Sports teams are made to break our hearts. Athletic players coming together with one common goal of winning a championship that temporarily puts their hardcore fans on a pedestal. It’s a freaky concoction of competition, addiction and inner strength. You could go to any main street and toss a rock at a crowd and hit a person who could deliver a 10 minute uncut rant about sports easily. It’s a common element of life and one that hits people who don’t even like sports. The Blues break out hearts so often that we are used to it. That doesn’t mean the pain goes away or the incoming crash is any weaker. Every year, playoff built or not, we think to ourselves what it would be like to celebrate up and down 14th and Clark and around the city for the Blues and not the Cardinals. A myth, pipe dream, and goal shared by old men, ambitious young men and women and kids alike. What if the Blues won the Stanley Cup? Typing the sentence involves a necessary pause because in their time here since the late 1960’s, the Blues haven’t won a single Cup. We are without a championship banner and it sucks. On Friday, our hopes for one in this lockout shortened season were destroyed. The Los Angeles Kings came back from a 2-0 series deficit and beat the Blues four straight games to capture the first round and send every Blues fan to the cold hard concrete ground with a thud. Too bad we all knew it would come, now or later. The Blues have given us this sickness in our systems. A feeling of inevitable failure. What a terrible thing. Not as horrible as a rash in a sensitive area but one that itches at us in other ways. Here are my thoughts on the Blues.
*Confession. I slept through the final period of hockey for the Blues on Friday night. After a long ass hard week of dual jobs, fatherhood and general running out, I was wasted mentally and physically as I carved out a spot in the corner of the couch for my trunk of a body. It was 2-1 Kings after a soul draining last second goal in the third period by Dustin Penner that somehow(stretchy thought) eluded Brian Elliot’s body and equipment. I spat out around 5 strong words of profanity and turned away, waking up around 1am to the final score of my phone and a replay of FSN post game. The two anchors, a weird guy named Scott and a former player, looked devastated. It was as if a mortar hit the Arch and brought it down. That or a man named Jonathan Quick who brought it down for the second season in a row. Let’s begin.
1.) That’s right. The Kings have knocked us out cold twice in a row. The Blues can’t find a way to win in LA and we can’t beat them in a series. Last year, they knocked us out cold in four games. This year, they let us get ahead before sticking the knife in deep enough. Quick gave up a couple silly goals in Games 1 and 2 before righting himself and the LA ship in route to four straight wins. The Kings are the new nemesis in the Blues life. Move over Hawks and Wings. Preds also.
2.) Games 3 and 4 defined this series. The outcome was carved there. In Game 3, we lost 1-0 but missed several clear open looks at the LA net to tie or take the lead. One of the biggest factors in the playoffs for the Blues was MISSED SHOTS. Professionals failing to put the puck on net. We missed the net 111 times in the 6 games against the Kings, which is as bad throwing 111 gutter balls in a game of bowling. It’s unacceptable and something that Brian Elliot has nothing to do with. The forwards especially couldn’t hit the net. I am talking to you Andy McDonald, Chris Stewart and David Perron. How fucking hard is it to shoot a puck on net? Do I need to strap on my skates from high school, take the ice and fire a few wrist shots at the net. I know it’s the playoffs and the action is quick and relentless but these guys are built for this type of play and they failed. BIG TIME. Game 4 we had a 2-0 lead and a chance to step on the Kings throats and we then blew a 3-2 lead in route to a 4-3 loss. These two games in LA were the back breakers. We were up 2 games to one and we blew it. The lead was gone. Vanquished. In playoff hockey, it can happen that fast. In any sport, it can happen that fast.
3.) Brian Elliot isn’t better than or as good as Quick. We knew this going in. So stop throwing all the blame on Elliot for the series loss. I told you before the series started that we would go as far as Elliot would take us. As far as his PLAY could take us. He had an uphill climb with Quick opposing him and for 3 games he was as good or better than the Vezina Cup winner. Then, reality set in and he started to roll downhill. I don’t blame Hitch for keeping him in there. This was Elliot’s team and not the whiny bitchy midget Slovak Halak’s team. This was his series to lose. Elliot had a dramatic season. He took over for an injured Halak less than a month into the season and quickly got rocked to the point of being benched for Jake Allen, who saved us in March. Then, Elliot reappeared after a 2 week sit and a Peoria assignment to win back the starting gig and he did it in a big way. He carried the team through April and to the 4th seed when they were barely scoring goals. Elliot once again played above his ability and overachieved for the second season in a row. He did give up a few soft goals in the LA series, including the game winner in Game 5 at Scottrade and the game winner in Game 6 in LA. He just broke down again and met his match in the Kings. Elliot did a stellar job, especially if you think back to March when most Blues fans(me included) cast him off to the minors. He came back and like the team, fell short. When he went down, the Blues overall play went with him.
4.) What to do with the kid line that is getting more stale by the minute? TJ Oshie is an injury prone energy player who won’t score more than 20 goals EVER! He is a talented player with a high ice IQ but he takes games off and can’t stay on the ice. He has a 5 year deal so it will be hard to move him but if you listen to many analysts, he is the freshest thing since Budweiser(I don’t understand it). He has reached his ceiling in my opinion but will be hard to receive any return in a trade. David Perron has another year left on his contract and is the most likely player to be dealt. He can score in bunches but loafs around too much, tries to be a pest, takes very stupid penalties and may never reach his potential. Patrik Berglund is a big Swede with streaky scoring touches but also a SOFT player. Far too many times he is beat in the corner and can’t forecheck for his life. He is a big forward with a decent contract so I don’t think you can move him. These players have gotten the chance to flourish and have hit brick walls lately. They are still incredibly young so I wouldn’t be surprised if they all came back. If it isn’t working, why let it run forward? Changing things would help. Any fan who whines about Oshie’s departure can be reminded of what has been won during his time here. NOTHING. If Doug Armstrong brings back the same players what message is being sent to fans? We are contenders and pretenders.
