St. Louis Blues

St. Louis Blues: How They Rate In The Final Four

The St. Louis Blues Are Eight Wins Away From Doing What No One Thought Was Possible Four Months Ago. Winning The Stanley Cup. 

And then there were four. 

The National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference Finals kicked off on Thursday night as the Boston Bruins battled the Carolina Hurricanes in a relatively entertaining affair. 

With the Western Conference Final set to kick-off on Saturday,  attention shifts to the California coast as the St. Louis Blues enter the bay-area to take on the San Jose Sharks. 

It’s already been an amazing run for the Blues, one that not many people could have seen coming (including yours truly).  Even before the horrendous start to the season (one that saw the team dead-last in the NHL as late as January 4), not many experts were taking the Blues to compete with the Winnipeg Jets, the San Jose Sharks or the Vegas Golden Knights of the Western Conference.  And yet, here we stand. 

The Blues have ridden the ridiculous play of Jordan Binnington since calling him up January 6 and haven’t looked back since. They’ve already disposed of the high-flying Jets and held off seven-plus games of a scrappy Dallas Stars team that featured a goalie-dual for the ages. Now they sit four wins away from the Stanley Cup finals, looking to become just the fourth team in franchise history to do so, and the first since 1970.

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Their run has them back in the conversation of greatest in franchise history.  The Blues have as good a shot at the title this year as any of the four teams remaining, but who has the best narrative?  Maybe your team has already been eliminated from the playoffs (or never made it to begin with) and you’re looking to figure out who to cheer on. Well you’re in luck, because I’m here to guide you through the best remaining storylines.  

Each of the Hurricanes, Bruins, Sharks, and Blues have been riding some sort of story this season, so who should YOU be rooting for?  If you’re looking for some un-biased breakdown of who that should be……well, we’ve got a lot of other great writers here at Puck77. But since you’re here, lets see how the Blues stack up against the other remaining teams.

 

Boston Bruins

No-one likes this team, and you shouldn’t cheer for them.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Canes are…

*Touches ear-piece*: I’m being told now that Puck77 is not allowing me to leave the Bruins breakdown that short and un-sweet. Sigh. Back to it…

Boston Bruins (cont’d)

The Bruins enter their series against the Hurricanes as the highest-ranking team remaining in the 2019 playoffs.  Their core is aging but the majority of them already have cup rings dating back to their 2011 title, so there aren’t many veteran guys to get behind as they chase down their first cup. 

David Backes would be the only name that comes to mind in this instance, but he’s still only 34 and isn’t playing night in and night out for head coach Bruce Cassidy.  They feature some of the NHL’s more hated players in Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara. Look, I’m trying to find something nice to say about this team, but there just isn’t a lot of good options here. 

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There was the belief that this could be one of their last deep runs for the foreseeable future.  But with Chara coming back for one more season and emerging youngsters such as David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, and Jake DeBrusk, this Bruins squad could be around for seasons to come.  Instead, lets focus on the idea that this team was never supposed to get this far and run with that. 

The season-long story was that the Bruins could not/would not make the Eastern Conference finals because the Tampa Bay Lightning were supposed to steam-roll their way to the Stanley Cup with 16-straight wins.  Now that we know how the Lightning story turned out, it opened the door for the rest of the field in the East.  It may not be the best narrative, but it may be the best the Bruins can offer to convince the rest of the hockey world to cheer them on.

Carolina Hurricanes

I’ll just leave this here.

The Hurricanes season has been a roller-coaster to say the least.  Coming into 2018-19, the Hurricanes held the dubious record of the longest current playoff drought (sorry Buffalo Sabres fans).  The good news is that, although the Hurricanes don’t make the playoffs very often, when they do, they go deep.

This year marks just their fourth appearance in the Conference Finals since losing in the finals in 2002 (the others being a conference finals appearance in 2009 and, of course, their lone Stanley Cup title coming back in 2006), despite only making the playoffs four times in that same time-frame.  That on its own could serve as a worthy narrative to get on board with.  

However, if that isn’t enough for you, they’ve also been riding the Jerk-train ever since Don Cherry called them out on Hockey Night in Canada for their exuberant post-win celebrations.  Cherry and fellow old-guy-that-nobody-should-listen-to Brian Burke seemed to be the only people in the world that didn’t fall in love with the Storm Surge.  As the Surge’s increased in creativity, so too did their frequency as the Hurricanes rose through the standings down the stretch, settling for the first wild-card spot in the East. 

Factoring in first-year coach Rod Brind”Amour (who also happens to be the same guy that captained the franchise to its only Stanley Cup) as well as Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams (who also happens to be the same guy that scored to secure the franchise its only Stanley Cup) and these Jerks are a great team to get behind.

San Jose Sharks

I’ll say two things about the Sharks.

  • I, like the rest of the hockey world, would love to see Joe Thornton get his name on Lord Stanley’s mug.
  • I’m getting really tired of the San Jose Sharks

Sorry Sharks fans, but every year we show up in April hearing about how great your team is and how this is their year.  I’ve been listening to this narrative since Owen Nolan picked a corner from center ice.  I heard it in 2006 when Thornton showed up and won a Hart and Art Ross (oh, ya, and pinged enough pucks off Jonathan Cheechoo to earn him a Rocket Richard trophy in the process).  I heard it from 2007-2013 when Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Logan Couture and countless other star players led them to four straight division titles as well as a Presidents Trophy in 2009.  I heard it in 2016 when they finally made it to the Cup finals, and I’m hearing it again this year.

