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Armstrong: Blues could be in the market for top-six forward help

Armstrong: Blues could be in the market for top-six forward help

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Berube named Blues' interim head coach

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, at a press conference last season. Photo by Robert Cohen,

Two years ago at this time, Doug Armstrong was concerned about the direction of the 2017-18 Blues. With the team floundering, he traded veteran forward Paul Stastny to Winnipeg and the Blues missed the playoffs by one point.

Last year at this time, Armstrong was surprisingly optimistic even though the Blues were low in the standings. He said the team’s play over the next month would decide whether he was buyer, seller, or stood pat at the trade deadline.

After a franchise-record 11-game winning streak he decided to stand pat, making only a minor depth deal for defenseman Michael Del Zotto. The Blues, of course, went on to win the Stanley Cup.

And now, as the Blues come out of their bye/All-Star break and with the NHL trade deadline one month away, what are Armstrong’s views on the team?

“Very complimentary of our coaching staff and our players for what they’ve been able to perform this year to this date,” the Blues’ general manager said. “We’re on top in the West and (third) in the league” in points. “So they’ve done a really good job.

“I would say at the trade deadline, you’re looking to always add some depth at that certain time. I would think we’re not in that group right now. I appreciate the depth right now. I don’t think we need to be spending mid-to-late round draft picks on players just in case we have an injury. So I don’t think we’ll be adding any depth players at this time barring anything that comes up over the next month.”

But hold on. That doesn’t necessarily mean Armstrong will stay parked in neutral at the trade deadline.

“You’re always looking to see if you can improve your team, and if we can improve our team in our top six, I think we can take a look at that,” he said. “A lot of that will have to do on the updated medical information I get on Vladi.”

How aggressively Armstrong pursues top-six forward help depends on a few factors, most notably the prognosis for Vladimir Tarasenko’s return from shoulder surgery.

“My first choice would be to have Vladi playing sooner than later,” Armstrong said. “But medically, those shoulders — the surgery he had — it’s a fixed timeline of approximately six months. It’s not something you can really change.”

Tarasenko underwent surgery shortly after suffering the injury, on Oct. 24, with the team saying he would be re-evaluated in five months. If Tarasenko returns in five months, that’s late March — or near the end of the regular season.

But if the return is sixth months or so, then you’re talking late April or perhaps even into early May. That is playoff time.

“So getting Vladi back is our No. 1 thing, and if we don’t do that or we don’t believe he’ll be back for any regular-season games, we may look at adding some support into our top six,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said he hasn’t had much conversation with Tarasenko lately, but did note that Tarasenko has begun skating again.

“I know he’s coming along well,” Armstrong said.

Also factoring into the top six equation are Sammy Blais and Jordan Kyrou. Blais is on the cusp of returning to action after missing 10 weeks following wrist surgery. As for Kyrou, Armstrong sees him as a young talent with loads of potential.

If either of those players steps up over the next few weeks — or doesn’t step up — it could influence Armstrong’s decision on whether to pursue top-six help.

“It’s a difficult organization for young players right now,” Armstrong said. “Our coaching staff believes strongly in the veteran players. It’s very difficult for a young player to get ice time."

Armstrong was speaking mainly of Kyrou here, but also players with San Antonio in the American Hockey League, such as forward Klim Kostin and defensemen Niko Mikkola, Jake Walman and Derrick Pouliot.

“But we’ve seen from a management perspective some really positive things in Kyrou’s game that we think can help us moving forward,” Armstrong said. “He’s probably our best skating player. So there’s elements there that when the coaches believe he can help us, he’ll get in there. I think he’s doing a heck of a job learning the NHL game on a day-to-day basis.”

Overall, Armstrong said “there’s not a glaring hole that we’re looking to fix. But you’re always looking to improve your team.”

In varying degrees, Armstrong addressed several other topics, including the contract status of Alex Pietrangelo, the work of his goaltenders, the play of Colton Parayko, and the fact that Kyrou was not sent to San Antonio during the break:

On Pietrangelo “This is the best, certainly the best offensive year we’ve seen out of him since he’s been a St. Louis Blue,” Armstrong said of the defenseman who has 13 goals and 27 assists. “I think he’s transformed his game. A lot of (credit) has to go to (assistant coach) Mike Van Ryn and (coach) Craig Berube allowing him the freedom to play more offensively. As a captain, as a leader, as a player, he’s done everything. He’s just having a fantastic year.

“On the business side nothing has changed from when we talked I think in September. It is what it is. You know, it only takes one phone call to get it done and we haven’t had that phone call yet. So we’ll just keep forging ahead and we’re not going to talk about it, understanding that he’s not talking about it either because it’s really not necessary.”

On Kyrou

Why wasn’t he sent down during the break?

“I told him to get a place here, that he was an NHL player, that he had done what he could do down there” in the AHL,” Armstrong said. “Probably didn’t want to risk injuries either, you know. But it was discussed and talked about.

“I gave him my word that I wouldn’t do it (send him down). In hindsight, going down probably wouldn’t have been the worst thing for him. But I told him he didn’t need to go down. He’s done everything down at the American League that we wanted to see. He just has to continue to work hard off the ice and wait for the opportunity for the coaches to give him that chance to play.”

On Parayko

Parayko has taken more of a defensive role this season.

“Colton, he’s a great skater,” Armstrong said. “I think that there’s more offense there that he could express. He’s got one of the best shots in the game and I’d love to see him get the opportunity to get that off more often, putting himself in the situation.

“I know Al MacInnis and Larry Robinson have talked to him, not recently but over time about just trying to get the opportunity to get that shot off. But when you’re getting no special-teams play it’s very difficult to get in those situation, too.

“So I would say he’s been a good player. I think there’s more there. He has to find a way to push and prod his way into those situations offensively.”

On Allen

Goalie Jake Allen has resurged this season after losing the No. 1 job to Jordan Binnington last year.

“Jake’s a veteran player and I think in any walk of life if you do anything for a long time, you’re gonna have high stretches and low stretches,” Armstrong said. “Jake, he was going through a difficult stretch last year but he’s still a No. 1 goaltender.

“Binnington came in and took that job (last season). Jake just asked for an opportunity to come back here and compete, and I think he’s had a really good season.”

On Binnington

The goalie’s statistics (2.58 goals-against average, .912 save percentage) are down from last year (1.89 goals-against average, .927 save percentage).

“Well, I look at the wins,” Armstrong said. “We love the number of wins (22). I think he’s done fine. He set the bar extremely high obviously coming in off of last year. But as a team I think he gives us an opportunity to win most nights, if not all nights.

“Like everyone, he has a bad game here and there. But he makes the big saves when we do have breakdowns. I think he’s been really good. And I think he’s learning what it takes to have that added pressure of being the No. 1 goaltender. He’s handled it very well.”

Blues grades at the break

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