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Q&A with GM Doug Armstrong

Armstrong covers early playoff exit, upcoming free agents, dealing with COVID and more

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

St. Louis Blues President and General Manager Doug Armstrong spoke with the media for nearly 40 minutes on Wednesday, covering everything from what went wrong in the Playoffs to playing during COVID and even addressing what might happen with potential free agents such as Jaden Schwartz, Tyler Bozak and Mike Hoffman.

Below are some of the highlights from the interview.

 

As you evaluate the 2020-21 season, how do you take into account injuries and the COVID-19 situation?

ARMSTRONG: Certainly that's going to play into my overall assessment of the year. I'm trying to look at it in short snippets, and then a longer haul. Obviously, I need to find out why since COVID hit a little over a year ago, we went to the bubble and weren't able to muster the same [success] we had pre-COVID. I think this year was sort of a continuation of that. The strength of this organization is the team, and we have to get back to being a better team.

 

With the pieces you have, do you feel the window to win another championship is still open?

ARMSTRONG: I think when we brought in those players a couple of years ago, we said we thought we had potentially a five-year window. This was Year 3 of it, so I do think it's open. Over the last decade, this group has averaged a little over 103 points a season, which is commendable. In that last decade, Colorado has had four Top 4 picks and I think six Top 10 picks, so they're primed and they're going to be good for awhile. You look at the Toronto Maple Leafs and their team now, with their number of Top 5 picks (they've had), they're going to be good for awhile. The way we have to be good is be a team and (have a) pack mentality. We'll have to assess how we can get better under that format. We don't have an answer internally for (Nathan) MacKinnon or (Connor) McDavid or (Sidney) Crosby or (Alex) Ovechkin. These guys are top picks. The way we have to build our team and continue to do it is by believing in each other, supporting each other, and understanding that individually we can't get it done. We have to do it as a group.

 

How much change are you anticipating this offseason?

ARMSTRONG: I think this will be an active year, not only potentially here in St. Louis but around the League. Anytime you have expansion, you have teams trying to do what's best for them, whether it's not exposing players to Seattle, making trades in which they feel they're in a better spot or just giving Seattle a list of players. And (we have) a flat cap for the foreseeable future, I think it's going to be an interesting summer. Will there be a lot of change? I think time will tell.

Video: Armstrong after the season - Part 1

 

What about Jaden Schwartz, an unrestricted free agent. Do you think he'll be back?

ARMSTRONG: I think Schwartz is a player we talked to (about a contract extension) before the season, and he was very adamant that he was comfortable with waiting. I understand that - he was going through a lot of things personally (at that time). Now we have until the end of July to figure out if this relationship is going to continue.

 

What about Mike Hoffman? Why do you think it took him awhile to get acclimated with the team, and do you see him having a future here in St. Louis?

ARMSTRONG: I could. I certainly want to sit and take some time and talk to our entire staff. Mike is a goal scorer. I think he was certainly in the top portion of our team in points. When we needed goals, when our season was on the brink, I thought he stepped up and played. It's that communication and bonding that takes time with coaches and teammates. Sometimes you envision this player working with that guy and it doesn't work out that way. Where I was really impressed with Mike though was that he hung in there, he battled, he worked, he waited for his opportunity and he produced. What we asked him to do, he produced.

 

What about Tyler Bozak? Are you interested in bringing him back at the right price?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, I think Bozie is a good pro. I haven't gotten into the minutia yet of who is coming back, who is not coming back. Obviously I'm going to work with my management staff to get their assessment of our group as a whole, and then we'll do individual players, and I'll get some input from the coaches and their thoughts on the players and we'll make a plan. But Bozie is a good pro and I've enjoyed him for three years. If it works out, it will be great.

 

What did you think of Vladimir Tarasenko's season, and with all the surgeries he's had, do you think he can get back to the level he was previously at?

