It’s now been eight days since that fateful April 26 day when our beloved Blues were eliminated from the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third season in a row. All three series have gone six games. The wounds are still fresh, but I have summoned up the courage to come forward and finally speak about the true pain that is being a St. Louis Blues fan.
I will preface this article by stating that I am a Blues fan going on almost 30 years now. There is nothing I want more than a Stanley Cup parade on Market Street.
But I digress. Back to the present state of painful solitude. Most of us are asking “why?” “how?” “what’s next?” but I think the key question we should be asking ourselves, as fans of all things St. Louis, is what do the St. Louis Cardinals have that the St. Louis Blues can’t seem to figure out? How is it that a team like the 2006 Cardinals, with a plethora of injuries and only 83 wins on the season, comes into the playoffs with the mindset that they WILL win the World Series? And then they do. David Eckstein, the 5’7” shortstop who seemed to hurl his entire body towards first base on every play, walks away as the MVP of the series. Not Albert Pujols or Scott Rolen or even Chris Carpenter. David freaking Eckstein! Or what about the 2011 Cardinals, down TWICE going into the end of Game 6, with the Rangers within one strike of being world champions. And who came through for that team? David Freese!
That brings us to the 2014-2015 St. Louis Blues, who are stacked with talent from the first line to the fourth line. They were fairly clear from injuries this year, with a few bumps along the road, but nothing catastrophic. They have a coach who has been there. He knows what it takes to lift that Cup. They finished with 109 points, winning the Central Division over the Nashville Predators and the Chicago Blackhawks. The season was exciting. There were come back wins, shoot out wins, moments of impeccable goaltending and shots that made highlight reel after highlight reel.
And then the playoffs came. And then the playoffs went.
Some interesting stats from the 2014-2015 NHL season:
Tarasenko: 6th in goals (37), 7th in plus/minus (+27), 10th in scoring (73 points)
Elliott: 10th in GAA (2.26), Set a franchise record with his 21st shutout this year
Allen: 13th in GAA (2.28)
Team: 2nd in wins (51), 5th in goals scored (239), 5th in GAA (2.40), 4th in power play (22.3%), 4th in plus/minus (+28), 8th in penalty kill (83.7%)
***Interesting note, there were no Blues in the top 30 for assists…….
So what happened?! The talent was there. The coach was in place. The fans were behind them. And yet it was like watching five guys trying to skate in wet concrete during almost every moment of every game. You could sense the desperation. You could feel the weight on that team. Were they snake bitten? Maybe. Was the pressure too much? Possibly. Or is it simpler than all of that?
Have you seen the videos of Adam Wainwright dancing in the bullpen? (If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and check it out). Do you notice the various hand gestures that each Cardinal makes when they get an extra base hit? Do you see the absolute pure unadulterated joy that is plastered on every single players’ face when someone hits a walk off? (Got to see that 3 times this weekend, thank you very much Pirates). Do you remember Chris Carpenter’s retirement press conference? I know most of the people reading this are probably guys, but I cried, and even though you won’t admit it, I know some of you did as well. I won’t judge. And why? Because that guy had more heart than some entire baseball teams combined. And it hurt to see him forced to give it all up. I mean come on, anyone who yells “go f— yourself” at every opposing player to somehow make it to first base has got some serious fire.
Where is all that with our Blues? Are they having ANY fun playing hockey together? Do you get the sense that once those games are over, each one goes home to their own lives, only to reunite for the next practice or flight out of town? Where are the secret handshakes? Where is “high sock Sunday” or #happyflight? Where is the Rally Squirrel? Where is that deep love of the game and the team? Where is the chemistry?!
They don’t have it. Or at least not at a level that’s visible to this fan. And I truly think therein lies the problem. Maybe I’m comparing apples to oranges by looking at hockey players vs. baseball players. But there has to be something to the theory. It’s been a staple of Cardinal baseball as long as I can remember. Your ace goes down? You win the World Series. Down by 5 runs to the Cubs? You come back and win 10-9. There are no excuses, there is no “what do we do now?” You just win. The Blackhawks have that mentality (as much as it pains me to say it). The Blues do not. And until we find it, there will be season after season after season of disappointment and anger and sadness and various other emotions that I don’t like feeling. Maybe it can be found in a new coach. Someone fresher, with new ideas and a different attitude. I don’t think it can be found by trading away half the team, or even a couple of key pieces of the team. After all, how does a team gain chemistry when they don’t get the opportunity to play together for any length of time? This team is good. This team is talented. They are only going to get better with more experience and more time on the ice together. But they need to find that thing that the Cardinals have always had.
They need to find their heart.