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If you wanna cheer for Thornton, I get it. A little piece of me hopes he gets the job done this year, just so I don’t have to listen to this narrative again in 2020.

(Oh, and I’m also dreading all the takes about how the NHL continues to gift the Sharks wins in Game 7’s)

St. Louis Blues

Besides wanting to hear Gloria eight more times this season, the Blues have a pretty great narrative behind them as they look to continue their magic run. 

The Blues remain as the only team from Original Expansion in 1967 to not capture a Cup yet.  They’ve gone through multiple cores throughout the Cap Era while remaining competitive throughout, never needing to blow it all up and hit the rebuild button.  They fired their coach in November, and now current coach Craig Berube looks to join the likes of Mike Sullivan and Dan Bylsma who lead their new teams to glory. 

They have a pair of well-respected veterans in Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Steen who are still searching for their first taste of the Cup.  Oh, and did we mention that THEY WERE IN LAST PLACE IN THE LEAGUE 4 MONTHS AGO?

Apologies for the yelling.

Seriously though.  The concept that a team that was so far behind so late in the season and remain as one of the final four teams standing is unheard of.  We’ll try to ignore the fact that their success will only spark a generation of future general managers who will argue their team isn’t out of it despite behind 20 points back at the All-Star game.  Instead, lets focus on how incredible their run has been to allow for this to happen. 

Since calling up rookie goaltending sensation Jordan Binnington, the Blues have won 37 of a possible 56 games.  That’s a 66% winning percentage, or the equivalent of a 54-win season.  Their play led them to first-place in their division by the last night of their season (ultimately finishing tied for second), and had experts scratching their heads as to how they pulled it off. 

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Then came the first round against the Jets, a team that reached the Conference Finals a year ago and one that many assumed were the best to come out of the West.  Again, the Blues defied their doubters. 

Then came a scrappy Dallas team featuring their own hot goaltender in Ben Bishop.  The magic surely has to run out on Binnington, right?  Once again, the Blues advanced, this time on the back of local hero Patrick Maroon’s double overtime goal.  And now the Blues can see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

The magic is still alive, with one obstacle in their path. Jumbo Joe and the Sharks will throw what should be the biggest test of the season at St. Louis, while a date with destiny hangs in the balance.

Statistics provided by hockey-reference

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

 

St. Louis Blues

St. Louis Blues: Are The 2018-19 Blues The Best In Franchise History?

Is this the best St. Louis Blues team in franchise history?

Well this has been fun.  Needless to say, things have turned around for the St. Louis Blues this season.  At one point it seemed we were destined to be discussing the Jack Hughes sweepstakes around this point of the year, instead the Blues have rediscovered their game and now find themselves firmly in 3rd in the Central division.

Since the firing of Mike Yeo, the Blues have spotted a 30-16-2 record, including a 21-7-2 mark in 2019.  Due in no small part to the performance of Jordan Binnington, the 25-year-old rookie sensation who has come out of virtually nowhere to right the ship and lead the Blues into the post-season.  As of writing, Binnington has compiled a 16-3-1 record, including a .929 save percentage to go along with 5 shutouts.  There’s even been some discussion around the hockey world that he could potentially push Elias Pettersson out of the calder race by seasons end if he can continue his hot play.  

Mix in the re-birth of Vladimir Tarasenko as an elite scoring threat, Ryan O’Reilly continuing to have a solid season, and Alex Pietrangelo & Colton Parayko patrolling the blue-line and the Blues are in good shape.  It’s enough to pose the question.  Is this the best St. Louis Blues team of all-time?  With 15 games to go the Blues could still end up as a sub-100 point team, and that’s considering their abysmal start to the season.  Obviously, the big factor here is Binnington, who has provided stability to a position that has held this team back from greatness over previous playoff runs (see Allen, Jake & Miller, Ryan). 

So, let’s crack open the history books and look back to see just where these 2018-19 Blues rank all-time in the franchise.  We’ll include 3 categories in which to (arbitrarily) rank each team:  Goaltending, Star-Power, & End Result.

10.  1967-68, 1968-69, 1969-70 (101-83-42; combined record)

Overview: 

Ok so, right off the bat we’ll admit that we’re cheating a bit.  Some of you acute observers will point out that this is in fact three different teams, and if you wanted to keep this list to a firm 10, I suggest you pick your favourite of the bunch.  The fact is that these 3 versions of the St. Louis Blues were not much different from each other.  That is to say, they weren’t great teams either.  Still we’ll include them on our list based on the notion they remain the only Blues to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.  Some readers may note that these were the first 3 seasons of expansion following the Original 6, which sounds great until you factor in that the league decided to group all the newbies in one division.  Somebody had to be the best of the worst, it just so happened to be the Blues.

