The 47-year old St. Louis Blues are an Original 12 franchise that has never won the Stanley Cup. Indeed, no current NHL team has gone through a longer drought without adding their first entry into its championship trophy case.
Is that about to change?
When one has occasion to think of the St. Louis Blues historically, (Okay, okay. When I have occasion to think of the St. Louis Blues historically) what comes to mind are numerous great players, a few superstars, a cool logo, no rings, an extraordinarily long playoff appearance streak and a couple of memorable transactions with my Hartford Whalers (By the way, thanks again for Mike Liut)
In fact, the Blues have always somewhat reminded me of an older, Western Conference version of the Washington Capitals. Give or take.
To an east coast hockey fan like me St. Louis has always been one of those teams that’s just kind of there, with minimal notice of them taken aside from when they’re playing your team. (Sort of like the pre-Calvin Johnson Detroit Lions)
However this year just seems different.
Those who’ve watched the game of hockey long enough know that occasionally, as certain individual plays develop, you can almost see a goal coming long before the puck ever enters the net. Project that same 6th hockey sense onto a team, and that’s the way this season appears to be heading for the Midwest Blueshirts.
Why now though, you might ask? What do these Blues of Backes, Oshie, Morrow, Shattenkirk and Steen have talent-wise on the yesteryear St. Louis squads of Federko, Hull, Oates, Gilmour, MacInnis, Shanahan et al? Nothing of course. But as the New York Rangers can easily tell you, superstars alone rarely win championships in hockey.
Untimely injuries aside, in sports there are-generally, mind you-two types of teams that usually win championships. Those which are simply too overloaded with talent and depth, (And even they falter) and clubs that are well-balanced with the right personnel on both offense and defense who come together at the right time.
And in hockey one more factor still: Goaltending.
In 2014, St. Louis’s potential Achilles’ heels were the question marks surrounding the consistency of its netminders. In March they addressed that in a huge way by acquiring Ryan Miller from Buffalo. Miller is a world champion-caliber goalie who put up astounding stats while playing most of the season behind the Sabres’ phantom defense.
When Miller is on, which is often, he is nearly unstoppable. And now he finally has the D he needs to match his talent and motivation. Success should follow.
Should the Blue Notes reach the Cup Finals, what also cannot be overlooked is Miller’s familiarity with the Eastern Conference. Particularly if they were to draw Boston, a team with which he has a long, and at times interesting, history with.
These Blues set a franchise record for wins; a tremendous accomplishment. And yet whether or not they overtake the Bruins for the Presidents’ trophy is irrelevant. The annals of NHL post-season failures are littered with teams who claimed the league’s top seed, only to find themselves later watching at home or in person as some other club hoists the Hardware.
For some reason though this team, at this time, just seems poised and equipped to make a genuine run at the tiered silver chalice. All the necessary pieces are now in place. (As well as, you’ll note, my clichés)
Some say the Blues currently exist within a window of opportunity that might last a couple of years. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.
I’m no more than a writer expressing an opinion, but with it I’ll say it’s impossible to know whether this same adhesiveness and camaraderie can be recaptured again next year. Or whether St. Louis was just a four-month layover for UFA Ryan Miller before continuing west to California.
In short, their time is now.
The most iconic sports photograph involving St. Louis likely isn’t one its fans care to think on often. It features a celebratory Bobby Orr sent airborne; a trip courtesy of dismayed Blues’ rearguard Noel Picard. By the time Orr had landed, his Bruins were Stanley Cup Champions.
However forty-four years later, this New Englander wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a different sort of photograph come June; one depicting thousands of mid-westerners reveling deep into a warm Missouri night.