When you think of strong NHL teams that simply can’t “get over the hump,” your mind goes to teams like the Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks, and the St. Louis Blues.
Perhaps it’s the missing transcendent success that explains why Blues GM Doug Armstrong is currently waiting on a contract extension, then.
The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford goes in-depth on Armstrong’s lack of a deal (sub required), and honestly stole my thunder in vividly describing how Armstrong’s put together a remarkably clean, competitive roster. One of Rutherford’s most salient points is that, while other teams have used buyouts to clean up past mistakes, Armstrong’s avoided doing so, thus saving the Blues both face and money.
Rutherford’s well-written piece notes that the Blues wouldn’t just risk losing Armstrong; they’d also possibly lose some worthwhile management team members who would follow him out the door if another team would come calling. (And why wouldn’t another team do so? Looking at you, Florida Panthers.)
And if the person who has signed the Blues’ contracts for the past eight years comes close enough to free agency himself, the Blues may risk losing not only him but his “Army” as well. Assistant GM Martin Brodeur, vice president of hockey operations Dave Taylor, senior consultant Larry Robinson, director of player development Tim Taylor, director of hockey analytics Thomas Cason were all brought in by Armstrong. And in addition to Bill Armstrong being promoted, Rob DiMaio ascended to director of player personnel under Doug Armstrong.
Allow me to add one consideration, and it comes from the KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) school of logic: waiting too long might literally be costly to the Blues. As in, it might cost ownership some legitimate cash.
Take a moment and look over the standings.
OK, when it comes to the West, how many teams clearly hold an advantage over the Blues right now?
Yes, the Winnipeg Jets are a dangerous team, but there’s a lot of concern about their possession stats, and if that has your eyes glazing over, their ability to defend. St. Louis might end up being the more well-rounded team (also with top-end skill to hang with the Jets) in a seven-game series.
The Nashville Predators stand as a legitimate contender, and might just be the most “complete” team in the West. Still, virtually any team is vulnerable in the salary cap era; what if Pekka Rinne falters and the Predators lose too much ground to pivot in time?
You could carry this exercise out with plenty of other teams. The Blackhawks are dangerous but deeply flawed. The Kings are revitalized, but are they truly better than the Blues? And so on.
And, out East, there are strong teams, yet the Blues would likely be able to match up reasonably well with just about any team.
Long story short, this as as reasonable a time as any for St. Louis to finally make that deep run. If that happens, imagine the sort of leverage Armstrong would have in contract talks?
Risking either losing Armstrong or having to pay him a severe premium seems silly, especially since the Blues are a well-oiled machine as is, despite the frustrations from postseason letdowns.
Maybe that’s not the sexiest outlook, but that’s part of Armstrong’s charm. The Blues have been patient with plenty of quality players (anyone else remember the agony of waiting for Vladimir Tarasenko to finally come to the NHL?), unearthing gems such as Colton Parayko, bringing Jake Allen along, and seeing the likes of Alex Pietrangelo rise in the ranks.
Pundits and Blues fans alike have been burned by “Is this the Blues’ year?” talk often enough to discourage such talk, but Blues owner Tom Stillman has a lot to lose if he ignores that possibility outright.
At worst, this is an opportunity to acknowledge just how great a job Armstrong’s done over the years. He deserves the reward of a new deal, whether it comes in St. Louis or somewhere else.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.