The NHL was already facing a tumultuous offseason with one franchise for sale, multiple regime changes ongoing, and a half-dozen teams seeking new head coaches.
Then two recent developments added even more craziness to the league’s silly season — and Blues fans should pay attention to both.
First, voters in Tempe, Arizona, shot down a proposed $2.1 billion arena/entertainment district for the Arizona Coyotes. That defeat could finally bury that struggling franchise, which is doomed to another low-revenue season in tiny Mullett Arena while league owners and the NHL Players Association complain.
Then the NHL was further jarred when Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan reversed course and bid farewell to general manager Kyle Dubas.
That created a high-profile opening that Shanahan plans to fill with an experienced executive. While former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving has been the subject of much speculation, Blues GM Doug Armstrong drew mentions from insiders like the esteemed Pierre LeBrun.
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Armstrong is under contract with the Blues. He enjoys unfettered control of the hockey operation with the support of Tom Stillman’s ownership group.
Still, we’re talking about the storied Maple Leafs and arguably the sport’s most dynamic market. That’s an ultra-attractive job, so Blues fans were glad to see NHL insider Darren Dreger cool off the Armstrong-to-Toronto speculation.
As for the Coyotes, former Blues draft czar Bill Armstrong’s challenges as GM of that financially troubled team got even tougher. The ownership group has vowed to battle on in the Valley of the Sun, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is feeling more heat to force relocation for the 2024-25 season.
Agents for Our Town’s Clayton Keller have sought clarity on the franchise’s future. The gifted forward is under contract until 2028 with a $7.125 million cap hit — right in the Blues’ price range for talent — and he is coming off a breakout 86-point season.
He turns 25 this summer, putting him in line with Blues cornerstones Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou.
Also, top Coyotes prospect Logan Cooley, the No. 3 overall pick in 2022, opted to stay at the University of Minnesota for another season rather than sign a contract. Cooley, too, is wary of the franchise’s future, and he possesses leverage.
The Blues have extra draft picks to spend for a talented young veteran or mature prospect, Bill Armstrong has spent the past two seasons collecting future assets, and he may have to stay that course.
If Keller is put up for bidding, Doug Armstrong and Co. would need to perform salary cap gymnastics to become eligible for that auction. But they have done it before.
Stay tuned, because this NHL offseason could be one for the ages.
The Ottawa Senators are up for sale, and the Coyotes could follow at some point. Prospective owners in other markets may start jockeying for position. Houston and Salt Lake City are the attractive options that would keep the franchise in the Western Conference.
Kansas City has a suitable arena and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes made his pitch for the Coyotes, but don’t expect the Blues to get another I-70 rival.
While the general manager post in Toronto just opened up, the Flames settled on former Blues forward Craig Conroy as their next GM. Earlier, the Philadelphia Flyers hired Keith Jones as team president to work with new GM Danny Briere.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are still searching for new leadership and that franchise is eyeing younger executives like Dubas. But would Kyle’s smarter play to be sit back to see what happens with the Senators?
All of this turnover in hockey operations altered the landscape that Doug Armstrong must navigate to continue retooling the Blues. New management teams will bring fresh perspectives on talent, changing the marketplace dynamics.
For instance, will the next Maple Leafs GM be willing to trade one of his high-priced forwards, William Nylander or Mitchell Marner, to reallocate cap dollars elsewhere?
Also, the Blues’ ongoing effort to revamp the assistant coaching staff has been complicated by the many head coaching searches underway. The Flames, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets are looking for a new head coach.
The Maple Leafs seem certain to join that list since Sheldon Keefe is a dead coach walking. Shanahan already unloaded the team’s AHL staff and his hockey operation is in flux.
Besides all of this upheaval, two other factors are impacting the marketplace: the tight salary cap for one more season and the unusually strong depth of this year’s NHL Draft.
That depth could inspire teams to move down if they see several players they like still on the board and if they can collect extra assets by dropping. Conversely, the quality of this draft could inspire other teams to move up.
Doug Armstrong will have an interesting summer analyzing all of this activity while trying to find opportunities. Blues fans hope he stays locked into the task at hand and finishes the retooling he started last season.