Mac Engel

The man who replaced a local legend is still chasing the same ghost in St. Louis

Blues GM Doug Armstrong talks about his team reaching the NHL Western Conference Final

Blues open a best-of-seven playoff series against the San Jose Sharks at 7 p.m. Sunday at Scottrade Center.
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Blues open a best-of-seven playoff series against the San Jose Sharks at 7 p.m. Sunday at Scottrade Center.

There are two sports architects whose legacy in this town it was best to avoid.

The guy who followed Tom Landry actually managed to do the job; Jimmy Johnson, you belong in the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor.

The man who followed the GM and architect of the Dallas Stars’ Stanley Cup championship teams replaced one of the most revered names in his sport, and Doug Armstrong did a fine job. The problem was his mentor, Bob Gainey.

Unlike Jimmy, who was handed a complete rebuild, the franchise Army was handed was in decent shape. While the Stars maintained a level of prominence for a period of time, they never returned to the level that Gainey established under Army.

In hindsight, no one who has ever taken over a team in this town in the last 25 years has had more of a difficult act to follow more than Army’ There are Hockey Gods, and then there is Bob Gainey.

Army was ready for the promotion in February of 2002 when Gainey stepped down, but this replacement was too much for anyone.

“I didn’t know it then, but there was so much internal pressure I put on myself with respect to Bob,” Army said. “Ultimately in Dallas, we had some great teams, but we never got to the pinnacle. We never got close, honestly. You are always judging yourself against your mentor, and the shadow that Bob cast.”

Armstrong is currently with the St. Louis Blues, and he is still chasing it, trying to do in St. Louis what he never did with the Stars, and win the Stanley Cup as the GM.

“I would have loved to have taken one of those teams in Dallas that were Cup favorites every year and win it but we just couldn’t get it done,” said Armstrong, who was an assistant GM of the Stars from 1993-2002 under Gainey.

For the second time since 2016, his Blues are playing the Dallas Stars in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The series is tied 2-2 after the Stars defeated the Blues 4-2 in Game 4 Wednesday night in Dallas.

“I’m no different than when I had my first job in that you always really need to think you have to prove something,” he said. “But you do get to a certain point when you are past trying to prove yourself because you can stand on your own.”

When Armstrong took over for Gainey in 2002, the Stars were a franchise in transition, but still a good team. The players had quit on coach Ken Hitchcock, and under Army they simply re-tooled.

With coach Dave Tippett, the Stars had some good to great regular-season teams that simply whiffed in the playoffs. The Stars with Armstrong never made the conference finals.

He was fired early in the 2007-08 season, and he eventually landed in St. Louis. The Stars actually reached the conference finals that season, but fell apart almost immediately thereafter. The team was stuck in bankruptcy court, and for years looked nothing like the franchise Armstrong was associated with for 17 seasons.

After five years with the Blues, Armstrong was hired to be their GM in September 2013 and the team has been a playoff constant ever since. Taking over the Blues is nothing like the Stars; the team had struggled in recent years at the time of his promotion, and they have never won a Stanley Cup.

“You are much better the second time around, that’s for sure,” Armstrong said of being a general manager. “You’ve had experience, and some of the things I experienced with the Stars made me better for this job.”

Armstrong has built winners, and his resume stands on its own. Along with new Detroit GM Steve Yzerman, he is one of two people to be in the “Triple Gold Club,” as a member of management teams that have won a Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and a World Championship gold.

By any measure, he’s a successful NHL general manager. He does not need to win a Stanley Cup to prove it, but God knows he wants it.

“When you don’t have it, you are just always fighting to get it,” Army said. “When you get one, you thirst for two. Right now, the most important thing to me is just winning. And when I was in Dallas, we did win, and it was great. But it was all of the other things that mattered. The people I met. And I learned what it means to be with a team and what that can mean to a city.”

And what it means to work in the shadow of a hockey god.

HUGHES DOCUMENTARY TO BE SHOWN THURSDAY

A reminder that the documentary made about the life and career of Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member, former Dunbar boys basketball coach Robert Hughes, will premiere Thursday evening at the Fort Worth Modern Museum of Art.

Tickets for the screening are no longer sold online, but a limited number will be available at the door. Tickets are also available for the gala and reception.

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. The film is scheduled to begin at 7:45.

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