Blues need to flip that switch to make playoffs, Armstrong says

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The St. Louis Blues need to heighten their sense of urgency before their bid to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs evaporates, general manager Doug Armstrong said.

“I think there’s a little bit of a question which is: Do we have too much confidence? Can we just flip a switch? Because right now we need to flip that switch if that’s the case,” Armstrong said.

Less than two seasons removed from winning the Stanley Cup in 2019, the Blues (16-16-6) are tied for fifth with the San Jose Sharks in the eight-team Honda West Division, five points behind the fourth-place Arizona Coyotes. The top four teams in the division qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their 6-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday was their seventh straight (0-6-1).

Armstrong said he is keeping his options open ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline on April 12 but said the talent on the St. Louis roster should be good enough to produce better results.

“I think the thought process is, ‘We’re a good team and we’ll get through it, don’t worry about it,'” he said. “But sometimes if you don’t put the work in, if you don’t go to the net, if you don’t play in the ugly areas of the game, the results don’t really change regardless of your pedigree or what you’ve done in the past.”

In a wide-ranging interview with NHL.com, Armstrong discussed the Blues up-and-down season, the impact of COVID-19 on the NHL and goalie Jordan Binnington‘s new contract.

 

In this roller coaster season for the Blues, what has frustrated you the most?

“I would say our inconsistency, I think, is something for a veteran team I’m surprised that has been there. And obviously our inability to put together a run of wins. We’re in a stretch right now where we’re losing games.”

 

Anything specific that you find perplexing?

“I think both ends of our special teams have been subpar all year (their power play, at 17.7 percent, is 24th in the NHL; their penalty kill, at 75.4 percent, is 26th). That’s your best players on a nightly basis. And I guess that would be that little bit of frustration that if our special teams were in the top 15, even in the top 10, we probably would be in a much, much better spot than we are now.”

 

Is that a bit head-scratching considering you’ve gotten some top offensive players back from injury, whether it be a forwards Jaden Schwartz or Vladimir Tarasenko? Your team has been banged up all season yet still struggles to score even with some key cogs having returned.

“We thought the guys did a good job of overcoming some of the injuries early on and finding ways to get points. As you know, we’ve lost some players for the year. It started out with (forwards) Alex Steen (back, then subsequent retirement) and then Carl Gunnarson (back) and Oskar Sundqvist (knee), so those guys are gone. I think (defenseman) Colton Parayko (back) has been a big loss for us for the better part of the year but with that being said, we’ve got guys back and we haven’t seen the net result of impact players.”

Video: STL@VGK: Schwartz fires slap shot in from the circle

 

If you have the same roster after the trade deadline has come and gone, is it good enough to win this season?

“Well, we thought it was going into the season. Like I said, we’ve lost a few players but I think that’s indicative of the entire League. I still believe in the group. But we put ourselves in a position now where we’re in playoff mode today. That’s the reality of it. I woke up [Sunday] and looked at the standings and we’re out of the playoffs. So if you want to get back in you’ve got to win games.”

 

With the trade deadline coming Monday, how do you think the amount of player movement will be affected by the uniqueness of the 2020-21 season?

“I would say the last trade deadline was pre-pandemic, and everyone knew what to expect when they made a trade because they’ve had 80 years of history on how it works. This year, you don’t. I think everyone is going to attack this deadline differently. Quarantine time for players who are traded to a Canadian team. The flat [NHL salary] cap. There are a lot of factors and a lot of unknowns.”

 

Isn’t that part of the unknown that has loomed over the NHL since the 2019-20 season was paused 13 months ago due to concerns regarding COVID-19? 

“I think some of the unknown is known now in the sense that, because no one ever played in a bubble before, we really didn’t know how secure that was. And when you look back now, I think if you ever had to do it again you would, once you got in there, breathe easy knowing that you’re almost Teflon. No one knew if that was going to be the case when we went into it because we’d never done it before. There are still unknowns. I think this point needs to be stressed; I think the League has done a great job of working through these things as they’ve gone on. Remember, there’s still no playbook that they can use. For any of us.”

 

You signed goalie Jordan Binnington to a six-year, $36 million contract (average annual value $6 million) March 11 even though he has had an up-and-down season like the rest of the team. Can you discuss how this was a big-picture signing of faith for what he has done in the past and potentially in the future?

“I would say you make a commitment to a player like Binnington based on the history, but also the competitive nature and the desire to be a good player, and the work ethic that he puts into it. There’s a fluctuation in that position year after year. Look at (goalie) Jack Campbell and [the] Toronto [Maple Leafs], I think he’s (8-0-0) right now. That wasn’t who he was two years ago in Los Angeles. So there’s a fluctuation in that position. So when you’re making a commitment that we made to Jordan it was based on character, and based on work ethic, and based on desire to be the best. In any walk of life, you’re going to have ups and downs and you’re going to get knocked down. The thing that I believe with Jordan is that when he gets knocked down he gets back up quickly and purposefully and that’s what you want in that position. Time will tell. I think that he’s the type of guy that you want to go into a foxhole with.”

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