Goaltending: 

Glenn Hall (1967-70) & Jacques Plante (1968-70)

On Paper, this may be one of the most intimidating goaltending duos imaginable.  You’re talking about 7 cup rings to go along with a combined 16 appearances in the finals.  Unfortunately, by the time these two Hall of Famers got to St. Louis their careers we’re all but over.  In the case of Plante, his career actually was over until Scotty Bowman convinced the then-40-year-old to come out of retirement in 1968.  Hall was arguably the biggest acquisition at the 1967 Expansion draft, and its safe to assume whichever team landed him could’ve been the ones appearing in 3-straight finals instead of the Blues.

Score:  5/10

Star Power: 

Aside from Hall and Plante, there wasn’t much to get excited about on these Blues teams.  Red Bersenson was able to break out after a mid-season trade with the Rangers in 1967, leading the Blues in scoring their first two seasons with 51 and 82 points respectively, serving as the Blues only offensive weapon.  A pair of Hall of Fame coaches could find themselves on this list as well as these early Blues teams launched the coaching career of a young Scotty Bowman, and were captained by none-other than Al Arbour all three seasons.

Score:  3/10

End Result: 

As we’ve discussed, these three teams all managed to play in the Stanley Cup finals, which remain the franchises only such appearances.  And that has to count for something.  But when those appearances are the result of a poor season and playoff format, we can’t just award them best team ever.  Still, these teams could only play to the rules that were laid out, so credit where credit is due.  And hey, you can still find them in the most iconic playoff picture of all-time.

Score:  3/10

Verdict:  3.67

9.  2011-12 (49-22-11, 109 points)

Overview:

This version of the Blues was the first to have Ken Hitchcock at the helm.  The future Hall of Fame coach was brought in after only 13 games to replace the 6-7-0 Davis Payne, and would lead the team the rest of the way with a 43-15-11 record, winning his first Jack Adams trophy by seasons end.  Unfortunately, aside from a division championship banner, that would be the only trophy winning the Blues would do as a team this season.

Goaltending:

Jaroslav Halak & Brian Elliott

Two young goaltenders vying for the starters job all season long.  Both guys were 26 and looking to prove their worth, especially Halak who had just been acquired from the Montreal Canadiens less than two years after taking them to the conference finals in 2010.  The two youngsters combined to win the Jennings trophy this season (Halak playing 46 games to Elliott’s 36)

Score:  7/10

Star Power: 

This was a team that relied on solid goaltending to get them through each night.  Tied for the team lead in scoring were David Backes and T.J. Oshie with 54 points a-piece.  Solid performances, but hardly star-calibre.  Veterans Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner provided some valuable playoff experience, but their best years were clearly behind them.  Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk could make a case in this category, but both were still relatively young and still coming into their own.  At the end of the day, this was Hitch’s team, and not much more.

Score:  4/10

End Result: 

The goaltending was great, the scoring was adequate, and the Blues headed into the playoffs with high expectations.  They had a goalie that had gone deep in the playoffs before, a head coach that had won it all.  Mix in a few vets and enough youth, and there were a lot of reasons to like these Blues.  They rolled over the Sharks in 5, winning 4 straight after dropping Game 1 in double overtime, on their way to the Semi-Finals.  Game 2 against the Sharks, however, spelled the end of their season.  20 seconds into the 2nd period, Halak left the game with a season ending injury that left Brian Elliott to carry the load.  In the 2nd round the Los Angeles Kings were able to pick apart Elliott and the Blues, as they swept St. Louis in 4 straight en route to their 2nd Stanley Cup.

Score:  5/10

Verdict:  5.33

8.  2018-19 (36-25-6, 78 points, 15 games remaining)

Overview: 

Well any suspense as to where this years Blues team ranks just went out the window.  The fact is there isn’t enough body of work to justify putting this team any higher.  Maybe they continue their hot play, catch Nashville for home ice, and make a deep run in the playoffs.  Heck, a hot goalie means all bets are off in the playoffs (see Giguere, Jean-Sebastien) and right now the Blues might have the hottest of them all.  Or they could fall off an absolute cliff (see Toronto, 2011-12 season), miss the playoffs and we’re back to where we were 2 months ago.  I don’t envision that second scenario playing out, but to place this team any higher on the list would be an injustice to the teams above them.

Goaltending: 

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Martin Brodeur, Andrew Hammond, Jordan Binnington.

Is Jordan Binnington the real deal?  It’s not often that we see this type of performance from a goaltender at this stage of their career.  Carter Hart had a similar run for the Philadelphia Flyers prior to a season ending injury, but he’s 6 years Binnington’s junior.  We saw Andrew Hammond go on a similar tear a few seasons ago with the Ottawa Senators, only to fall apart in the playoffs.  However, Hammond was given his situation as a result of an injured starting goaltender, not because he played his way into the lineup.  At this point we don’t know how the Jordan Binnington era will play out, and you never want to get overhyped on a guy based on a small sample size.  That being said, he’s the sole reason this season has been salvageable for the Blues, and we’re not about to dock him for having a great run.

Score:  7/10

Star Power: 

This could be answered in two parts.  Over the first half? No-one? Maybe Ryan O’Reilly? The Blues top players certainly weren’t playing like it, leading to plenty of trade talk about virtually everyone on the roster.  But since Craig Berube took over, the stars have seemingly aligned.  We touched on Vladimir Tarasenko’s resurgence, Jordan Binnington obviously has to be in the conversation, Ryan O’Reilly continues to produce at a point-per-game rate, and captain Pietrangelo is eating big minutes while anchoring the blue line.  There’s enough here to love with this team if they’ve truly found a way to right the ship.

