LeBrun: Extreme NHL streaking, why coaches take the blame and more with Blues GM Doug Armstrong

In the immortal phrases of Frank the Tank: “We’re going streaking!”

New slogan for the St. Louis Blues this season?

They had been 3-0 to start out the season, then misplaced eight straight (all in regulation) and now have pulled off seven consecutive victories.

Do you suppose KFC continues to be open? OK, sufficient with the “Old School” traces.

But severely, how can we make sense of such a streaky staff or the variety of different streaks happening throughout the NHL this season — from Calgary and Edmonton to Chicago and Pittsburgh?

“I personally see numerous that round the league proper now,” veteran Blues common supervisor Doug Armstrong mentioned The Athletic on Wednesday morning. “The dynamics of the league have modified, the place the detailed a part of defending leads and clock administration are usually not what they had been in the previous.

“I believe with youthful gamers, the ability degree has by no means been increased, and the recreation administration has most likely taken a step again.”

It’s an enchanting approach to consider what we’re seeing. No query, the NHL is a youthful league than in the previous, and I might argue it is also more loaded with ability, however to Armstrong’s level, it is also the form of ability that thinks offense first in lots of instances earlier than the defensive half will get honed.

“It’s nice for the followers,” Armstrong mentioned. “It’s at all times thrilling. But it is a completely different model of hockey.”

As he says, folks of his classic aren’t fairly used to it. And I’m with him there, as a 50-year-old hockey scribe. This is not the NHL I began overlaying 28 years in the past (and that is OK). There’s a sure approach hockey folks have at all times been used to on the subject of puck administration to guard a lead, and so on.

“The staff that I take pleasure in watching the most this season, and I used to be fortunate to see their first recreation of the yr, is Boston,” Armstrong mentioned. “I noticed them play Washington. The Bruins are so structured and they’re so detailed and their greatest gamers are their greatest puck-management gamers. They’re only a pleasure to look at.

“Because they play to get the lead, and then they play to increase the lead, and additionally they play to verify they do not give the different staff hope. And that is a rarity proper now in the recreation.”

And, once more, as Armstrong mentioned, this all results in a enjoyable model of hockey to look at for followers. No query about it.

“It is entertaining,” he mentioned. “A two-goal lead was: ‘Turn the lights out.’ And I perceive gamers eager to make it a three-goal lead. But when it does not go that approach, it is a one-goal lead and then you definately’re simply an empty-netter away from being tied.

“I see veteran gamers now getting sucked into that vortex.”

Fascinating ideas from a GM who has been round for a very long time. And I imply, there isn’t any turning again the clock. The route of the NHL is about youth and ability, and that is what the followers need, justifiably so.

But a bit of more managed recreation administration can be good for the coaches and the managers, to make certain.

Which will get us to the Blues, who after dropping eight straight video games have fully circled their season and set an obscure NHL report in doing so.

It was again on Nov. 1, after the fifth straight loss, that Armstrong met with his staff, then with the media in St. Louis, and put the stress on to show issues round.

His message was direct and did not depart any room for confusion: The gamers had been going to determine if the staff was nonetheless a contender or if the GM ought to begin tearing it aside.

“I believed it was two-fold,” Armstrong mentioned as to why he spoke that day. “One, after we misplaced 5 in a row. I actually felt that the media that coated our staff and fairly truthfully the coach and our gamers had been uninterested in speaking about it. And I believe the message that the media had been getting from the coach and the gamers was the similar on daily basis. So I simply thought I might give them a break for a day.

“But the different one was, and it wasn’t a fireplace and brimstone or risk, it was simply more the actuality that you simply see groups undergo cycles and our hope is to increase our decade-long cycle of fine play and playoff hockey one other yr or two or three; however finally the gamers let you know once they haven’t got it in them anymore.”

The assembly with the gamers wasn’t a dressing down, both.

“I’ve been round the place you increase your voice. This wasn’t that,” Armstrong mentioned. “This was more of a actuality verify on a staff that we thought was going to be good, that was good final yr, that proper, fallacious or detached, we made choices over the summer time and we needed to both carry out or not carry out.

“But the feeling was, there was numerous perception. I’ve a ton of religion in our gamers. They’ve made my profession a blessing for the final decade. And I owe it to them to offer them the alternative to see the place they’re at. And to their credit score, they’ve taken it.”

The different factor Armstrong did at the time was completely again his head coach, Craig Berube. And I do know it is simple to say, “Well, what else is he going to say?” But this felt actually real at the time, that he did not imagine there was a training problem.

It’s one thing that I appreciated seeing, as a result of in so many instances over the previous few years, you see coaches lose their jobs as a result of, in a flat-cap setting, it is simpler than making in-season roster strikes.

Armstrong was adamant in backing his coach, who helped ship the franchise’s first and solely Stanley Cup in 2019.

“What I used to be making an attempt to get forward of is that if we did lose one other two or three in a row, that is at all times the lowest-hanging fruit for folks to speak about, is the coach,” Armstrong mentioned. “And I needed to simply attempt and eradicate that, at that time, as a result of we did lose one other couple.

“Over the final variety of years, the lowest-hanging fruit (round the NHL) has been the coach. I imagine in Craig, I believe Craig has carried out a superb job. But I imagine in the gamers, too. So the complete hope was that we’re not going to make a training change — I do not need to make any participant adjustments, both. We simply need to win.”

So a lot hockey continues to be left in what has already been such a whacky season for this Blues staff. But for the time being, the gamers have answered their GM: They’re not carried out being a contender.

(Top photograph of Brandon Saad: Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images)


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