ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Blues are back in business Thursday and look to turn the page from last season’s disappointing campaign. It was one of few times the Blues missed playoffs under the reign of Doug Armstrong, the longest-tenured general manager in franchise history and the only one to bring a Stanley Cup to St. Louis.
Entering his 14th year as Blues GM, Armstrong returns after some speculation about his future during the offseason. This summer represented one of his biggest challenges yet: Putting the Blues in a position to be competitive once again, and through his own words, finding out what makes his guys tick.
Armstrong seems confident about the current state of the Blues. He’s brought back former Stanley Cup champions Sammy Blais and Oskar Sundqvist after moving some veterans on expiring contracts. He’s reaffirmed his commitment to several veterans with long-term contracts, and has two record-setting deals beginning with year with Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou.
While it might be hard to fully gauge expectations around preseason, the Blues finished 4-2-2 and averaged nearly three goals a game. Armstrong hopes those strides carry over into the regular season.
Speaking to several media members virtually on Wednesday, Armstrong addressed several topics pertaining to this year’s Blues. These were among his key comments.
1) This year’s visions
Early results should be telling if the Blues made enough progress to rebound from last season, but Armstrong thinks this year’s team should be judged by its character.
“When I look at it maybe from 30,000 feet it’s going to be more of an attitudinal look. How do we play in games? There are proper ways to win, there are proper ways to lose, there are proper ways to win the game.”
2) Colton Parayko’s role
One of few remaining players from the 2019 Stanley Cup-winning team is locked up for the long haul. Colton Parayko could potentially break the record for games played with the Blues if he sticks around for most of his contract and stays healthy. Advanced metrics showed some regression defensively last year, and Armstrong believes Parayko can elevate his gameplay to another level.
“For him to have a successful year and successful career is going to be more in that Jay Bouwmeester style of player where he uses his skating, defends well with his stick, kills plays down low, kills cycles and makes a natural first pass. Go out and play 20-plus minutes a night of hard minutes, probably not a lot of power play time. His job is to play against the other team’s best players.”
3) Next steps for Kyrou & Thomas
The dynamic duo of Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou should finish among the team’s scoring leaders if healthy. Can they do this while making defensive adjustments? Kyrou had one of the league’s worst plus/minus ratings at -38 last year, while Thomas hasn’t improved much with hitting and blocking over his first five years. Armstrong reiterates both will need to find a balance.
“They’ve shown that they can be offensive catalysts, now they have to obviously round out. They have to be great two-way players. They have to be players that can help us win games not only today, but into the future. That’s going to be the next challenge. … For those players to reach the goals that they have for themselves and that we have for them, we’re going to have to find a way to do that.”
4) Still a rookie, Scott Perunovich
The Blues will roster eight defensemen at the top level to start the six, but only six or seven will be allowed to play any given game. Among that group includes Scott Perunovich, a former Hobey Baker winner in his college days. He retains rookie eligibility after some brief experience two seasons ago, and was sidelined after shoulder surgeries last year. Can he take that next step up to establish himself as a regular? Armstrong believes it will take some time.
“He has to help on the offensive side of the puck and the special teams, but also he has to be competent at his own end. That’s really what we’re looking for is going to get back to pucks quickly, transition the park out of our zone, and be a good offensive player when he gets that opportunity.”
5) Playoffs still the expectation
Several data-based season projections suggest the Blues might have an uphill battle in getting back to playoffs again. Armstrong is hopeful his squad can defy the odds. He says this year’s team has too much experience to be at the bottom of the pack. He says the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche are strong examples of where he wants the Blues to be in the long-term, but he says third place in the Central Division (which would clinch playoffs) is a realistic expectation this year.
“I’m not quite as concerned about quite where we fit in the standings. It’s do we build that foundation back to where it was in the past? And can we start building something that has to put us in the same spot where I personally do Colorado and Dallas now? With experienced players that have the pedigree and have the perception that they shouldn’t be winning championships. We have been there for the better part of a decade. We’re not there today. And my goal is to build this foundation and get back there as quickly as possible.”