Score:  6/10

End Result: 

TBD.  Unfortunately, it’s too early to tell.  This could go down as the greatest team in Blues history with a championship.  Maybe they move up a few spots if they go out in the 2nd or 3rd rounds.  Or maybe this team fails to make next years list all together.  Expectations shouldn’t be too high, but then again, they don’t need to be in the grand scheme of Blues history.

Score:  5/10

Verdict:  6

7.  1980-81 (45-18-17, 107 points)

Overview:   

I bet none of you expected to see the 1980’s appear in this top 10.  Worry not, hockey cynics, this is the only appearance by any such team.  Between 2 juggernaut dynasties winning all the championships and the Blues almost relocating North of the border, the 80’s weren’t very kind to the boys from Missouri.  However, the 1980-81 season proved to be the exception to the rest of the decade.  The team had four separate 8-game unbeaten streaks over the course of the season (including a franchise high 11 that was only just matched by this seasons 11 game winning streak), eclipsed the 100 point mark for the first time in franchise history (made more impressive in the fact no other 80’s Blues team could crack 86) and finished 2nd in the NHL overall.

Goaltending: 

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Mike Liut.

Just the franchise leader in games played, wins, minutes, and saves (as well as losses and goals against, look, this is the Blues lets take what we can get).  Needless to say, this may have been the best by a Blues goaltender ever.  Liut won 33 games in his second season after coming over from the WHA merger.  His .894 save percentage may not look like much to fans today, but in the 80’s this was essentially the equivalent of being, well, Jordan Binnington.  Liut finished 2nd in Hart trophy voting and won the Lester Pearson (Ted Lindsay Award) Trophy for MVP voted by his peers.  Had the Vezina trophy existed in its current format, Liut would have been the hands down winner there as well.  No other Blues goalie can say that (neither can Liut, but again, taking what we can get).

Score:  9/10

Star Power: 

Liut wasn’t the only big-time performer for these Blues.  Leading the way offensively was Bernie Federko, who continued to evolve as he eclipsed the 100-point mark for the first time in his career with 104.  A 22-year-old Wayne Babych netted 54 goals up front, and Brian Sutter provided the 2nd line with the perfect mix of scoring and grit.  Fan favourite Red Berenson had returned behind the bench to lead the Blues back to the playoffs after missing the past two years.  And the all-time French scoring leader made his debut as a 22-year-old!

Score:  7.5/10

End Result: 

Despite big seasons from Liut, Babych, and Federko, the Blues were squandered in the Quarter Finals, bowing out in 6 games to the New York Rangers.  The Rangers had upset the 99-point Los Angeles Kings in the first round, but with a 33 point difference in the standings, no-one expected the Blues to fall to New York.  But the hockey gods had other plans, as the Rangers would meet the Islanders in the conference finals, providing Islanders fans the chance to beat their cross-town rivals on their way to back-to-back championships.

Score:  3/10

Verdict:  6.5

6.  2013-14 (52-23-7, 111 points)

Overview: 

The Blues came out swinging in 2013-14.  By the end of November the team sat 19-4-3 on the season, had a player tied for the league lead in goals with 20, Jaroslav Halak had established a new record for career shutouts with 17, and head coach Ken Hitchcock had moved up to 8th on the all-time wins list.  Following the Olympic break however, the Blues began to fade from their hot start, and limped into the playoffs on the heels of a 6-game losing streak.

Goaltending: 

Jaroslav Halak, Bryan Elliott, & Ryan Miller

After 5 years of splitting duties, Elliott had begun to emerge as the starting goalie as the season wore on.  As a result, the Blues brass pulled the trigger on a trade that saw them trade their newly-minted franchise shutouts leader, Halak, to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for goaltender Ryan Miller.  Miller was brought in to help stabilize the crease for the playoffs, as Elliott had spotted a shaky record in his career to this point.  Miller would start 19 games after the trade, going 10-8-1, and all 6 games in the playoffs.

Score:  6/10

Star Power: 

A lot of resemblances could be made with the 2011-12 and the 2013-14 renditions of the Blues.  Despite trading Halak, Miller, at the time, was seen as the better goaltender, at least in name power.  Others simply continued to grow their games since 2011-12 such as Pietranglo, Oshie, and Shattenkirk.  Alex Steen had a breakout season, leading the team in both goals (33) and points (62) despite missing 14 games to a concussion at the end of December.  The Blues also sent 10 players to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the most of any NHL team, including:  Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester (Canada), David Backes, T.J. Oshie, and Kevin Shattenkirk (U.S.A.), Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund (Sweden), Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia), Vladimir Tarasenko (Russia), and Vladimir Sobotka (Czech Republic).

Score:  8.5/10

End Result: 

Now feels like a good time to point out that the Blues play in the same division as the Chicago Blackhawks, that team that won 3 cups between 2010-2015.  The Blues ended up running into the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs this year, and despite being the favourites following the season, the Blackhawks veterans sent the Blues home packing in 6 games.  The Blues had done well avoiding the Blackhawks in the playoffs up to this point, but it could be argued the team could have gotten by most other opponents.

