Dallas Stars, 2002-2007
St. Louis Blues, 2010-present
NHL General Manager of the Year Award, 2011-2012
Pacific Division Titles, 2002-2003, 2005-2006
Central Division Title, 2011-2012
Playoff Appearances: 2003-2004, 2006-2007, 2012
St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong is a slowly rising star in the managerial ranks of the NHL. In only six seasons as a GM he has ascended to the top fifty ranks according to my rating system. He has successfully rebuilt two NHL franchises, made them winners, and playoff contenders. His teams have won three divisional titles and five playoff appearances.
During the 2000s Armstrong was the tenth best general manager in the NHL (between John Muckler and Darryl Sutter).
Among active GMs today, Armstrong (not counting this present season) ranks tenth in career value (between Boston’s Pete Chiarelli and Ottawa’s Bryan Murray) in career value and he ranks eighth (between Chiarelli and the Rangers Glen Sather) in Average Season Rating.
Still, despite his considerable attainments, Doug Armstrong has failed to lead his teams to the Stanley Cup finals. In my columns that featured Doug Risebrough and Ron Caron, I discussed the fact that both Risebrough and Caron were members of the heartbreak GM ranks (i.e. a GM who can take his team to the playoffs but is incapable of reaching the Stanley Cup finals).
Doug Armstrong is another member of the heartbreak GM ranks. As of the end of the 2011/12 Season Armstrong is tied for 12th place in the heartbreak GM ranks (along with Phoenix’s Don Maloney and former NHL GMs Baz Bastien, Wren Blair, and George Maguire) with five playoff appearances without reaching the finals. Only two other active NHL general managers have earned more playoff appearances without the honor of reaching the Stanley Cup finals (their names will be discussed in the weeks and months to come).
Armstrong came from a hockey background. His father is the legendary NHL linesman Neil Armstrong (who was inducted in the HHOF in 1991). Doug grew up in Canada but attended college in the United States.
The same year his father was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Doug Armstrong began working for the Dallas Stars, assisting Stars GM Bob Gainey. Doug remained 17 years with the franchise, serving as Gainey’s assistant. Armstrong focused on contract information, season scheduling, and handling the day-to-day operations of the hockey department. During that time the Stars were in their glory years when they won the Stanley Cup and dominated the NHL.
When Doug Armstrong took over as the Star’s GM in January 2002, the glory years had passed and the team failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Armstrong played out the string in 2002 and then re-tooled the team dramatically.
It was Armstrong who gave Dave Tippett his first NHL coaching job thus starting a magnificent coaching career that has earned Tippett a place among the top fifty hockey coaches of all time. If Dave Tippett ever gets elected to the HHOF then he owes Doug Armstrong a word of thanks in his induction speech.
The team recovered and got great goal-tending from Marty Turco. Armstrong began adding prime draft choices like Trevor Daley, Matt Niskanen, James Neal, and Jamie Benn to the roster.
The Stars shone, winning two divisional titles but never reached the Stanley Cup finals.
After a slow start during the 2007/08 Season, Doug Armstrong was fired, replaced by co-GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson. (One can mark the decline and fall of the Stars from that date. Since then the team has never regained its stature or played to its full potential).
He was not unemployed for very long. St. Louis reached out to him and named him their vice-president of player personnel. The Blues were slowly rebuilding but after two seasons (after John Davidson had departed) the franchise named Armstrong to become their general manager; after a slow start the Blues hired Ken Hitchcock and the team responded by winning its first divisional title since the 1999/00 season.
That sterling resulted in Doug Armstrong receiving the NHL General Manager of the Year Award in 2012 (when is the NHL going the GM trophy a commemorative name like it does with all its trophies?)
Today the Blues are a distant second in the Central Division race but are still in the midst of the Western Conference playoff race.
(My next column will feature Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli.)