GM Doug Armstrong has been widely criticized by Blues fans the past couple years as the team has repeatedly fallen short of their ultimate goal while the squeeze of the salary cap has grown tighter and tighter through questionable contracts. Despite all of that, team owner Tom Stillman still has complete faith that Armstrong is the right man for the job.
Stillman commented on the GM situation and Armstrong’s contract with Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Stillman’s answers were direct and to the point, and though the questions didn’t dive past the surface of the issue, they still revealed what Stillman thinks regarding Army.
Q.: Before the Blues got on track at the end of the season, Armstrong faced increasing criticism. It’s certainly less now after the turnaround, but did your faith in how he was managing the club ever waver?
Stillman: “No. You need to keep a longer view on things like that. You don’t evaluate the performance of a top-level manager based on the latest current losing streak or a rough patch. I felt confident that Doug was making the right decisions and looking at the long-term, and that’s our focus, being competitive not just this year but next year and the following year. In fact, I think Doug’s unusual in that he was so focused on the long-term. A lot of GMs, I think, are inclined to be focused on what’s going to keep my job next year and the year after. Some GMs would perceive it as taking a risk to be looking farther down the road even thought it might not lead to as many wins in the current year or the next year. I think that’s an important quality, looking long-term for the organization and not looking at your short-term survival. I think Doug knows that I am in tune with looking at things in that longer-term way.”
Some of those comments are infuriating. Why can’t you evaluate a GM based on his current rough stretch like you would a head coach? Stillman praises Army for being so focused on the long-term, but it’s worth noting that the long-term plans for the Blues look a bit muddy with some of the contracts he has awarded. What kind of long-term plans justify Jori Lehtera’s contract besides bad ones?
Armstrong should definitely be evaluated on the current rough patch. He’s the one who put the Blues in the spot to begin with and yet he’s getting a pass.
If you’re hoping for a change at the GM position, Stillman may have some bad news for you.
“Q.: Armstrong has one more season remaining on his current contract. How are you approaching his status and if your expectation is to sign him to an extension, is that something you would like to address sooner than later?
Stillman: “As a matter of principal, we don’t talk about contract negotiations and plans and things like that. So I don’t want to get into that, but I’ll refer to the comments I’ve made about the job that Doug has done in guiding us through this season and focusing on the longer term.”
Q.: So based on that, you do see him as the person for the job moving forward?
Stillman: “Yes I do.”
In other words, plan on Armstrong sticking around whether you like it or not.
Here’s the bottom line – Armstrong isn’t a horrible GM, but he’s being bested by the GMs around him. That wasn’t always the case (far from it) and now it’s becoming a real concern. While he made some awesome deals in the past, his more recent sample of work has been a mixed bag. The contracts are looking more and more questionable. Despite a strong playoff run in 2015-16, the Blues abandoned any identity they had and are now a team that’s not exactly fast and not exactly big. They still turned that into a second-round appearance, but what could have happened if the Blues actually had the pieces they needed? How are Blues fans supposed to believe this team is any closer to being a real Cup threat when Vladimir Tarasenko still needs support around him?
The life of a GM isn’t an easy one and it’s easy to be a bit too hard on Armstrong. However, he deserves to be criticized and held accountable for putting the Blues in the spot they’re in. Stillman and Armstrong believe the team is sitting pretty with their long-term plans, but that doesn’t seem to pass the common sense test seen in some recent decisions.