The St. Louis general manager planned to attend the Indians-Blue Jays game on Monday.
No, no, this wasn’t a Cardinals exec eyeing pitchers – it was the Blues exec Doug Armstrong, taking some time in Toronto to enjoy a ballgame and maybe even a Labbat’s.
This July, Armstrong is balancing relaxation and arbitration, free time and free agency. And as he looks to figure out deals with Joel Edmundson (arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 4) and Ivan Barbashev (restricted free agent), he also continues to look at the cohesive unit that will make up his version of the defending champs.
Naturally, many of the actual champs will be on the team. But as Armstrong said Monday by phone, “We weren’t an older team – and we have a lot of younger players over the last couple of years coming into our group. Robert Thomas last year and (Robby) Fabbri a couple years ago. And certainly there are three or four players – you have Klim Kostin up front, (Jordan) Kyrou up front and (defensemen) Mitch Reinke and Niko Mikkola that played very well last year in the American League. But (the National Hockey League) is still a league where experience pays off. We’re going to have depth, which we want to have, and we’re going to have great competition in training camp.”
The Blues have so many forwards. If you include Kostin and Kyrou, 15 fellows have legitimate chances of making the club. And so, it would be best for both parties if the Blues didn’t bring back Patrick Maroon, because he’d be able to leave the bluenotes on the highest of notes, and he’d be relied upon more if signed by, say, the Oilers or Coyotes.
Maroon is a rare two-fer, a St. Louis sports legend from St. Louis. Someday, the pride of of Wildwood should open a restaurant with the pride of Oakville. Call it Freese and Maroon’s. Of course, it would be fun next season to have Patty Maroon around. But if he signs elsewhere, the lasting memory is Game 7. Actually, two Game 7s. If Maroon returns to St. Louis and struggles, well, there would be reluctant frustration from those who love him so. Yes, he’s forever a hero. But while the joy of winning the Cup will forever stay, that feeling of being No. 1 can fade away. If he doesn’t score much and the Blues don’t win much, it could render memories of Matt Carpenter. For the final couple months of 2018, Carpenter was the salsa king of St. Louis – the Cardinals’ MVP and the season’s offensive savior. Now he gets booed at Busch.
If Maroon gets a two-year offer anywhere else, goodness, take the money and skate. If he gets a one-year deal elsewhere, it would at least be from a team that sees a role for him. Edmonton just traded the big body and presence of Milan Lucic. Maroon could be a more-affordable version. And he’s had success in the Oilers orange before. Arizona has been a possible landing spot for Maroon in the past, and that club has made some moves to upgrade its top six (as it tries to crack the conference’s top eight).
Maroon’s 2018-19 season was uneven. He was a healthy scratch at times during the first part, marred by a scoring drought. From part of the problem to part of the solution. He’s only a year older, but that year puts him at 31. He plays heavy hockey – but how much of that plays in the regular season?
Asked about the Blues future identity, Armstrong said, “I think that we played a physical brand of hockey, we finished our hits, but I think we also had some speed and we have some fast players coming too. The game is evolving and you have to evolve with it.
“But playoff hockey, it’s probably the only sport where your regular-season style of play and your playoff style of play is different. And that’s just the reality of hockey, where you get into a seven-game series, you get to know each team’s tendencies and grow some hatred against playing everybody every other night. I don’t how much the style changes, but the blood boils quicker when you’re playing somebody every other night for two weeks. At the end of the day, it’s still a skilled game. It’s a fast game, and we have to continue to play an up-tempo game.”
A player such as Jordan Kyrou could tempt any tempo to move faster. He plays hockey in speed skates. He has a lot of learning to do, and his knee injury ate up some time to learn last season. But he is such an intriguing prospect. And as we saw with Thomas last year (interestingly enough, a year younger than Kyrou), the Blues aren’t afraid to make room for a kid who can contribute.
“They’re all coming into training camp trying to earn jobs,” Armstrong said of the prospects. “Quite honestly, all the guys that were there last year, their job is to keep them off the team. That’s pro sports. So it doesn’t really matter how we plan it – they’re going to tell us how it’ll work out.”
The Blues are going to be playing close to the salary cap, we’ll have a better gauge on the roster after Edmundson and Barbashev finalize their deals. But for all the fun of last Saturday’s partying – the images of Maroon celebrating with the Cup in his hometown – it was also a little sobering.
This might be the last we see of Patrick Maroon representing the St. Louis Blues.
But if it was, it’s not necessarily a sad thing. It’s perhaps the best thing for both parties.