The Blues of Saint-Louis announced a contract extension for Doug Armstrong as September drew to a close in 2021. The team will benefit from the services of its general manager for another five years beyond this one.
Despite the usual detractors of every team and every GM, this is great news. You can quibble about that move or that failure to make a trade, but the bottom line is that Armstrong was fantastic for the Blues.
Armstrong is one of three Blues general managers to advance to the Stanley Cup final. He is also the only one in the team’s history to form a true championship team.
However, as the team continues to look to the future and transform the makeup of the front office, Armstrong must learn from the St. Louis Cardinals. By that I mean he doesn’t need to step down from the decision-making position, either by perception or by reality.
In 2017, the Cardinals named John Mozeliak president of baseball operations. At the same time, they appoint Michael Girsch as general manager.
There is nothing wrong with that in principle, but the problem is perception. No matter how things actually work in the office, most fans think Mozeliak always makes all the decisions and Girsch is basically there to defend themselves.
By moving away from the main point of view of responsibility, Mozeliak has essentially given himself a cushion against dismissal. If the team is performing poorly, or as it has done in recent years below expectations, Mozeliak reserves the right to fire Girsch or any other general manager.
From his point of view, this makes sense because it gives him longer job security. From everyone’s point of view, that makes things convoluted.
Who is to blame for bad trades or lack of off-season moves? Who is really responsible?
If Girsch is really the managing director beyond just a name, then why is Mozeliak still so important in the media? This seems to be the position of the CEO.
If Mozeliak still makes most of the decisions and even has the final say on the terms of the contract, then what is Girsch if not just a figurehead? The situation might be clear enough for the most die-hard fan, but your average fan and some in the media still don’t know where to look when it comes to leadership.
While Pleau was still technically credited for the trades and signings, we all knew Davidson had the final say. It all feels like it takes power away from the GM of the team.
There is nothing concrete in preparation for a similar situation for the Blues at the moment, but the ingredients are all there.
Armstrong was named president of hockey operations when he was granted a contract extension. Just days before that happened, the team also recruited Peter Chiarelli as vice president of hockey operations and assistant general manager.
Is the plan to eventually promote Chiarelli to a full-fledged CEO while Armstrong only slips into the title of president? Again, this is fine for the men involved, but it does not send a clear picture of the leadership structure.
Fans don’t need to blame anyone, but when there isn’t a clear-cut person making the decisions, it just fractures the fan base. Some would blame Armstrong just because he’s at the top when Chiarelli might be the one who actually makes the decisions.
Or, they could blame Chiarelli for a bad season when Armstrong really brought the team together and Chiarelli just followed orders. It just complicates things.
As it stands, it seems rather odd that Chiarelli is brought in.
If Armstrong just wanted to give his friend a job, so be it. The military must remain in charge of these decisions and be made clear that it is.
Some people might want him to make more deadline deals or make a bigger splash in the free agent market, but Armstrong has been stable and smart. Although he overpaid some of his own free agents, he hasn’t crippled the Blues with any of his contracts. When we talk about $ 5 million for an aging player being one of his worst deals, he’s always ahead of the curve.
Let guys like Ken Hitchcock or Chiarelli make their suggestions in the office, behind closed doors. Don’t put them in a position where it’s about who made the final call.
Armstrong just needs to remain the CEO instead of making someone else a CEO figurehead. Everything else muddies the water.