Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly’s painful trade can pay dividends if GM shortens restart

Carrying red plastic cups covered in colorful beads, Mardis Gras goers who made their way through downtown St. Louis on Saturday morning sparked fond memories of the energy that buzzed the streets during the parade of the Blues’ 2019 Stanley Cup championship.

The mood inside the Enterprise Center media room was stark and dark in contrast.

The captain had left the building.

“He gave me a hell of a ride,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. “And I enjoyed every second. But it’s the job I chose to be in.

Armstrong knows what the Ryan O’Reilly trade looks like to non-realists who didn’t see it coming.

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The longtime manager who has developed a reputation as a cool-headed and calculated decision maker over the years traded his beloved captain two weeks before the March 3 trade deadline as the Blues went on a three-game streak consecutive wins entering an afternoon game against Colorado. . The deal was finalized the same day O’Reilly joined Armstrong to participate in a Make-A-Wish event with a young Blues fan. Ouch.

Going into what turned out to be a disappointing season – there’s no harm in blaming the players too – Armstrong was ready for his reputation to swing the other way. He was ready to be called a sentimentalist, one who didn’t properly prioritize the future before a wave of pending free agents departed with little to show since the pandemic clouded what lay ahead. like a fascinating championship defense.

Doug Armstrong (copy)

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong speaks to the press Wednesday, June 26, 2019 at the Enterprise Center.

Post-shipment photo

“I was hoping to be here and celebrate a Stanley Cup, but I was also ready to be here and lose in the first or second round, and get drilled by, well, now you’ve lost and you don’t have no future assets, and you did all those things, and you’re an idiot,” Armstrong admitted. “I was hoping to get labeled like that, like a guy who didn’t maximize his assets. I guarantee I’m still going to be an idiot in a lot of people’s eyes, but it wasn’t that hard to move on because we’re not a competitive team with the right teams right now.

No lie detected, when you remember that the Blues’ projected odds of making the playoffs even after their last tease is less than 10%, and their odds of doing real damage even if they snuck up were, let’s face it -le, null.

The window for this group closed faster than Armstrong had imagined, and although he knew it was tending towards closing, he underestimated how obvious the need to re-equip would become if early. He tried to thread a needle, and he failed. If he was going to try and get another strong season from the remaining core, he should have strengthened the core by not letting an important roster like David Perron enter free agency in the last offseason, should have waited a little to reward younger players like Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou ahead of more established veterans whose future hung in the balance, should have fired Tarasenko even earlier than him. Maybe he should have found the money for Alex Pietrangelo at the expense of the others?

Everything is quite clear now, isn’t it? It wasn’t that easy back then. And it’s not easy now to send O’Reilly to the Maple Leafs after he meant so much to this city, this team, these fans.

The St. Louis Blues play against the Chicago Blackhawks

Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly prepares for a face-off during the third period of a game against the Blackhawks at Enterprise Center on Thursday, December 29, 2022.

Jordan Opp, after shipment

Hard stuff. But needed now. Required.

O’Reilly helped the Blues win their first-ever Stanley Cup championship on cracked ribs. Never, ever forget it. He came here as a player whose love of the game had been questioned at Buffalo. He left as a leader whose inspired play and dedication to the team made diehards and rookies alike love Blues hockey more.

Who knows, there might be a chance that O’Reilly and the Blues could work out a team-friendly deal if his free agent market is worse than expected, but that wouldn’t exactly fit the transition he’s got. Armstrong has now prioritized. O’Reilly has had a tough season at 31 that he can hopefully get back into the right role with the cup-hungry Leafs. But the Blues are looking to rejuvenate, with a focus on developing prospects and topping up the roster with plays in similar age brackets. The coming days and months, but hopefully not years, plural, will be about patience on the ice and its departure that will shorten the wait until a new window is forced. Slowing the stripping of the dressing won’t help. This will make the transition longer and make the pain worse.

After Friday’s late-night trade between O’Reilly and Noel Acciari in Toronto, the Blues got a 2023 first- and third-round pick, a 2024 second-round pick, plus two AHL forwards, Armstrong now holds three first-round draft picks for 2023 and one for 2024, with more potential rentals to return to pending free agents Ivan Barbashev and Thomas Greiss. Those moves won’t help the salary cap crisis for next season as they maximize returns from expiring contracts, but Armstrong won’t leave anything to chance as he becomes clearer and more focused on his direction. He still has to solve a disappointing block from underperforming defenders, for example. The word he used several times on Saturday was “retrenchment” and he will do it around the Thomas-Kyrou duo in which the team has already invested a lot.

It’s time for these two forwards to lead. It’s time for Brayden Schenn to prove he’s the next captain. It’s time for young guys who have been craving business opportunities, they are ahead of schedule. It’s time for Craig Berube to prove he’s the right coach for this rebuild by not letting effort and energy slip away on the ice. It’s time for Armstrong to maximize a position he’s rarely faced. He wants an LA-style rebuild, not a five- to seven-year marathon.

“Fairness in the NHL is having first-round picks,” Armstrong said. “I wish I had a crystal ball where I can tell everyone how it’s going to be, but I don’t. We could use all those picks to select players. … Or, they could be gone before their names are ever called. I don’t know how it’s going to play out. One thing that I know we’re going to do is if we change picks, players, it won’t be for the players of We need to reduce the number of players 25, 26 and under whose contracts are out, so they can grow with the next core we have.

This part hurts. Armstrong won’t flinch. The architect of Les Bleus’ latest “hell of a ride” created a parade that made Mardis Gras look like child’s play. He deserves a chance to do it again, and he’s not going to waste precious time.

Sportswriters Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon pause to consider who might be traded next and when, and turn their attention to a veteran Blues leader who is performing as you would hope a potential future captain would.

Ben Frederickson,

Jeff Gordon,

Gary Hairson

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