Blues GM takes a long-term approach when assessing season

News-DemocratMay 12, 2013 

— What some St. Louis Blues fans see as decades of playoff failures does not register on the vision of General Manager Doug Armstrong.

He's too busy looking ahead following the Blues' first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

"I have sympathy for the St. Louis fans, but the reality is that the failures of the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and 2000s ... they don't lie at the feet of T.J. Oshie," Armstrong said Sunday. "They don't lie at the feet of David Backes. They don't lie at the feet of Brian Elliott.

"That's somebody else's issue. We're a better team now than we were two years ago and that's how I look at it. To live in the past and try and exorcise ghosts is irrelevant."

With that in mind, Armstrong acknowledged the same problems the fans saw in a brutally tight first-round loss to the Kings -- not enough scoring, inconsistency and mistakes at crucial times.

Asked about trying to find more scoring, Armstrong bristled.

"This is a public cry that for any GMs that have 50-goal scorers that they want to send to St. Louis, give me a call," he joked. "This doesn't happen, you have to deal in reality. The reality is with free agency the way it is now, teams tie up those elusive top-end goal scorers.

"They draft them. (Evgeni) Malkin, (Sidney) Crosby, (John) Tavares, (Steven) Stamkos were drafted by those teams."

Armstrong's point was simple. While it would be nice to bring in a top-end goal scorer, the Blues need a lot more production from the current core of roster talent.

"It's incumbent upon the players in this room to find out how to produce when the lights are the brightest, to score those goals," he said. "If I can find a guy that can come in and help us score goals, certainly we're gong to look at doing it.

"But to think that player's out there and teams just give them away and say 'Geez, it's St. Louis's time to win, we'll give you Ovechkin.'... You've got to deal in reality."

Among the most pressing free agent decisions facing Armstrong are negotiating deals for restricted free agents Chris Stewart, Alex Pietrangelo, Patrik Berglund and Kevin Shattenkirk, among others.

There's also three goalies vying for two roster spots now with the emergence of rookie Jake Allen.

Blues goalies Jaroslav Halak ($4.5 million) and Brian Elliott ($1.9 million) both have a year remaining on their contracts while Allen is a restricted free agent.

"He's certainly proven based on his work this year. ... I don't think he needs more seasoning," Armstrong said of Allen. "He's one of three right now. He has proven to me that he deserves an opportunity to play in the NHL."

Halak battled through a groin injury while Elliott was sent to the minors on a conditioning assignment before regaining his form.

"It's a cloudy issue right now, to be honest with you, because of how the season progressed," Armstrong said when asked to assess the goaltending situation. "I think anything could happen. It was a difficult year for both Elliott and Jaro and I think Jake took great advantage of it. He's proven to us now that he has to go in the equation."

Even though the Blues reached the second round of the playoffs last season and were eliminated in Round 1 this spring, Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock believe this team is closer to taking the next step.

"My belief in playoff success is you knock on the door, you get to the door enough times and sooner or later you get through," Armstrong said. "Where we're at now is we're at the door consistently for two years, we're going to get back there. If we put ourselves in this position year-in and year-out, at some point we'll get through."

Armstrong said the club will make qualifying offers to all of its restricted free agents.

"We're going to negotiate to try to sign every player that's a restricted free agent," he said. "Ownership understands that the window is open now and we have to take care of our own. I don't see this being a huge free-agency off-season for us. I see it more as taking care of our own business -- and then seeing if we want to rearrange some of the chairs via trade.

"I truly believe that we're moving in the right direction."

Armstrong has never shied away from making bold moves, but he seems to believe the Blues are getting closer to playoff success.

"The easiest thing is to show somebody the door," he said. "The hardest thing is to bring somebody through the door that's better. We have players that have produced in the past that haven't been able to get us over the hump in the playoffs.

"But they're still in those prime years. We need the home-grown talent to start producing at the most important times."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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