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Doug Armstrong has two big reasons to monitor close NHL playoff races

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Doug Armstrong has two big reasons to be monitoring the NHL's playoff races closely.

Not only are his St. Louis Blues making a strong push in the Western Conference, he's also trying to assemble the Canadian team for the upcoming IIHF World Hockey Championship. The latter job is particularly tough given that he's not entirely sure who will be available for the tournament, which begins April 24 in Zurich. That leaves just a little over three weeks for Armstrong and assistant GMs Joe Nieuwendyk and Pierre Gauthier to put together the team.

They won't be making final decisions until the playoff picture clears up.

"We've tried to stay on top of things and go through all the 'What if?' scenarios," Armstrong said Tuesday. "A lot of the work has been done. Pierre and Joe have spent a lot of time on the road, I've tried to get out there.

"I really believe that we know the players well."

He's also done homework on the men who will be considered to coach the team.

Most of the potential candidates are still involved in playoff races with their NHL clubs. However, Armstrong also acknowledged that he'll look at Tom Renney, a former Canadian national team coach who was fired by the New York Rangers in February.

"His international experience and his reputation is one where he certainly has to be on any list in some component of a coaching staff," said Armstrong.

The job of putting together a world championship team is always a little bit sensitive because it involves considering guys who are focused on the NHL playoffs. Like previous general managers, Armstrong won't contact any player before his team has been eliminated.

"Hockey Canada has had a strong reputation of waiting until they're mathematically out," he said. "I agree with that. As a former manager, I understand it and I appreciate that philosophy."

Only a handful of teams currently fit that bill - Phoenix, Colorado, Atlanta, Tampa and the New York Islanders. While Armstrong declined to discuss specific players, Ryan Smyth and Shane Doan are both former captains of Canadian world championship teams and would be natural choices.

The current plan is to unveil the bulk of the roster at the same time.

There's also the chance that a player or two could be added to the Canadian squad after being knocked out of the first round of the playoffs. That will depend largely on the matchups.

"You want to leave a spot open, but if you don't get the one guy you'd like to have another guy you can go to," said Armstrong.

Of course, he'll be hoping not to have any decisions about guys that play for the Blues. Armstrong is a vice-president with the team and would rather it be involved in a long playoff run.

St. Louis has been one of the NHL's top teams since the all-star break, climbing into playoff position after sitting last in the conference in January.

"Geez, it's been a lot of fun," said Armstrong. "The guys have worked so hard just into the position to have some meaningful games and they're taking full advantage of it.

"It's been a real joy to be around."


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