As the days go by the dust will begin to settle and the pain Blues fans are feeling today will slowly but surely begin to dwindle.
The Blues ran up against a better, stronger, more committed hockey club in the Los Angeles Kings.
Lessons will be learned.
At least that’s what you hope for. Back in 2009 the Blues were swept by Vancouver before the series even began and you wonder what the organization was able to take out of it. St. Louis missed the playoffs the next two years.
The further you go in the Stanley Cup playoffs the harder it beocmes and the Blues learned that firsthand here in 2012. Sometimes you have to experience the highs and lows of playoff hockey before you’re truly prepared to get to the next level.
Just ask the Los Angeles Kings.
They failed to get out of the first round each of the last two years but are better now because of it. It took a long time to get there but the feeling is just as gratifying. They truly believe they can win it all and it will be interesting to see if they can keep the foot on the gas pedal.
It doesn’t hurt that GM Dean Lombardi continues to add pieces to the puzzle to help get them over the hump. They’ve re-signed several key players including Justin Williams, Anze Kopitar, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene, and Drew Doughty to long-term deals. Added All-Star players Mike Richards and Jeff carter via trade, as well as drafting the likes of Jonathan Quick in the third round. Many believe backup goalie Jonathan Bernier, a former first round pick, has number one potential down the road.
Many wonder how much payroll flexibility Doug Armstrong will have for St. Louis. They’ve been bottom feeders for quite some time and at some point this will have to change. There are some obvious holes that need to be filled and will the resources be there to get the Blues closer to a Stanley Cup?
A lot of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the players. They’re the ones that need to be hungry to move things forward. It starts this summer in the training room and there are players who know they have to be more committed.
Getting out of the first round doesn’t guarantee a spot in the playoffs the following year.
One thing I can tell you about Ken Hitchcock. He won’t be satisfied with just getting to the current level. The expectations and demand on the players will only increase beginning now. He’s had nearly a full season to evaluate what he has and you expect changes to be made.
Over the next several days you’ll hear Hitchcock use the term “the next 10%” in reference to the Blues needing to go above and beyond to get the results you want. This was an obvious difference between the two teams in this series. LA is a big team who plays hard but they understand the value of giving the next 10%. This is an area St. Louis struggled in.
This goes for every phase of the game from special teams to offense to defense. The Kings brought an “All In” mentality and pushed the Blues out in the process.
There’s been a lot of focus on the Blues defensive struggles this series but where was the offense? You have to score to win hockey games and the Blues forwards were outworked by goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Quick was remarkable but the Blues didn’t put enough heat on him. In four games St. Louis scored just six goals. That won’t get it done especially when Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, and David Perron combine for zero goals.
This series was a perfect example of the bully being bullied. The Kings did to the Blues what St. Louis had done to everybody else all season.
Stewart Buys In…
Chris Stewart is a perfect example of what Hitchcock is referring too. Here’s a player who began the season on the first line and finished the season on the first line. In between there was a lot of frustration from both the team and the player. The last two games Stewart showed the type of player he can be when he digs a little deeper. This guy has a lot to offer but he has to commit to being this type of player. His performance over the last two games will likely buy him one more season to prove he’s worthy of a long-term contract.
Longtime NHL D-man Adam Foote said Stewart was Captain material in Colorado before the trade was made. He does have leadership skills and you have to wonder if the presence of Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott pushed him out of that role? I say this with the understanding of what Langenbrunner and Arnott meant to this roster.
As I wrote a few days ago, Stewart has already hired a personal trainer, nutritionist, and a skills coach to work with this summer.
Validate the Season…
You can’t overlook the importance of getting out of the first round. At the very least it helped validate a 109 point season and a division title. Losing in the first round would have done a tremendous amount of emotional and financial damage to this organization. You can bet the new ownership could have used at least one more home game to help put a Band-Aid on the financial damage that’s already been done this season.
You’ll start hearing about the bumps and bruises but are you going to tell me there aren’t players on the LA roster also dealing with injuries? It comes with playoff hockey and as hard as Los Angeles plays you can guarantee they’re hurting right now as well.
There are a number of players including David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie and Jason Arnott among others who played through injury.
The Blues obviously could have used Jaroslav Halak who missed the entire series with a high ankle sprain. There’s something to be said for experience and he’s a guy who’s done it in the playoffs before.
Arnott sat out a few days late in the season in an effort to get healthy but it never materialized. He tried to play through it but he couldn’t protect himself out there. He dealt with both shoulder and knee injuries during the year and we all know as you get older it becomes harder to play through it. All veterans think they can play hurt and Arnott is no different. He wasn’t happy about not playing but he wasn’t in physical condition to help the club.
After the players have their medical exits more and more info will become available.
End of an Era…
Yesterday’s game against LA was officially the final game under Chairman Dave Checketts. There’s a strong possibility we hear about Tom Stillman closing on his purchase as soon as the middle of this week. The deal must first pass through the NHL Board of Governors before it can close.
Stillman is likely to use the next few weeks to evaluate the organization before we see any significant changes. Changes typically come with new regimes and I would anticipate some changes to be made.
Checketts took over the team in June 2006, the team reached the playoffs in two of the six seasons.
More to come,
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