Score:  5.5/10

Verdict:  6.67

5.  1990-91 (47-22-11, 105 points)

Overview: 

Now that the 1980’s had finally ended, it seemed that the Blues were poised to compete throughout the 90’s.  The team finished one point behind Chicago for the division, conference, and President’s Trophy titles.  Interestingly enough, the season both began and ended under a cloud of controversy.  Scott Stevens had just been acquired via offer-sheet from the… **Editor’s Note:  Please excuse us while we allow our younger readers to google what an offer-sheet is. **… Washington Capitals and instantly made him both their captain and the highest paid defenseman in the league.  Following the season, however, the Blues went after New Jersey Devils winger Brendan Shanahan, despite no longer having the proper draft picks to surrender as compensation.  An independent arbitrator was brought in to settle the matter and sent Stevens to the Devils as compensation, ending his career with the Blues after one season.

Goaltending: 

Vincent Riendeau & Curtis Joseph

Aside from the Mike Liut days it appears as though the Blues have always had a bit of a goaltending battle (spoiler: that does not remain as the theme here).  In 1990-91 the Blues had two youngsters (3 if you count Pat Jablonski who appeared in 8 games this season) who were emerging early in their careers.  24 and 23 years of age Riendeau and Joseph had spent time together the year prior without much success.  Head Coach Brian Sutter favoured Riendeau early in the season, opting to give the ‘veteran’ slightly more starts. Despite a 4-1 record in the 1990 playoffs, Joseph didn’t appear in a single post-season game in 1991, as the Blues rode Riendeau through all 13 games.

Score:  6/10

Star Power: 

YOU MAKE MY DREAMS COME TRUE. Brett Hull and Adam Oates created one of the most dangerous duos the league has ever seen.  Hull because the highest goal scorer not named Gretzky in league history with 86 goals, most of which could be traced back to Oates who finished with 90 assists (in a meager 61 games played). The blue line was solid, featuring captains Stevens along with Jeff Brown (59 points in 67 games).  And if Hull-and-Oates couldn’t beat you the Blues featured plenty of depth options in guys such as Geoff Courtnall, Rod Brind’Amour, Dave Lowry, as well as a return to the lineup from France’s all-time points leader. If CuJo is in his prime this is likely a slightly higher score.

8.5/10

End Result: 

We’re at the half-way point of our list and you’d think by this point I’d learn to stop getting too excited by this portion of the breakdown.  Yet again, the Blues went into the playoffs with soaring expectations.  Brett Hull was the type of dynamic scorer, matched only by the Great One himself that had ever reached such highs.  The goaltending was a little shaky, but as long as the offensive continued to produce, there was no reason to think the Blues were in any danger.  That is, unless they were to run into the greatest underdog story in the history of the league.  Despite squeaking past the Detroit Red Wings in 7 games, the Blues fell to the hands of the Minnesota North Stars, a team that had barely managed to crack 60 points but went on a playoff run the likes of which may never be seen again.  Sometimes the cards just aren’t in your favour.

Score:  6.5/10

Verdict:  7/10

4.  2015-16 (49-24-9, 107 points)

Overview: 

On paper the Blues have had 3 superior (and maybe 4 depending how this year ends up) seasons to this one, points wise.  But the post-season run allows the 2015-16 Blues team to move up our list slightly.  Coming into this season the Blues had gone out in the first round of the playoffs the previous 3 seasons, and it was clear that patience was running out at the executive level.  Fan favourites Oshie and Sobotka were gone, and it felt like Ken Hitchcock was on his stand in St. Louis.

Goaltending: 

Bryan Elliott & Jake Allen

Sigh. Another controversy in net.  Despite outlasting Halak and Miller, Elliott once again found himself battling for the crease, this time a 25-year old Allen.  Fortunately for Hitchcock and the Blues, the battle resulted in both goalies excelling.  The name factor, from todays perspective, may not be overwhelming but when your starting goalies combine for a .925 save percentage on the season, its hard to complain.  Elliott, in particular, was brilliant this season with a .930 of his own through 42 games played and was able to follow that up with a .921 mark in the playoffs.  Oh and if that wasn’t enough, Jordan Binnington appeared in his first game so that’s an automatic 2 points alone.

8/10

Star Power: 

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Vladimir Tarasenko had finally emerged on the season with a 40-goal season.  A list of the regulars still remained from seasons past including Pietrangelo, Steen, Bouwmeester, Shattenkirk, and Backes.  Mix in solid seasons from guys like Paul Stastny, Colton Parayko and Jaden Schwartz and this may have been the deepest Blues team since the Brett Hull era.

7.5/10

End Result: 

Every season may begin as ‘Stanley-Cup or Bust’ but at season’s end only one team can claim that title.  Does that mean that 30 others failed?  It depends on how you view sports, but its hard to argue that this season was a failure for the Blues, in the big picture.  The 2015-16 season ended with the team matching its deepest playoff run since their 1970 Stanley Cup appearance.  If anything, the only downside perhaps is that it lulled management into a false sense of accomplishment, as the team has yet to replicate the success it had 3 seasons ago.

