ST. LOUIS - As is customary at the end of the season, Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong and Head Coach Ken Hitchcock held a joint press conference to tie up loose ends and answer questions following the Blues’ loss to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final last week.
This year’s press conference was especially lengthy - a lot of questions needed answers, such as will Ken Hitchcock return? Will the Blues attempt to bring captain David Backes back next season? What about Troy Brouwer? Can we expect Brian Elliott and Jake Allen to share the net again?
The entire hour-long press conference is available above, but here are some of the highlights:
Doug Armstrong’s No. 1 priority in the offseason is to sign RFA Jaden Schwartz.
Armstrong has a lot of decisions to make in the offseason regarding his roster. David Backes, Troy Brouwer, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott, and Scottie Upshall are just some of the players awaiting a decision this summer. But Armstrong said his top priority is to get Schwartz signed.
“The focus will be starting with Jaden Schwartz and seeing if we can get him signed to a longer-term extension,” Armstrong said. “There’s a finite time to negotiate. After a certain date, one of the two of us will select arbitration. I know he’ll be under contract, I know this isn’t going to go into September. Schwartz is priority No. 1 because it then puts another piece of the puzzle in place in our salary cap.”
Basically, once Schwartz is signed, Armstrong knows how much free space he’ll have remaining to sign other players.
The Blues would prefer to keep David Backes in St. Louis.
The Blues’ captain just wrapped up a five-year contract and will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 if he’s not re-signed by the Blues. Armstrong said he wants to bring the captain back, but the salary cap may have it’s say.
“He’s our captain,” Armstrong said. “He’s been here 10 years, he’s got a vested interest in our leadership group. The (free agent) market will bear what the market will bear, but ultimately our salary cap will bear what it will bear. I think David’s got a lot of good years left in him, and I’d love to keep him here. But it has to work out for David and his family first and foremost, and it has to work in our math equation. He’s a priority.”
What about Troy Brouwer?
See the answer about David Backes. Yes, the Blues want to bring Brouwer back, but it all has to fit under the salary cap, and a big part of that what happens with Backes / Brouwer might depend on the details of the Schwartz contract.
Ken Hitchcock will be back for one final season; Associate Coach Brad Shaw moves on.
The Blues’ Head Coach has some unfinished business after guiding his club to its first trip to the Western Conference Final since 2001. The Blues announced Tuesday morning that Hitchcock has signed another one-year deal, which he said will be his last.
“To me, I’m just ready to go for next year. I’m excited,” Hitchcock said. “This is an unbelievable group of guys with a ton of potential and I’m ready to do it. (Our team’s) dynamic has changed. When you have accountability in your locker room and you have that balance between friendship and teammates, you can overcome anything. That creates an attitude where your team is not afraid to win. And that’s what’s here right now.
“I feel like I’ve got one really good year in me.”
Armstrong said he offered similar one-year contract extensions to the rest of the coaching staff, but Associate Coach Brad Shaw has opted to move on and pursue other opportunities. Shaw has been with the club since 2006.
Brian Elliott and Jake Allen could share the net again in 2016-17.
Injuries hampered an otherwise amazing season in goal for both Elliott and Allen. A late season injury to Allen gave Elliott an opportunity to take over, and he never gave it back.
Here’s what Armstrong had to say about his view on goaltending for next season:
“I could see us coming back with both goaltenders,” he said. “We were very fortunate to have two goaltenders there to grab the ball when it hit the floor. I like our goaltending. I think Jake is still pushing towards being an upper-echelon goalie. He lost the net this year, Brian took it and didn't give it up. Kudos to Brian for that. Jake's preparing to wrestle it back in September. We're going to see how it goes down.”
Ken Hitchcock and Vladimir Tarasenko get along just fine.
A big deal was made when cameras caught an apparent disagreement between Hitchcock and Tarasenko in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks, but Armstrong insists his Head Coach and top goal scorer get along just fine.
“He’s a competitive player and he wants to win,” Armstrong said of Tarasenko. “Is he happy with the coach every day? I would doubt it. Is the coach happy with him every day? I would doubt it. I'm not sure, in any sport, that everybody gets along every day. There’s a respect level at the end of the day when the dust settles that has to be there. I met with Vladi and I know that respect level is there. He’s 100 percent committed to the city of St. Louis and the Blues organization and our fans. He’s 24 years old. He learned a lot about the NHL over the last six weeks… he’s going to be better for it.”
But what about Kevin Shattenkirk, who is entering the final year of his deal?
Shattenkirk’s name has occasionally popped up in trade rumors, and that makes sense considering that Shattenkirk will be entering the final year of his contract and would generate a lot of interest as an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Here’s what Armstrong had to say about Shattenkirk’s situation:
“I view him as a top player not only on our team, but in the game. He falls into the jigsaw of the salary cap,” Armstrong said. “Do I expect him back here in September? Sure I do. I look at our defense and I think it's a good defense. We needed all those guys. Ultimately, it’s not the love of the game you play for. It’s a business decision. I'd like to bring Brouwer back, I'd like to bring Backes back, but they understand the reality of it. It's a business decision. Shatty's going to have to make one and we're going to have to make one. But he's a hell of a hockey player and he's a big part of our team.”
Will Vladimir Sobotka be back?
Armstrong said he had several conversations with Sobotka during the season about the possibility of coming back to St. Louis if he could get out of his KHL contract, but none of those materialized. Armstrong said he believes Sobotka intends to return next season.
"If he exercises the window (to get out of his contract), he'll be a St. Louis Blue," Armstrong said. "I'd love to have him back."