BLUES EXTRAS

Blues hoping to have big night

2012-06-20T00:30:00Z 2012-06-20T14:03:23Z Blues hoping to have big nightBY JEREMY RUTHERFORD stltoday.com
June 20, 2012 12:30 am  • 

If the Blues aren't called to walk to the podium for one of the three trophies for which they are nominated at tonight's NHL Awards ceremony, general manager Doug Armstrong wants the organization to leave Las Vegas with at least one keepsake.

"I'd love to be in a picture with Ken (Hitchcock), David (Backes), Jaro (Halak) and Brian (Elliott)," Armstrong said. "To me, that's something that I'll keep forever. This team, for one year, had this amount of people that were at the awards show, not as spectators, but as potential award winners. I'm proud to be part of that group."

Actually, Halak and Elliott are guaranteed recognition at tonight's Hollywood-style event, which is being held at the Encore Theater at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel and will be broadcast live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Network. They are the winners of the William M. Jennings Trophy, which is given to the goalies of the team who surrender the fewest goals-against during the regular season. The duo permitted a league-low 165.

But the Blues have three other opportunities to bring hardware back to St. Louis in the voting awards. Armstrong is one of three finalists for GM of the year, Hitchcock is nominated for the Jack Adams Award (coach of the year) and David Backes is up for the Frank J. Selke Trophy (best defensive forward).

A winner would become the first individual in the organization to take home an award since defenseman Barret Jackman won the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) in 2003. But as Hitchcock said recently, the Blues have already claimed something by being among the finalists.

"In our business, the nomination exceeds the award," Hitchcock said. "The award is a vote, but the nomination requires some thought. The nomination means a lot to me. It's nominating the coaches, it's nominating the buy-in of the players, it's nominating the leadership. ...

"I don't want to dismiss the award, but I feel like the team is already being nominated. It's all-encompassing because it's what everybody did collectively. That's what is being acknowledged."

But don't believe that the Blues don't wish to win.

Armstrong, who wrapped up his second year as the club's GM, has garnered league-wide acclaim for blockbuster trades in recent years. This season, he brought Elliott, the surprise story of the NHL season, to St. Louis, and he put Hitchcock behind the bench.

Armstrong's competition for the award voted on by GMs themselves is Florida's Dale Tallon and Nashville's David Poile.

"Never being up for this award before, I'm excited," Armstrong said. "To have 29 other guys believe that I'm in the top three is something I don't take for granted. To have them think you did a good job, even for a year, means a lot to me. But I'm just the guy grabbing the award for the scouts and the trainers and everybody that made it a good season."

Hitchcock took over in November and guided the Blues to their first 100-point season since 2001 and first playoff series win since 2002. Nominated for the award (which is chosen by NHL broadcasters) three other times without a win, Hitchcock will be up against New York's John Tortorella and Ottawa's Paul MacLean.

"You look at the three coaches that got nominated, all of their teams took huge steps this year," Hitchcock said. "Two of us kind of came from nowhere, Ottawa and ourselves. And (the Rangers) took a step into the upper echelon from where they were."

"I'm really happy for Ken," Armstrong said. "He went from a (so-called) dinosaur that's out of touch with this game that no one wanted to take a chance on to potentially the coach of the year."

Backes, the Blues' captain, led the team with 24 goals and tied for the club lead in points (54) with T.J. Oshie. He was a plus-15, playing against the opposition's top forwards. The other contenders for the Selke, voted on by NHL writers, are Boston's Patrice Bergeron and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk.

"That award has really gotten redefined for me in the last 10 years," Hitchcock said. "I don't want to say it's the most valuable award, but I think it has a lot of MVP written on it now. You've got to be a real complete player to win that award. You used to be able to be a checker, but now you've kind of got to do everything. Everybody that's nominated, they all do that. They should almost nickname it 'The Most Complete Player Award' ... because that's what it is. And (Backes) is the epitome of what the award is about now."

Armstrong noted the size of St. Louis compared to the cities of the other finalists, Boston and Detroit.

"I'm happy for someone like David Backes, coming from a mid-size market to get the recognition against top-market teams," he said. "I think he's as deserving to have his name called as the other two guys, who I have the utmost respect for."

What happens in Vegas won't stay in Vegas, however. The Blues are hoping to bring home the momentum.

"We know that two guys (Halak and Elliott) are walking away winners, so it's an exciting time for the franchise," Armstrong said. "The awards that we're up for, they're really organization awards, and to be up for those three together, I think, is a testament to the St. Louis Blues' organization from top to bottom."

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