Should Doug Armstrong be fired? Retool or rebuild? Steve Ott feeling pressure? Blues mailbag, part 2

I don’t think I’ve witnessed too many games like the St. Louis Blues’ matchup against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday.

The Blues went 0-for-7 on the power play … and won 2-1.

There’s nothing wrong with what Robert Thomas said afterward.

“Obviously you want to be better (on the power play) and help the team out, but at the end of the day, it’s a big win,” Thomas said. “These guys have had our number lately, especially here, and I think we did a great job of limiting their offense and playing a smart game.”

True, but what in the name of Godzilla is going on here?

The Blues are now 1-for-35 on the power play this season. No calculator? That’s 2.9 percent.

After going 0-for-7 on Thursday, they’re now 0-for-18 at Enterprise Center. Ameren UE sponsors each power-play goal scored on home ice, and the company has yet to make a donation this season.

“After a win, we’re excited about the win and everything,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “But the power play is the power play right now and we’ve got to fix it. We’ll just keep working on it. We’ll talk about it with the guys, get their feedback about what they’re seeing and what we’re seeing and try to figure it out.”

After blowing a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play on Thursday, in which they had just two shots on goal, here’s what defenseman Torey Krug saw:

“What I saw, which was a bad thing tonight but generally not, we just saw guys that wanted to be the guy,” Krug said. “Over-handling and not executing with the puck and not taking that extra second to make a good pass. I was at fault for that one time. So it’s up to that group — important players for our team — and you’ve got to execute in those situations and we didn’t.”

It’s incredible to think that the Blues are 6-5-1 with a power play that’s ranked last in the NHL. Like literally, they’ve won three of their last four games, and they’re 0-for-10 on the man-advantage in that stretch.

“The power play, yeah, it’s frustrating,” Blues defenseman Justin Faulk said. “It’s not new to tonight, though, so guys are happy about the win. We’ll keep working at it moving forward.”


It’s a win, but as there were in part 1 of our Blues mailbag, there are continued concerns about this season and the big picture in part 2. After answering 11 of your questions earlier this week, I addressed another 11.

(Note: Some questions are edited lightly for length and clarity.)

I know that time moves quickly in professional sports, but if it doesn’t feel like the Blues’ competitive window slammed shut rather abruptly. Do you think if we don’t hit the pandemic in March 2020, the trajectory of the organization continues on a more successful track? — Ryan M.

It’s so hard to say what could have happened, but yes, I do believe the pandemic-shortened season changed a lot. Most fans probably remember where the Blues were in the standings at the time, but as a refresher, they were No. 2 in the league (94 points) when the regular season abruptly ended at 71 games. They’d won 10 of their last 12 games when everything shut down on March 11.

None of this is to say they would’ve gone on another long Stanley Cup playoff run, but if so, I do think it could’ve changed the course of a lot of things. Perhaps Alex Pietrangelo stays. Maybe Jordan Binnington keeps his mojo. Who knows? But we do know that beginning with the 2020 playoffs in the Edmonton bubble, the Blues just weren’t the same the next couple of years. They were still competitive, but just not the same.

Simple question: Should Doug Armstrong be fired? He gets all the credit for bringing the Stanley Cup to St. Louis and deservedly so. However, it seems like everything he’s done since has ended in disaster. — Adam S.

I don’t think so. He’s one of the best in the business. Yes, there have been some decisions he’d like to have back. Yes, the Blues are hamstrung at the moment because of some of them. But Armstrong has shown over 13 seasons and 1,000-plus games what he’s capable of. The thing is, with the current contracts he has on the books, it’s not like he can pull off one or two moves and everything is fixed. He’s going to have to pull a few rabbits out of his hat.

Why wouldn’t Armstrong give Alex Pietrangelo a no-movement clause when he gives out no-trade clauses out like candy? Is that the real reason Pietrangelo left, or was it just personal between Armstrong and Pietrangelo’s agent? — Richard L.

Before I offer my opinion on this, click on the story I wrote in September 2020, in which Pietrangelo opened up about everything just a few weeks before he became an unrestricted free agency and eventually signed with Vegas.

Here’s a quote from Pietrangelo in the piece: “It’s been over a year that we’ve been trying to hammer out a deal, so I think both sides are kind of at the point where maybe there’s a better way to go about this. The goal all along was to stay here. I think Army’s goal all along was to get me signed. It’s not like all of a sudden we’re just like, ‘You know what, this isn’t going to work.’ There’s a lot of things that both sides feel like they can do to make the team better, and things that I felt like I can do for myself, and sometimes these things don’t work out the way that you were thinking.”

I know people already have their minds made up. Pietrangelo left because he couldn’t get a no-movement clause. I’ve heard that a couple times per week since he left. But that’s not the way I see it. I spoke with Pietrangelo many, many times in the months leading up to negotiations breaking off, and it was way more than one thing, including a little ego on both sides. But if I had to narrow it down to one thing, it would be that the relationship between Pietrangelo and Armstrong deteriorated during the talks, and by the end, it couldn’t be salvaged.