Score:  8/10

Verdict:  7.83

3.  1999-00 (51-19-11-1, 114 points)

Overview: 

Is this too low?  It feels a little too low for the greatest single season in Blues history, from a points perspective.  Most critics did not expect the Blues to bounce back after losing Brett Hull to the Dallas Stars so quickly, but a year after Hull and the Stars were hoisting the Stanley Cup, the Blues were raising their own banner with a President’s Trophy championship.

Goaltending: 

Roman Turek

Well we finally made it.  No goaltending controversy this season, with 67 games played this was Turek’s team.  When you’re playing in the same era as Roy/Brodeur/Belfour/Joseph/Hasek, maybe this isn’t the guy that you want to hang your season on.  Then again, you get what you get, and the Blues certainly made the most of their opportunities.  Turek was phenomenal all season despite a heavy work-load, winning 42 games to go along with 7 shutouts and a 1.95 GAA.  The Blues netminder would finish 2nd in Vezina voting, 6th in Hart voting, and his season long success allowed him to take home the William M. Jennings trophy.

Score:  9/10

Star Power: 

Another section where Turek should show up, as not many goalies can earn a 6-spot in Hart voting.  Then again, not many defenseman could say the same.  But Chris Pronger found a way to do what no defenseman had done since Bobby Orr (and no one since) by claiming the franchises first Hart trophy.  The 25-year-old defenseman finally broke out in a big way with a 62 point season, including 14 goals and logging over 30 mins a night on average, as he also picked up his first Norris trophy as well.  Anytime you can boast Hart and Norris winners along with a Vezina finalist, you’ve got the makings of a great team, but the Blues had other weapons as well.  Joining Pronger one the blueline was veteran Al MacInnis, and up-front the team excelled with the likes of Pierre Turgeon, Pavol Demitra (who led the team in scoring), and Michal Handzus.

Score:  9.5/10

End Result: 

So, to recap. A Vezina runner-up.  The Norris winner.  The Hart winner.  A pair of skilled offensive minded forwards.  This sounds like a first round exit kind of team, right?  If you said yes, you’d be correct, because despite all their hardware, the St. Louis Blues were cursed to suffer for eternity.  Maybe it’s because they celebrated a little too hard for being the best of the worst in their formative years.  Maybe it’s because they were almost sold to a dog food company in the 80’s.  Maybe it’s because they could never pick a goalie.  Whatever the reason is, the Blues have always been and may always be just an afterthought in the playoffs.

Oh, ya and about 1999-00 team, they lost in 7 to the 87-point San Jose Sharks.

Score:  6/10

Verdict:  8.17

2.  1995-96 (32-34-16, 80 points)

Overview: 

Does this feel too high?  NOT IT DOES NOT LEAVE ME ALONE THIS TEAM WAS FUN.  Ok, I’ll admit, when I started out to do this list I always assumed this team would be at the top of the list.  The lineup was unmatched the playoff run wasn’t deep but it wasn’t short either, and the Blues were all sorts of entertaining, be it on the ice, or off it with Mike Keenan and his antics.  Then I saw their record, figured that I couldn’t have a team under .500 as the 1-seed and knocked them down a peg.  Look, this is my article, not yours.  Let me have this one.

Goaltending: 

Grant Fuhr, mostly.

You could tell me Grant Fuhr played for any team between 1988-1999 and I’d probably believe you.  Fuhr had the tall task of replacing Curtis Joseph in St. Louis, no easy task, but the 4-time Cup winner gave it all he had.  Still only 33 years old in 1995-96 (that can’t be right, can it?) Fuhr appeared in 79 games for the Blues that season, squeaking out a winning record at 30-28-16.  In the end, the work load was likely too much for Fuhr to handle as he was injured on the final day of the season and would miss the playoffs entirely.

Score:  8/10

Star Power: 

If readers thought that Hull and Oates was a formidable duo, just imagine what they’ll think when I point out Hull got to play with Gretzky this season?  Ok, so it may only have been for 18 games, and the two hall of famers maybe never found the chemistry that most people were expecting, and yeah, Mike Keenan didn’t exactly come across as Gretzky’s cup of tea, but it’s still cool to say that the 2 highest single season goal scorers were on a line together!  Beyond that, the Blues had flipped Brendan Shanahan to Hartford in exchange for Chris Pronger earlier in the season. Mix in Al MacInnis, Shayne Corson, Dale Hawerchuk, and Geoff Courtnall, not to mention Gretzky’s old running-mates from Edmonton in Fuhr, Glenn Anderson, Craig MacTavish, and Charlie Huddy and this team looked outright terrifying on paper.

Score:  10/10

End Result: 

As mentioned, this team didn’t go too far but didn’t get bounced in the first round either.  The Blues finished 5th in the West, tied with the 4th place Toronto Maple Leafs.  After defeating the Leafs in the first round, the Blues would have to face the President’s Trophy winning Detroit Red Wings in the second round.  Despite being heavy underdogs, the Blues were actually held a 3-2 lead in the series, but losing game 6 at home, and game 7 in double overtime.

Score:  7/10

Verdict:  8.33

1.  2000-01 (43-22-12-5, 103 points)

Overview: 

From the beginning of the season it was always going to be difficult to replicate what the Blues had done the year before.  A franchise best in points, President’s, Hart and Norris trophies.  Those types of seasons don’t come around often and no-one would have blamed the Blues if they completely imploded.  While they took a step back, however, the team was able to compete at a high level all season long, and ultimately exceed their playoff run from the year prior.

