Blues GM Doug Armstrong is excited to get the season started. He put in a solid summer, adding forwards Ryan O’Reilly, Patrick Maroon and Tyler Bozak, and also has justly high hopes for a young Note prospect crop.
He’s excited, but he’s also tired of no longer being a perennial Central Division contender.
“I’m always excited at the start of every year. This year maybe a little bit more because I think we all have things to prove,” Armstrong said before a recent Blues practice. “We all hear what’s said about us and read what’s said about us as an organization and we want to open up a new window where we’re competitive with the top teams.”
“What I liked about our group for five or six years was that it was ‘St. Louis and Chicago,’ then one year it was Dallas, then one year it was Nashville, then one year it was somebody else, but we were always consistent. Well, I want to get back into that.”
The Blues’ reign as a regular Central threat reminds one of the Cardinals’, as there was a time they were in the division title picture year in and year out with a rotating cast of opposing teams.
Another common thread with the Redbirds: Two current pesky opponents jockeying for position at the top of the Central.
“Right now it seems like it’s Nashville and Winnipeg; this is their time two years in a row. We want to be there where it’s St. Louis and a couple of teams that everyone’s talking about for four or five years,” Army added.
After a rough (although sharply started) 94-point season which saw the Blues miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 season, this year’s team doesn’t have much reason to regress with new faces like O’Reilly, Maroon and Bozak down the middle to go with Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz.
As far as another stellar start to match last year’s best in franchise history, Armstrong’s more worried about later in the calendar.
“What we can’t have, regardless of the start, is we can’t go through the midseason like we did last year when we went 30 games I think, with the fourth or fifth worst record in hockey. No one’s making the playoffs, I don’t care how good your start is, after that,” he said.
“I think that what we want to do is be a good, consistent team starting [Thursday] night and have that carry through the regular season.”
One can’t argue Armstrong was plenty aggressive this past offseason, adding the aforementioned along with winger (and now three-time Blue) David Perron, fresh off a Western Conference Championship run with the Vegas Golden Knights. A large part of the Knights’ bread and butter was speed up the middle, of which these Blues should have plenty, made up of veterans and younger skaters.
“I think the league has evolved where you have to be like this,” Armstrong said. “Five or six years ago, we were built for that NHL; we were big and heavy and a little bit nasty and that was what the league needed. That’s not the NHL today.
“I think we have a team that should be able to compete with the top teams in the league now. We have experience in key positions, but also youthful enthusiasm that keeps life entertaining on a day to day basis,” he added.
As Bernie Miklasz and Randy Karraker note in their latest podcast, the Blues are due better luck in terms of team health. The damned injury bug bit hard and often throughout the 2017-18 campaign and contributed bigly to the team going home in April.
They’re due better injury luck, but even should they not get it (Robby Fabbri could argue they already haven’t) the club’s set up well depth-wise, both in St. Louis and AHL affiliate San Antonio.
“I like the makeup of this team, having young players that are going to push,” Army said. “I think the depth of our team right now is strong. We have guys now in the American Hockey League that believe they should be here and are going to push to get here. It’s a competitive group and a deep group.”
‘Got to get the job done’
Jake Allen’s been written and bantered about plenty as the season’s approached, mainly in discussion whether the Blues’ No. 1 netminder will have another big-time midseason lull. It’s not all on him, but an awful lot of it is, as Armstrong noted Wednesday with a story from his days as Dallas GM.
“I’ll share a quick story: When I was interviewing coaches in Dallas, we were going to transition from Eddie Belfour to Marty Turco and I was interviewing Pat Burns,” Armstrong said. “Pat said that, ‘Well, Eddie’s a good goalie and goaltending’s 80 percent of the game unless you don’t have it. Then it’s 100 [percent].”
“I think we all know that position is very important and we’ve seen really good things from Jake mentally over the summer in how he prepared,” he added. “He came in with a little bit of a hiccup in an injury, but when he’s played, he’s looked fantastic. But I can’t really say too much; it is what it is. He’s got to get the job done.”
Stay connected with 101 ESPN for plenty of Blues coverage and chatter as the regular season gets underway.