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Armstrong embraces challenge of building a winner

Sunday, 10.03.2010 / 3:00 AM / 2010-2011 Season Preview

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

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Armstrong embraces challenge of building a winner
Doug Armstrong has plenty of experience as an NHL general manager, but is as excited as a first-timer in taking the reins of the St. Louis Blues.
Doug Armstrong is the new general manager of the St. Louis Blues, but by no means is he going to rest on any laurels.

Armstrong, in fact, remembers vividly what then-Minnesota North Stars GM Bob Clarke told him when he gave Armstrong his first NHL job, back in 1990.

Clarke's message was simple and could be viewed as a challenge to Armstrong, even though he came to the position armed with a degree from Western Michigan and a Masters degree in business from Florida State in business.

"Your father's going to help you get this job ... but you're going to have to keep it on your own," Clarke told him.

Armstrong's father was Neil Armstrong, who is enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame as a linesman and who also spent the 20 years as a scout with the Montreal Canadiens.

Armstrong took heed of Clarke's words. No one works harder and his team never will be outworked. That was the case during his six years as the GM of the Dallas Stars and while serving as Larry Pleau's assistant in St.  Louis.

The 46-year-old native of Sarnia, Ont., looks at his roster this year as a clean slate. He's patient -- to a point. That's the way he always has treated players, whether they are newcomers looking for an opportunity or for those with a job sewed up.

"My dad would start all of his road trips in Detroit and I would go to the old Olympia Stadium with him and I would sit in the referee's room and I would get to go into the Red Wings' locker room and meet the players," Armstrong said. "I learned about commitment there.  And the kind of competition it takes at the NHL level."

Competition and integrity make the best players, enabling them to be good teammates. Armstrong learned early -- no shortcuts.

There were no shortcuts in his six seasons as GM in Dallas, where his record was 203-109-48. Not bad, but Armstrong had more to learn. That's why he took a wait-and-see approach with the Blues. He was prepared to wait.

"All my friends in the business looked at the Blues as the best group of youngsters," Armstrong said. "And the scouting staff has added to it while I've been here."

Making the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- the right way -- is the way Armstrong will guide his team. Potential doesn't cut it. Talent is great, but must be shown. For the Blues, reaching the playoffs is what is demanded.

Erik Johnson, David Backes, David Person, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Ian Cole and Philip McRae are the building blocks in St. Louis, but no more talk of potential. It's put up or shut up time here.

"The time has come for those players and others to stand up and be accountable," Armstrong said. "We're going to try to give each player as much support and as much of an opportunity to show us that they are
for real.

"We're removing the training wheels, the safety net. No more excuses for these guys to be the best they can be."

"The evolution starts with T.J. Oshie, Patrick Berglund and everyone else," Armstrong continued. "Oshie or Berglund or Perron don't want to give up any ice time, but there are others challenging for their spots. They're not about to give up."

Davis Payne will be running his first training camp as coach of the Blues, a team minus veteran leaders Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya. So, St. Louis will be looking for more from the young guys. Brad Boyes and Backes, two former 30-goal scorers, are just a start in replacing Tkachuk and Kariya.

"The players will tell us who will take us along for the journey," Payne said. "Who will want to be the leaders? The guys who want to be on the ice when we are ahead and the guy who wants to be out there when we are behind. Those players who want to be there will get the ice time. There are plenty of young guys out there with those goals."

Armstrong clearly likes like his roster.

"I've always believed that strength down the middle is key to a winning team," Armstrong said. "We added strength at center in Vladimir Sobotka, T.J. Hensick and Philip McRae to David Backes and Andy McDonald
and Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie. Sobotka bring lot of tenaciousness to our forwards units.

"We have been looking for five veteran defensemen. Eric Brewer, Erik Johnson, Barret Jackman, Roman Polak and Carlo Colaiacovo, but we'll be looking carefully at Alex Pietrangelo, Tyson Strachan, Ian Cole and Nikita Nikitin, as well."

So competition abounds in St. Louis. But how close are the Blues to the defending Stanley Cup champion
Chicago Blackhawks?

"We have the corps, but talk is cheap," Armstrong said. "Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have proven themselves. Duncan Keith is Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook is Brent Seabrook. They've taken potential and turned it into reality. Now, our players have to take that in reality."


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