5.) Goodbye Andy McDonald. You have speed to kill but take concussions like breakfast and disappeared in the playoffs. He also makes 4 million, which comes off the books as the summer begins. He is gone. Jamie Langenbrunner is also gone. There’s 5.5 million freed up. Chris Stewart had an inconsistent season to say the least. He scored what seemed like 10 goals in a week and then took a week off. He was on a contract run and may have gotten another short deal with the team or an exit to somewhere else. I wish I could take out the iron tenacity and strong will in the corner checks and forechecking from Stewart and put it into Patrik Berglund. Stewart offers you that big forward with a little attitude but for the money he will command, I don’t think he is worth it. I would give him a 2 year deal but not give him a no trade clause so you have the option to trade him at will. If he balks, see you later. More money comes off the books.
6.) The Blues didn’t generate a lot of income during the short season and won’t have EXTRA money to make moves. Armstrong’s moves will come through trades and not signings. Until owner Tom Stillman finds more investors and sponsors, the Blues will be scraping the bottom of the payroll barrel in the NHL. Think about it, and it’s amazing what they were able to accomplish with the 3rd lowest payroll in the league. Still, results spawn bigger expectations so the team will have to gain revenue or rely on Dougie to spin the wheel.
7.) I do like Armstrong. I liked when the Blues gave him the GM gig. He has the risky brass ball set to make big deals and try to improve his team and help his coaches. He has a lot of Mozelaik in his brain. He can find a lot with a little. He brought the team a high quality defenseman in Jay Bouwmeester and he is a guy who can pair up with Alex Pietrangelo next year to create a great tandem. He did bring in the painfully average Jordan Leopold but that was more of an insurance move that ran too long. Ken Hitchcock should have thrown Kris Russell into the mix in the LA series when Leopold was exposed. Armstrong can make a deal or two so I trust him.
8.) While I like Elliot, I think Jaro Halak gets one more shot at being #1. He is made of glass and gives up as many soft goals as any goalie but is a playoff beast and has pretty good stats with the team. In three seasons, he is 59-38-15 with a franchise tying 16 shutouts. When healthy, Halak is a #1 goalie. The problem is he hasn’t been able to stay in net without sustaining a long term injury. Elliot makes 2.5 million next year and Halak makes 4 million. Jake Allen is the silver lining here and deserves to be on the NHL roster. He has nothing more to prove in Peoria and proved his skill set in March. Which means the Blues have to decide whether to keep Halak or Elliot? You can’t keep both, or at least I wouldn’t. Halak whined to Hitch in the LA series and that happens way more than you think so its a tad overblown. However, I think Halak gives you a better chance in a playoff series and that is the blocker in front of this team right now. A playoff goaltender. Keep Halak, trade Elliot and have Allen as your backup.
9.) The Blues took a step back. They beat the Sharks in the first round last year and came up short this year which represents a step back. Clearly, we can get to the playoffs and are that kind of team again but it isn’t enough. Blues fans have come back after 2 recent lockouts and supported their team. They have gotten NOTHING in return for it. What will Doug Armstrong and company do to reward our patience? You can’t keep the same lineup every year with minor tweaks. Something must be done. Dramatically.
10.) Adam Cracknell, Ryan Reaves and Chris Porter proved they are your CPR 4th line next season. They disrupted the Kings more than any line in the series and were true pests. They all need to be on the roster. Jaden Schwartz can move into McDonald’s playmaker spot and continue to grow, as well as Russian prodigy Vladamir Tarasenko. David Backes gives ypu everything you want in a captain so I am okay with his production going down.
11.) This team needs a bolt of new blood. A GOAL SCORER. Stop me if you have heard this before because it is an old dance tune. The Blues need a difference maker on the ice. An instant threat. Perron, Berglund and Stewart have the ability to score but often come up short. We need a player like Teemu Selanne, who continues to score for the Ducks and is a threat on the ice. He has close to 700 goals and won’t leave the West Coast represents that player we need. Bobby Ryan has been linked to the Blues in many cases. He is a good scorer. Jarome Iginla is a big time scorer and would cherish the chance to play for a contender for a full season. Dustin Penner, the man who sunk our ship, is a free agent. The Blues need to make a move like the Columbus Blue Jackets did when they traded for Martin Goborik or the Kings did when they trade for Jeff Carter. This team needs that difference maker on the ice who WON”T miss the net. With freed up cap space and trade parts, hopefully we can make this happen. If not, I don’t see the team getting past the Kings or Hawks next year.
What will the team look like in October? The intrigue begins soon. My time here is done. Time to watch the Cardinals. They are 36 games into a 162 game march. The Blues are out, playoff hockey is still entertaining but the Cards are now in full gear. It’s too bad for the Blues. I thought this was their year. Their youth and shortened season gave them advantages. However, as the great Bobby DeNiro told Sly Stallone in the underrated drama Copland, “I gave you a chance to be the hero here and YOU BLEW IT.” It’s that simple. The Blues choked and blew their opportunity to do something special. I end this rant with the most dreaded line in sports and the Cubs slogan.
Maybe next year….
Thanks for reading and goodnight,