In my book The Art of the Dealers: the NHL’s Greatest General Managers I not only ranked St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong as one of the 50 greatest general managers in hockey history I was also forced to assign him membership in sad club: the Heartbreak Managers club because Armstrong had more than five playoff failures as an NHL General Manager without ever reaching the Stanley Cup finals.
Armstrong had joined that club at the end of the 2011/12 NHL playoffs with his fifth playoff loss. In the years that followed the St. Louis Blues tacked on five more playoff losses. At one time Doug Armstrong was the third worst Heartbreak Manager behind Bob Pulford and Ron Caron.
But on May 21, the St. Louis Blues ended a 49 year Stanley Cup finals appearance drought when they beat the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference finals. That signal victory also ended Doug Armstrong’s heartbreak managing streak. After ten playoff failures while managing the Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues Doug Armstrong has become the 11th NHL general manager to end a heartbreak managing streak and the fourth GM to do so during the 2010s (the others are Dean Lombardi (former L.A. Kings GM) in 2011/12; Doug Wilson (Sharks GM) in 2015/16; and David Poile (Nashville Predators GM) in 2016/17.
When the season began the Blues had every right to sing the Blues: firing head coach Mike Yeo before Thanksgiving; replacing him with Craig Berube. It wasn’t until January 14 that St. Louis regained the .500 level however St. Louis under Berube regained its rhythm and began playing some righteous jams on the ice.
Doug Armstrong had augmented the offense with pre-season acquisition Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres (O’Reilly led the Blues in assists and points scored). Free agent David Perron strengthened the Blues offensive line with his solid two-way skills. But the biggest prize of all came in the form of goalie Jordan Binnington who was snatched from the Bruins farm system. When he became the starting goalie in January he sparked the Blues comeback with a 24-5-1 record in the regular season; and during the playoffs showed courage in the face of adversity through the first three rounds: shrugging off back-to-back losses against Winnipeg in the first round by standing tough in games five and six to win the series; holding the Dallas Stars to only four goals scored in the last three games of the series to clinch the second round; again shrugging off a loss due to a controversial goal by the San Jose Sharks to hold San Jose to only two goals in the last three games of the series to lead St. Louis to the Stanley Cup finals.
If the Blues win the Stanley Cup it will come as a result of Jordan Binnington’s courageous goal-tending. A St. Louis Stanley Cup win will also end the second longest Stanley Cup drought in the NHL today (Toronto still has the longest drought at 52 years). It would also be their first Cup win ever.
For Doug Armstrong a Cup win would be the icing on the cake but for now Armstrong can bask in the glow of putting to rest a heartbreaking string of playoff losses. He has finally earned his ticket to the Big Dance.
The question remains: will the Blues be hoisting the Stanley Cup when the fat lady sings?