Goaltending: 

Roman Turek

Turek was back for another year as the Blues starter.  This time around, head coach Joel Quenneville decided it best to lighten his load throughout the season, dropping him from 67 to 54 games played.  Part of that was due to competent back-up Brent Johnson who appeared in 31 games going 19-9-2.  Still, this was Turek’s team, and despite not grabbing his 3rd straight Jennings trophy, mixed a quality season with more rest into a better playoff appearance.

Score:  8/10

Star Power: 

Chris Pronger faced a number of injuries over the season but was still able to record 47 points in 51 games.  Pierre Turgeon led the offense yet again with a 30 goal, 82 point season.  Scott Young broke out after back-to-back 24 goal seasons for the only 40 goal campaign of his career.  Al MacInnis and Pavol Demitra were able to produce at point-per-game levels despite missing large chunks of time as well, and depth guys like Jochen Hecht, Dallas Drake, and the deadline acquisition of Keith Tkachuk allowed the team to produce offensively.

Score:  9/10

End Result: 

The regular season in the Western Conference was a two-team race as the Colorado Avalanche beat out the Detroit Red Wings for the President’s trophy, leaving everyone else behind them.  Still, the Blues finished 4th which gave them home ice in the first round as they avenged their massive upset from a year ago beating the San Jose Sharks in 6 games.  In the semi-finals the Blues went up against their former franchise winger, Brett Hull, and the Dallas Stars.  The Blues would sweep the Stars in 4 to move on to the Conference finals for just the 2nd time since 1970.  Unfortunately for Blues fans, the team ran into the President’s Trophy winners in the West Finals, managing just a single win as Ray Bourque and the Avs went on to glory.  If 1999-00 was the year it should’ve happened, 2000-01 was the year it almost happened.  And sometimes those rides are more exciting than any other.

Score:  9/10

Verdict:  8.83

Recap

While this season’s St. Louis Blues squad isn’t the best team in franchise history, they are in the top 10. If the Blues can continue their stampede and win the Stanley Cup, then we will adjust our rankings accordingly. 

stats from hockey-reference.com, nhl.com, and eliteprospects.com

featured image photo credit – James Cole

St. Louis Blues

What Should The St. Louis Blues Blues Do With Tarasenko?

The St. Louis Blues have had a rough season and there are many trade rumors around the possibility of trading Vladimir Tarasenko

As the 2018-19 season passes the halfway mark, it would appear as though St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong will have the eyes of the other 30 NHL general managers watching him closely over the next month.  As the Blues’ season continues to tailspin (they currently sit 13th in the West and 25th overall), rumours have already begun to swirl regarding what the Blues will or won’t do before the NHL’s trade deadline on February 26.   We have already seen big names such as Colton Parayko, Brayden Schenn, and even team Captain Alex Pietrangelo floating around as possible trade targets.  With an expiring contract, it appears almost certain that center Brayden Schenn will be shipped out sooner than later as a rental, with teams such as the Coyotes and Jets (Paul Stastny 2.0) apparently in the mix.  Beyond Schenn, there doesn’t seem to be much support for the Parayko discussion, with the asking price likely sky-high for a 25-year-old right-shot defenseman; meanwhile Pietrangelo seems to be somewhere in the middle, bouncing between trade-target and core-piece.

One name that has recently been picking up attention, and whom may carry the most intrigue, is right-winger Vladimir Tarasenko.  The 27-year-old Russian has been with the Blues since the lock-out shortened 2012-13 season, providing consistent offense from the wing, but with the Blues facing a rebuild there is some thought that the time to move on from Tarasenko is now. So, while the rest of the hockey world sits back and plays ‘will-he-won’t-he’ with GM Armstrong’s roster, let’s dive into a list of Pros and Cons behind trading away the Blues’ most potent offensive weapon.

Pro:

Tarasenko has not followed the traditional path when it comes to a young star in the NHL.  Before he debuted in North America, Tarasenko spent over five seasons playing the KHL prior to joining the Blues as a 21-year-old.  Aside from the lockout shortened season, Tarasenko has never failed to record less than 20 goals in a season, with 30+ each of the past four seasons, along with a 40-goal performance in 2015-16.  And while the 2018-19 season has not been kind to Tarasenko, he is still considered to be one of the top natural goal scorers in the league on a team that has hung around the bottom of the league all year-long.  Those types of players are rarely ever made available, and as a result, the Blues should be able to rake in a fortune and start to get the ship righted.

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Con:

The case for moving Tarasenko revolves around the idea that the Blues need to strip things down and start the rebuild.  However, there is a strong argument to be made that this team isn’t as far off as some would have us believe.  Sure, there are a few pieces that Armstrong would no doubt like to move on from:  Tyler Bozak has yet to pan-out, Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Steen are nearing the ends of their careers, and it’s becoming more and more evident that Jake Allen is not the goaltender of the future.

