer, David Backes, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jori Lehtera, Paul Stastny, Robby Fabbri, and Patrik Berglund. Heading into the 2016-2017 season the Blues added David Perron and Nail Yakupov.
While Perron was a valid addition, the Yakupov experiment failed miserably. That means the Blues countered losing 84 points from Brouwer/Backes with 54 points from Perron/Yakupov. They also lost Fabbri (who was on pace for 45 points) to the first of two knee injuries. Fabbri could have helped plug the gap, but that was asking a lot for a second-year player.
Instead, of getting a valid top-nine forward to help plug the gap, Armstrong decided to spend money extending then 32-year-old Alex Steen to a four-year extension with a full no-trade clause. While Steen has been a valuable player for his Blues’ career, it didn’t make sense extending Steen when they just made a decision to not do the same for Backes due to age.
This is just what has happened in the last couple of years with a team that seemed ready to be a constant Stanley Cup contender. However, there’s more to it than that.
Some Trades but Not Many
If there’s one thing Armstrong has proven in his time as the Blues GM, he is a very strong trader. He has pulled off a few really strong trades the have favored the Blues in his time. The first one was the Jaroslav Halak deal where he acquired Halak for then-prospect Lars Eller and Ian Schultz.
The next great move was the trade of defenseman Erik Johnson, the Blues former top draft pick. That trade of Johnson and Jay McClement netted the Blues Chris Stewart (a player lauded as a scorer who needed a different environment to break out) and then-rookie Kevin Shattenkirk. At the time this was a bold move trading away a highly talented but not yet polished defenseman for a rookie and a player with potential not yet fully tapped.
Regardless, the deal worked flawlessly for him and the Blues. Stewart eventually flamed out in St. Louis, but Shattenkirk went on to total over 250 points in parts of seven seasons for the Blues nearly one hundred more points than Johnson who has also totaled -30 in parts of eight seasons with Colorado.
Armstrong also made a solid acquisition to shore up the defense with Jay Bouwmeester. A solid addition who has put in a ton of minutes on the PK and on the top defensive pairing for years for the Blues.
Most recently, we’ve seen Armstrong make solid trades of Kevin Shattenkirk for Zach Sanford and a couple of picks. Not only that, but Armstrong somehow managed to acquire another pick in the 2017 NHL draft along with somehow getting Philadelphia to part with Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera and a conditional pick.
Maybe you can call it a reluctance of other GM’s unwilling to deal with Armstrong with his strong history of winning deals, but Armstrong still hasn’t been able to secure a premier forward to add to his teams. While the Shattenkirk and Schenn trades are phenomenal trades, they were supplementary moves.
These are moves that should have been made to supplement an already strong offensive team or moves to be made in addition to an acquisition of another top-nine forward. Not moves that stand up on their own.
Couple Armstrong’s level of ineffective action with his ability to hand out bad contracts and you develop an equation for this team’s roster problems. In the last few seasons alone, Armstrong has made some pretty bad decisions for this team contract wise.
Let’s start in 2013. That was the point in which the Blues were a perennial playoff team, with a lack of scoring that was becoming apparent in a developing team. So, in 2013, what did Doug Armstrong do? He signed an aging defensive defenseman in Jay Bouwmeester to five-year $5.4 million contract extension. Like our friends at Gametime mention, it’s not the AAV that is the problem, it’s the length of the contract that is a problem.
Bleedin Blue mentions that at the time handing Steve Ott a $2.6 AAV contract was a bad idea as well, stating that there were other agitators available for less than $1 Million. I tend to agree on this here as well, as Ott was often overused by then-coach Ken Hitchcock.
However, it doesn’t stop there. Just two years later, Doug Armstrong handed out a three-year $14 Million extension to Jori Lehtera. This is one year after a very effective first year for the Finnish centreman. While Lehtera had shown promise, this was a dumpster fire extension. Armstrong should have waited for Lehtera to show his worth one more season before signing him to that kind of extension. Thankfully, that contract and Lehtera are off the books now.
The fun (or agony) keeps coming. In the last year, there have been two bad contracts handed out by our friend Doug Armstrong. The first of the bad contracts was a five-year $19.28 extension to Patrik Berglund. I’ve mentioned before that Berglund is a .46 PPG (point-per-game) player. These aren’t the type of players you hand out five-year extensions to.
About a month and a half later, Vladimir Sobotka returned to the St. Louis Blues after spending a few seasons in the KHL. Sobotka had one year left to play on his contract whether he played the one game in the regular season last season or not.
However, before seeing one lick of NHL action, Doug Armstrong signed Sobotka to a three year $10.5 million contract. While the AAV of that deal isn’t too bad, it’s the concept that is a problem. The Blues had no need to extend a player who is no greater than a third line player.
This is not all of the problems the Blues have had. In Armstrong’s eight years as a GM, his best free agent acquisition was the signing of Paul Stastny. That deal failed to live up to the expectations and Stastny is now playing for someone else.
While nobody knows if the Blues could have actually been in the running for any of these players I am about to mention. However, in the last two years, due to Doug Armstrong’s poor roster management, the Blues missed out on potentially signing Eric Staal, Vincent Trocheck, Alexander Radulov, Justin Williams, Sam Gagner, or even Thomas Vanek. All of these players could have easily slid into the top six and given the Blues a deeper top nine.
Instead, Armstrong chose to extend third liners and grinders. While I was a fan of not signing Backes, it didn’t make sense to turn around and do the exact opposite with Steen. This team has needed scoring for years to go alongside Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. Yet it seems as if Armstrong only wants to acquire guys who are projects or supplement scoring when players leave.
Bottom line, there always seems to be something holding this team back from reaching the next level. They’ve been through four different coaches in Doug Armstrong’s tenure with the organization. The blame has often been placed on the coaches and players, but maybe it’s time we turn our gaze on to the GM.
Unfortunately, Tom Stillman apparently still sees something here and a four year deal with the option for a fifth was signed just a couple of months ago. So, it appears as if Armstrong is here for the long haul whether we like it or not.
What are your thoughts on Doug Armstrong’s role in the team’s struggles over the years? Is he at fault or is the blame on the coaching staffs and players? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section or on social media.