ARMSTRONG: I think this season when he got back in, it was going to be a work-in-progress for the year. Vladi is a tremendous competitor. He worked extremely hard off the ice to get ready, but it's still an extended amount of time off. We saw flashes of 25-year-old Vladi Tarasenko, and I know he's going to put the work in. But like any player his age, you always have to evolve and your game has to change to stay current. Not just Vladi, but a lot of guys are going to have to evolve their game to today's NHL. I respect Vladi, I know he works hard, he's a good human being and a good person. I know he wants the best. Going over to the World Championships shows his love and passion for hockey. He wants to play.

 

How did you think Ryan O'Reilly did in his first year as captain?

ARMSTRONG: I thought he did a good job. I'm excited for his leadership style and leadership skills. I know he takes a lot of pride in it. I know he's going to work very hard this summer to make sure that we come back as a 100 percent committed team. It wasn't the easiest task coming in under this environment, and I thought he did a good job.

Video: Armstrong after the season - Part 2

 

How about going through the entire season without a positive COVID-19 test, and then dealing with three (David Perron, Nathan Walker and Jake Walman) as soon as the Stanley Cup Playoffs were set to begin.

ARMSTRONG: It's not something quite honestly I thought was going to happen. I thought like everybody else, you follow the news and you see the vaccinated people and society is opening up and masks aren't necessary and people are going to restaurants, and then we got hit with it. I think it's the psychological (factor) of losing a player like Perron, and also that psychological factor of how and why did Walker and Walman get it as vaccinated people. It played with our mind a little bit, and it played with our mind a little bit when Vladi and (Jordan Binnington) had the (false positive) tests in Colorado, but it is what it is. I guess if I wanted to sit here and find excuses for why we didn't perform to our level, we could, but nobody really cares. You are what you are, you are what your record says you were and we were 0-4.

 

Can you walk us through that morning of Game 2 in Colorado where Vladimir Tarasenko and Jordan Binnington showed up with false positive tests? What was that day like for you and the staff and how did it effect everything?

ARMSTRONG: I was getting those updates about 4:30 to 5 a.m. every morning on the previous day's COVID tests. I got that one and I actually thought they were both going to be positive, just based on we had three other guys (that were positive)… I talked to (NHL Deputy Commissioner) Bill Daly and he said there could be a tainted lab issue. Obviously Vegas I think had a number of people - in management and players (who were positive) - and the NBA had people, too. So that gave us a little glimmer of hope. I talked to the players, we ran another test, ran it to a lab in Denver and they were cleared by 1 o'clock. It was a hectic five or six hours, and I felt bad for the players. No one wants to wake up and turn your phone on (and see a message from) the GM or the trainer, give me a call ASAP. Their mind starts working on OK, how did I get this? What's going on? You try to tell them it could be another false positive and just work through it. It was a hectic six hours.

 

Are you anticipating next season to be a normal one in terms of length of schedule, hopefully in a post-COVID world?

ARMSTRONG: God I hope so. This is getting old for everybody right now. Just watching the Canadian division in the playoffs, knowing what Bell Centre would sound like, what Air Canada Centre in Toronto (would sound like)… just not having fans, it's different… I hope everybody gets vaccinated. I think it's a smart thing to do, it makes our society better and we can move on quicker. Once we do that, we can get back to the things that were normal. This is abnormal, and I hope it always stays abnormal. I want to get back to normal.

 

What did you tell the team before they left for the offseason?

ARMSTRONG: We have to get back to being a pack. We have to get back to the team. We have to be the hardest, closest, fiercest team because our competition might have acquired better players through free agency or through the draft or whatever. Our strength has always been the team and it's going to continue to be the team. But the excitement is, I know the character of the guys who are going to be able to do that… I think our team has its greatest success when they're committed to the guy beside them. I'm not saying they weren't - but being 98 or 96 percent committed is not being one hundred. For us to have success, we have to be 100 (percent committed).

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