Since taking the reins as St. Louis Blues General Manager in 2010, there have been two guarantees when it comes to Doug Armstrong.
He is not afraid to offer strong opinions on a variety of subjects, including his own team, and he is not afraid of making bold moves when trying to improve the franchise.
The Blues are coming off the eighth 100-point season in franchise history, a season that saw them advance to their first Western Conference Final since 2001 with playoff series wins over the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars.
Armstrong, also the Blues’ president of Hockey Operations, has been the Blues’ GM of record for four of the top five regular-seasons in club history and two Central Division finals, but until last spring playoff success had eluded the club.
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In a recent interview, Armstrong was asked about a number of topics of concern to Blues fans as the team nears the midpoint of the season as well as the NHL Winter Classic, set for Jan. 2, 2017 against the rival Blackhawks at Busch Stadium.
Following is a Q and A session with Armstrong, with some questions edited for clarity:
Q: Why is this Blues team so different at home and on the road? (through 34 games the Blues were 13-3-3 at home and 5-9-1 on the road)
A: “We got off to a bad start on the road, then we played so many home games. We can’t really put our finger on why we’re not having the success, I think we’re nine out of 12 at home right now, so I’ll take that. In the second half of the season were going to have to find a much better road product if we want to make the playoffs. You can’t think you’re a legitimate playoff contender with the winning percentage we have on the road. That’s a middle-of-January concern right now.”
Q: Are you seeing the continued development you’d hoped for with star forward Vladimir Tarasenko?
A: “I think he’s finding ways to improve every year. What the league is starting to see now is maybe there was a feeling he was a one-dimensional player, a shooter. Now they’re taking away his shot a little bit more and his passing skills are showing themselves to everyone. He’s an elite passer also with great vision. I think he’s finding a way to impact the game offensively even when he’s not scoring. There is no ceiling for where he can get to; you see him getting better every day.”
Q: What’s the one area on this team you are the most happy with so far?
A: “The growth of the players we created space for, guys like Jaden Schwartz, Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko, Joel Edundson. Those players have really grabbed hold of the opportunity. Another player that’s doing a really good job in limited minutes has been Ryan Reaves. He really dedicated himself over the summer to improving the details in his game that will allow him to play longer and deeper into games and into periods. When you see someone put that kind of work in, you find that very gratifying and satisfying.”
Q: Jake Allen is the unquestioned starting goaltender now since the trade of Brian Elliott. What do you think of his progress?
A: “Just the demeanor of going from a partner to a No. 1, there’s a different mindset. Obviously (Coach Ken Hitchcock) is working him now, he’s giving him lots of starts. We have a lot of faith in Carter Hutton, but we’re trying to let everyone know Jake is the guy. We’ve seen some really great games from him, especially like the road game in Boston. He was fantastic. He’s near the top in the league in wins for goaltenders and we’re having an adequate season.”
Q: With defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, does that create a difficult decision moving forward on whether to keep him, extend him or possibly make a move?
A: “I think there’s an illusion that Kevin Shattenkirk is the only unrestricted (free agent) in the history of the game, and I happen to understand there might be more. He’s a good player and he’s having a good season, so we’re excited about it.”
Q: With the Winter Classic approaching are you as excited as the fans and the players?
A: “There’s obviously excitement to be recognized as a team and a community that can host such a marquee even for the NHL. Our job now is to try to stay in the here and now and not worry about it with several games remaining. You want to play that game where it’s not only a marquee game because of the venue, but it’s a really good game because of where you sit in the standings.”