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Blues Give Blueprint on How to Reload, Not Rebuild

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Over the past decade, there are few organizations in the National Hockey League that have been as consistent as the St. Louis Blues. They have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs every season in that span except for 2017-18, including two trips to the Western Conference Final and one Stanley Cup championship. Playing under three different head coaches and experiencing roster turnover year after year, the one constant has been President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Doug Armstrong.

Armstrong joined the organization in 2010 when the team was at arguably its lowest point, with the second half of the 2000s being a dark time for St. Louis hockey as the team struggled coming out of the 2004-05 lockout. In his first draft at the helm, Armstrong drafted Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko in the first round, laying the foundation for what was to become the team’s golden age in the latter half of the 2010s.

Backes & Oshie Era

Once Armstrong hired veteran head coach Ken Hitchcock, the team became a consistent contender in the Western Conference. The team was strong on defense but lacked the superstar quality necessary to make the jump to bonafide Stanley Cup contender. The biggest names on the team at the time were then captained by David Backes and T.J. Oshie and while this generation of Blues reinvigorated the city’s love with the team, constant playoff disappointment ultimately led to a shakeup that saw Oshie traded to the Washington Capitals after the 2014-15 season. The following season was the peak of the Hitchcock era, as the team made it to the 2016 Western Conference Final, though they were ultimately eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in what would end up being Backes’ final games as a Blue. While the Backes and Oshie era was ending and a rebuild appeared to be in the cards, a new era was just getting started.

Tarasenko & Schwartz Era

By 2016-17, the team selected a new captain in Alex Pietrangelo, and the keys to the offense were officially handed over to the 2010 draft picks, Tarasenko and Schwartz. For Tarasenko in particular, he ascended into star status and even found himself on the cover of EA Sports NHL 17. The team’s identity shifted to one with more offensive excitement, which at times clashed with the philosophies of the defensive-minded Hitchcock. Before the end of that season, the team decided to make a coaching change and Mike Yeo was promoted from assistant coach to the head gig. However, the team was unable to take the next step with Yeo at the helm and appeared to have lost their identity as the big, heavy team that no one wants to play. By the 2018-19 season, frustrations boiled over and Yeo was relieved of his duties and replaced by Craig Berube. With Tarasenko and Schwartz leading the team in goals throughout the playoffs, the Blues finally got over the hump and won their first Stanley Cup in 2019.

Kyrou & Thomas Era

Fortunately for Blues fans, Armstrong and his scouting team continued to draft well while always picking late in the first round throughout the team’s consistent success. The two most impactful of these draft picks are Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou. Thomas was considered a “can’t miss” prospect from the start and was able to make the jump from juniors to the NHL as an eighteen-year-old. Meanwhile, Kyrou spent some time developing in the American Hockey League for a couple of years before finally sticking as a full-time NHL player in 2020-21. Less than three years removed from the Stanley Cup, the Blues roster has experienced mass turnover, and if not for the increasingly stellar play of Kyrou and Thomas, St. Louis could easily find itself in a full rebuild like so many champions before they have undergone. Today, the Blues appear to be a Stanley Cup contender once again while both Kyrou and Thomas are enjoying career years offensively.

What Doug Armstrong has demonstrated in his time in charge in St. Louis is that a team does not need to tank in order to achieve success down the road. With a solid foundation in the front office, a team can undergo mass roster exoduses and navigate multiple coaching changes while maintaining competitiveness. Even in the team’s one year out of the playoffs in the last decade, it took until the final game of the season for the Blues to be eliminated. Armstrong has built a winning culture in St. Louis, a city known for perpetual disappointment in this sport. As long as he remains at the helm, expect the Blues to continue making noise.

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