The St. Louis Blues season is over. The long summer has begun much earlier than we wanted, but for me, it doesn’t feel as bad as I thought.
The St. Louis Blues had a roller-coaster of a season in 2016-17. As writers, fans or just observers, we use the term roller-coaster too often, but that was the dictionary definition of the phrase.
The Blues came out of the gates hot and looked like a team determined to take the next step following a Western Conference Finals trip the year prior. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.
The Blues as a team seemed to rebel against anything and everything that Ken Hitchcock would try. Line changes meant nothing, guys were not giving max effort and both goaltenders were playing poorly.
It was a terrible mix. After a few ups, such as the Winter Classic victory, could not overcome too many downs, the Blues had to make the change behind the bench.
Mike Yeo made an immediate impact. While there were really only a few tweaks, such as going to a more zone-defense, it was just the cloud lifted off the locker room.
Personally, I still maintain that it makes me a bit nauseous the players are allowed to oust a Hall of Fame coach because they did not want to work. However, the proof is in the pudding that they needed a new voice in charge.
Jake Allen turned his season around when Martin Broduer took over as the goaltender coach. The Blues suddenly knew how to defend and their scoring took an upturn as well.
As fans, we get so caught up in the moment that we forget even the recent past. It was only a couple months ago that people didn’t even want the Blues in the playoffs.
They wanted heads to roll. Fire the entire staff, gut the team and start over.
Then this team made us believe again. They charged their way from an almost sure playoff outlyer to having a shot to actually finish in the second divisional spot.
It can’t be ignored that Minnesota’s plummet helped out, but even finishing third in the division is a hell of a turnaround from where the Blues were when Yeo took over. The Blues earned their playoff spot.
Even with such a run, we doubted. Even the heartiest fan among us doubted whether the Blues could take down the Wild.
The Blues went up 3-0 in the series and still there was the odd voice wondering if they’d blow it. They did not.
The Blues could not sweep as the Predators did against Chicago, but they still took down one of the most talented teams in the league. They held one of the most potent offenses to a handful of goals and moved on to the second round when most thought they would not even be playing in the spring.
The only bad thing the Blues did was actually give us hope. By knocking off Minnesota, and by not having to face Chicago, we let ourselves believe it was winnable.
It was too. The Blues played very poorly in several games against Nashville and were never out of any one of them.
The Blues battled to the last and we should be proud of that. The frustrating part is they still cannot find a way to summon the will for a full game.
When the Blues were on their game, Nashville was on their heels. St. Louis did not have enough speed to keep Nashville in that vulnerable position though.
Nashville was able to weather every Blues storm and often answer back with a hurricane. In the offseason, the Blues will have to find a way to get this lineup shaped where guys are in their proper lineup spot.
As much as we love every guy that suits up in the note, there were just too many guys playing above their level this year. Third liners were on the second line and second liners are playing up top. Sometimes even fourth liners made their way up.
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Whether forwards or defensemen, guys were logging minutes they were not used to. That is not an excuse. These guys are NHL players and should be capable. Still, it cannot be ignored, especially when facing teams that have everyone properly placed like Nashville.
Of course, your negative Nelly’s will say that falls on Doug Armstrong. The Blues ran out four lines last year and then just sent guys away.
Doug Armstrong is not a perfect GM, but the guys that left would not have made the difference. They were overpaid and St. Louis has to keep moving forward.
Ultimately, we are all bitterly disappointed with the Blues exit from the playoffs. However, compared to year’s past, it is because we are not playing, not because of how they lost.
Personally, I am oddly at peace with the Blues season being done. That doesn’t mean I don’t care or didn’t believe or that it doesn’t hurt.
It simply means that this team exceeded what we thought of them. At this point, most of the pain is due to the setup.
Like teams that exit the NCAA tournament too early, you look around at the brackets and wonder what might have been. St. Louis would have struggled with Edmonton’s speed, but they are young and the Blues could have caught them taking in the moment.
Anaheim still has plenty of talent and size, but the Blues could have frustrated them like Minnesota. As a fan, you look at things and think the big names were out so if only.
That, alas, is not the reality. Again, like those NCAA teams, you can never tell what will happen the next year, which is why failing this time is a bummer.
Will Robby Fabbri be the same player after his injury? Can the Blues simply add a piece or will they emulate the Cardinals and basically go into next season with the same issues they had this year?
All of those are questions for the coming weeks. We all have them, but there is no answering it until the playoffs end.
There were positives from the year though. Jake Allen shut some people up and saved the Blues’ behind on multiple occasions. Maybe the collective can shut up about whether he’s a starting goaltender or not.
Vladimir Tarasenko played well. I don’t care about statistics or being clutch. I thought he did a much better job of battling through pressure and not looking frustrated like he did in the 2016 playoffs.
The Blues are not loaded, but there is talent there. It needs more tweaking, not overhauling.
For now, again personally, I’m fine with the Blues. I’d rather they were still playing, but it was not the same heart-ripping defeat as we have become accustomed to.
Things were on the table for them to win, but they didn’t take it. There were plenty of opportunities to take advantage of, but Nashville took away a lot more than we are willing to admit in the moments.
That said, I feel like the better team actually won. Personally, I don’t think the Preds will win it all, but they have put themselves in a prime position to prove a lot of people wrong.
As far as our own team goes, changes will come and next year will arrive with new hope.
As has now become our mantra instead of that to the north – there is always next year.