Blues Weekly: Coaching Changes, Armstrong, Draft Lottery & More

With the season being over for the St. Louis Blues, it’s time to get ready for the offseason. The Blues have already had their season wrap-up press conferences with players, coaches, and general manager Doug Armstrong. They’ve also made a couple of important changes after a lackluster 2022-23 season.

St. Louis Blues Weekly Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou
Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou (The Hockey Writers)

I still struggle to see the Blues’ direction moving forward as a franchise, but I’ll delve deeper into that in this piece. It’s clear that the organization is wildly disappointed about how this season played out. They were never going to fire head coach Craig Berube, but that could be a different discussion after the 2023-24 season. There were three head coach firings after the 2022-23 season officially ended. NHL coaching jobs are becoming more and more volatile as each season goes by.

Blues Dismiss Assistant Coaches Craig MacTavish and Mike Van Ryn

Speaking of coaching changes, the Blues dismissed two assistant coaches after the 2022-23 season ended. Both Craig MacTavish and Mike Van Ryn lost their jobs. Let’s start with MacTavish. He replaced Jim Montgomery, who left to be the head coach of the Boston Bruins. He only lasted one season behind the bench alongside Berube. MacTavish helped take over the penalty-killing unit in 2022-23. During the 2021-22 season, the Blues’ penalty kill ranked fifth in the league, and it dropped to 30th in 2022-23. That’s just not good enough and there are a number of factors for that. It seemed easy for the Blues to let go of MacTavish, and it was the right move.

Related: Blues’ 2022-23 Preseason Predictions Revisited

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It was a bit different for Van Ryn. He was an assistant coach for the Blues for five seasons. He was hired in May 2018 to serve under then-head coach Mike Yeo. Berube kept him around and had great success with him running the defense in 2019. He spent eight seasons coaching between the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and American Hockey League (AHL) before the Blues hired him. I have no doubt that Van Ryn will land on his feet elsewhere. It was certainly time for the Blues to make a change in defensive coaching and structure. The personnel is an issue and that’s on Armstrong, but he was never going to be fired after this season regardless of the result.

End-of-Season Comments From Armstrong

Armstrong met with the media to put a bow on the 2022-23 season and it was filled with interesting comments. One thing that he did well during the regular season was choosing to sell at the trade deadline. He has clearly recognized where the Blues are right now, but it’s still unclear how they’ll approach this offseason.

The quote above was quite interesting. Obviously, Armstrong knows the mistakes that he made in the past led to a lot of the issues this season. Letting David Perron walk was a major mistake, in my opinion. He was more than just a solid top-six forward for this team. He was a leader, an example-setter, and an on-ice producer for the Blues. On top of this, Armstrong handed out a number of bad contracts that will hurt this team for years to come. Coaching changes are one way to try and revive the special teams and the blue line. I think the Blues made the right call by letting go of MacTavish and Van Ryn while retaining Berube, Steve Ott, and their two video coaches.

Another thing that Armstrong did well this season was his trades in the middle of the season. They have three first-round picks and five picks in the first three rounds of a loaded 2023 Draft. He also got Kasperi Kapanen, Jakub Vrana, and Sammy Blais in trades. All three of those players were key contributors after the deadline and will be a major part of their forward group next season.

Armstrong knows the issues started with him, “Expectations were higher, goals weren’t met. It starts with the (general) manager, not obviously bringing the right players in, the right support staff in. My job now is to take time to evaluate where we’re at, where our players are at individually, where they are at collectively, and work with Craig on assembling a staff that can get us to a higher standard on a day-to-day basis.” The Blues have a lot of work ahead in the offseason and it starts with the 2023 Draft.

Blues Have 10th Best Odds in NHL Draft Lottery

The Blues have the 10th-best odds in the NHL Draft Lottery. They have a 3.5 percent chance to win the lottery. Remember, only the bottom-11 teams in the league have a chance at the number-one pick. Last year, the Anaheim Ducks had the 10th-best odds and they remained there after the lottery was drawn. It’s unlikely that the Blues will move up once the lottery results are revealed, but that’s fine. Having a top-10 pick in this draft is a major victory. Fans just have to hope that the Blues stay at 10 rather than dropping.

St. Louis Blues Craig Berube Doug Armstrong
St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube and general manager Doug Armstrong (Colter Peterson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Our own Logan Horn of The Hockey Writers recently released his 2.0 Mock Draft. With the 10th overall pick, he had the Blues selecting center Dalibor Dvorsky from Slovakia. There’s an argument for the Blues to take a defenseman with this pick, but the forward depth of this class, especially at the top, is off the charts. Horn said this of Dvorsky, “I have them selecting a centerman in Dvorsky who has clear top-six upside while showing enough two-way skill to project safely as at least a middle-six center. Dvorsky has a great shot despite primarily being a playmaker, and I can see him becoming a fixture on the Blues’ top power play unit in the near future.” I think he is on the shortlist of terrific forward options that the Blues will have with their first pick.

I don’t expect them to make all three picks in the first round, but Horn made the selections for them in his mock. With the 25th pick, he had the Blues selecting left-handed defenseman Mikhail Gulyayev from Russia. Horn excited me with his thoughts on Gulyayev, “Gulyayev is without a doubt one of the most exciting defensive prospects in the world, with the perfect toolkit to become a modern power play quarterback. He’s got the dynamic and agile skating, the hands to transition the puck well through the neutral zone, and enough offensive IQ to lead the charge for his team from the back end.” I think this would be an awesome pick to make late in the first round.

With the 29th pick, Horn had the Blues taking Canadian center Gracyn Sawchyn from the Western Hockey League (WHL). It sounds like he is an ideal fit for Berube’s system based on Horn’s evaluation, “Gracyn Sawchyn has quickly become one of my favorite players in this year’s draft as a speed center with lightning-quick hands and a hard-working style. He hasn’t received much hype this year because he’s been playing on a stacked Seattle Thunderbirds team and spent much of the season behind the likes of Brad Lambert and Colton Dach.” If the Blues were to make all three picks in the first round, it seems like these three selections would be very favorable within NHL Draft circles.

Key Offseason Dates in the NHL

  • Monday, May 8: NHL Draft Lottery
  • Monday, June 26: NHL Awards
  • Wednesday, June 28: NHL Draft Round 1
  • Thursday, June 29: NHL Draft Rounds 2-7
  • Saturday, July 1: NHL Free Agency Begins

Four of these five dates will be significant for the Blues. I don’t think they’re going to have any awards coming their way. For the first time since 2019, the NHL will have free agency opening up on the first day of July. The league is returning to pre-pandemic dates in full for the first time this summer. Make sure to put these dates in your calendar, as the Blues should be very busy in the months to come.

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