When do younger guys like Scott Perunovich, Zach Dean, and Zachary Bolduc get a chance to establish themselves at the NHL level instead of continually trotting out overpaid veterans? — Ryan J.

In my mind, there’s two reasons we’re going to see veterans continue to get the ice time. No. 1, Armstrong wants to remain competitive, and regardless of what everyone thinks, the vets will likely give you the best chance at that. No. 2, what do you do? Sure you could put two of them in the press box, trade two and buy out another, but when have you ever seen that happen?

I suppose if the Blues fall out of the playoff race, we’d see a few of those names you mentioned wiggle their way into the lineup, but I just can’t see, unless Armstrong is able to find a way to move a couple of the vets, that we’re going to see them take a complete backseat for the younger guys.

Do you think Blues Craig Berube is being told to keep playing players like Marco Scandella? Is Berube worried if he keeps losing, he will get fired?  — Tom M.

There’s definitely situations around the league where coaches are forced to play guys, but I don’t believe this is one of them. Armstrong talks with Berube a lot, and I’m sure he makes suggestions that Berube agrees with and uses. But I’ve never had anyone indicate to me that Armstrong pulls any strings.

In regard to Scandella, as I wrote earlier, the Blues want to be competitive this season. I don’t think it’s Berube being worried about his job, as much as it’s the organization wants to win and Berube believes a guy like Scandella gives it the best chance.

What is the actual rebuilding plan for this team? What team has been successful retooling? I think fans will understand and support rebuilding. — Richard L.

For the most part, I think we can see what it is — try to make the playoffs, and in the meantime, start putting together the next core of players like Dalibor Dvorsky, Jimmy Snuggerud and Bolduc.

I can understand the opinion of some fans who just want the Blues to focus on the future, or in other words, a rebuild. They’re vocal, but it’s hard to know how many fans think that way. If the Blues started tanking, those fans would love it, but are they buying tickets to the games?

If they did a “rebuild,” would Tom Stillman’s ownership group be able to absorb it on the financial side? — Scott H.

Honestly speaking, I don’t have any hard evidence to base this on, but I believe they’d be fine. As with a lot of teams in the league, the pandemic took a toll on the Blues’ revenue, and they were forced to take out loans that they’ll be paying back for quite a while. But in terms of potentially missing the playoffs for a few years, I don’t believe that’s something the current ownership group couldn’t withstand.

In that situation, the Blues probably wouldn’t be spending to the salary cap, but again, I don’t think it’s something where the group would be forced to sell or anything like that.

If the team doesn’t make the playoffs this year, do you think ownership will spend to the cap next season with the projected increase? — Tony B.

According to Capfriendly, the Blues have approximately $70.7 million of cap hit next season on 15 players. With the cap expected to increase $4 million to about $87.5 million, that will leave them with about $17 million. But that’s what I’m kind of saying about the rebuild — if this season doesn’t go well, and it’s obvious that Armstrong needs to turn things over, ownership has no reason to spend $87 million in 2024-25.

Are the “no buyouts” a directive of Armstrong, Stillman, or a mixture of both? Seems like when Krug wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause, Armstrong should have bought him out. — Andrew W.

I don’t think it’s really a directive of anybody. I think it’s Armstrong being prudent with the money he’s spent over the years, and Stillman trusting him. Obviously, things have changed over the past couple of years with the long-term contracts that Armstrong has doled out, but to date anyway, he’s never bought a player out of a deal.

As far as buying out Krug, as badly as some fans may want the Blues to do that, be careful what you wish for. Again, with the help of Capfriendy’s buyout calculator. You’re talking about last summer, but let’s look at his buyout numbers for next summer: He would still be owed $21 million and the Blues would be on the hook for two-thirds of that, so $14 million, and it would be payable for double the length of the years left on his contract. He would have three years left, so they would be paying $2.3 million on the cap for the next six years. Still want to do it?

If there’s one thing the Blues can learn from the Cardinals is that running the same group out there and expecting different results goes about as you’d expect. Isn’t it better for the long-term health of the team that they aren’t good this year? — Dustin D.

Well it can be, but it’s not a guarantee. What if your draft pick doesn’t yield you a player who eventually makes a difference? What if you have to give up draft compensation to get other clubs to take hefty contracts off your books? What if free agents don’t want to come here for a few years? Not having a good season can help you, sure, but it could also have a negative impact.

Before the season, national pundits saw Berube as a prime candidate to lose his job during the season. But with the power play looking as disastrous as it has so far, do you think assistant coach Steve Ott might be feeling the pressure? — Ben C.

It’s a fair question. I like Ott a lot, and I know Armstrong and Berube have a ton of respect for him. I’m sure Ott has a ton of weight on his shoulders, trying to figure out the power-pay situation. I don’t think it will come to the club letting him go. But it could come down to somebody else taking over the unit. Something has to give.

(Photo of Doug Armstrong: Dave Sandford / NHLI via Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top