That being said, this isn’t exactly an aging roster whose glory days are fading into the sunset.  Pietrangelo and Parayko should be able to anchor the backend for the foreseeable future, while up-front guys like Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Jaden Schwartz continue to produce.  Mix in some up and comers such as Robert Thomas, Vince Dunn, Jordan Binnington, and Jordan Kyrou, and it’s not out of the realm of possibilities to see the Blues back in the mix sooner than later.  Why subtract Tarasenko now if this team is ready to turn the page?

Pro: 

How ready are these Blues though?  The goaltending is still the number one issue when it comes to the successes and failures of this club.  It’s time for GM Armstrong to find a suitable replacement for Jake Allen, and while Jordan Binnington’s recent success is a good sign, he may not be the guy the Blues want to hang their fortunes on, based on five career NHL games.  Unless Armstrong can find a diamond in free agency (Sergei Bobrovsky, anyone?), he may be faced with moving someone out-of-town to bring in the goaltender of the future.  One begins to wonder what type of goaltender Tarasenko could fetch.

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Con:

Following the 2014-15 season the Blues rolled the dice and decided to bet on Tarasenko.  Rare was it, at the time, to see players coming out of their entry-level contracts and sign a long-term/big-money deal.  Instead of opting for a bridge deal or holding out on their young sniper, the Blues handed Tarasenko an eight-year deal worth $7.5 million a season.  With the added bonus of a no-trade clause appearing in the final four years of the contract, the message appeared clear:  The Blues were investing in Tarasenko to continue to develop into a premier player.

At the time, the cap-hit was about right, and prior to the start of this season, it was starting to look like an absolute steal.  But if Tarasenko truly is on the block, it poses the question, what kind of message does this send to the other young players on the roster (or any potential free agent targets) if the Blues decide to bail on Tarasenko less than half-way through their eight-year investment?

Pro:

Did I pose that last question simply to set-up the answer? Maybe, but let’s tackle one issue at a time.  Fans like to get behind the concept of loyalty between teams and players exists to the point where our favourite players will be with us until they retire (and ultimately transition into a front-office position). But if last summer’s John Tavares saga taught us anything, the NHL is a business at the end of the day, and Doug Armstrong will need to act as a business man in certain situations.  One such situation involves Tarasenko’s fore-mentioned no trade clause, which will kick in July 1st of this year, meaning if the Blues management group does feel they need to start the rebuild they have less than six months to orchestrate a deal.

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Con:

They say, “never trade from a position of weakness”.  Tarasenko’s impending NTC is just that, and it’s no secret around the league.  Every other GM around the league should be looking to take advantage of that fact by trying to handcuff Armstrong during trade negotiations and/or wait until the 11th hour when the price could drop. Whether or not that strategy works out remains to be known, and it’s easy to see a GM believing that Tarasenko could be the final piece that puts their team over the top and pulls the trigger on a deal next week.  But for now, Armstrong may find it difficult to acquire the sort of top-package Tarasenko could have fetched six months ago.

Pro:

We mentioned earlier about some of the exciting young pieces the Blues have in the system that could help keep them relevant in the coming years.  The only problem with having valuable young pieces is that, one day, GM’s will have to pay the bill for their services.  If the Blues can find a way to trade Tarasenko’s $7.5 million cap hit, it may allow them to retain some of their other young pieces that will need new contracts in the coming years.  The Blues currently have twelve contracts on the roster that will be expiring come July; an extra few million dollars to play with may be more valuable to management than four more years of Vlad.

Con:

Finally, the Blues putting Tarasenko’s name on the market may be exciting, and it may lead to a slew of rumours or articles such as this one, speculating where he might end up, or what the Blues could get for him.  However, at the end of the day, how many teams are realistically going to be able to bring in a contract like Tarasenko’s?  If Tarasenko was a pure rental option, on an expiring deal, it would likely be a foregone conclusion that a team would gamble on him returning to form, and potentially even over pay to get him.

The problem in this case, though, is that Tarasenko’s contract continues for another four years.  Even if we agree that his current deal is a bargain in terms of value, there are few teams that are walking around with that kind of cap space available, and even fewer that are in serious contention for the cup currently.  According to capfriendly.com, there are roughly seven teams that could take on Tarasenko for the remainder of his contract. Of those, the Flyers, Devils, Canucks and Hurricanes aren’t what you would consider contending teams, so adding an elite 27-year-old forward wouldn’t seem to do them much good.  Better for those clubs to stay on the path of rebuilding with the pieces they have and avoid giving up any assets.

Where Might Tarasenko End Up?

That leaves us with the Avalanche, Islanders, and Canadiens; three teams that are sitting within the playoff bubble and could legitimately consider taking on Tarasenko’s contract.  The Islanders would appear to be out of the running based solely on their own contract situation following the season, with new deals due for guys such as Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Anthony Beauvillier with Mathew Barzal to follow in 2020.  That leaves the Blues with two realistic trade partners and roughly six weeks of time to figure out a deal that would entice them enough to send their Russian star packing.

Personally, if we see a deal for Tarasenko, I think we’re looking at something developing closer to his NTC kicking in, perhaps over draft weekend. Ultimately, I think it’s more likely we see Tarasenko in a Blues jersey for a few years to come, helping lead the team back into contention in the Central Division (assuming Armstrong gets on that whole goaltender situation, that is).

stats from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com and eliteprospects.com

featured image photo credit – James Cole