St. Louis Blues: NHL’s Final Four Prove There’s No Blueprint

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MAY 13: Oskar Sundqvist #70 and Ivan Barbashev #49 of the St. Louis Blues celebrate after Sundqvist scored on Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks in the third period in Game Two of the Western Conference Final during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 13, 2019 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MAY 13: Oskar Sundqvist #70 and Ivan Barbashev #49 of the St. Louis Blues celebrate after Sundqvist scored on Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks in the third period in Game Two of the Western Conference Final during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 13, 2019 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Blues, like many teams, have tried to copy those that have come before them. However, the current final four prove there is no one way to win.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that is true, the St. Louis Blues have flattered many teams over their recent history.

The Blues have always seemed to be playing catch up. Whether it was the early 1990’s or 2010 and beyond, St. Louis seemed like they were always looking up at Chicago and trying to figure out how to be more like them.

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, St. Louis was trying to figure out how to be more like Detroit. Just when it seemed they had, maybe, caught up with Chicago, then Los Angeles came along with a more bruising style and wiped the floor with St. Louis.

The Blues started getting bigger to match that and then the league switched to a speed game. Suddenly, the Blues were saddled with a bunch of big bodies while everyone else was flying around, or so we were led to believe.

The problem with that thinking is that there is no one way to go in hockey. Unlike so many other sports, trying to copy the team that won last season really does not help you the next time out.

Things are different in other sports. In the NBA, everything is more predictable. The top teams almost always make it to the final these days, so you have a much clearer picture of what you’re trying to accomplish.

There are a few sudden changes, like Boston or Miami forming their trio of superstars around 11 years ago or so. Then, you have Golden State adding pieces to their super team too.

That gives other franchises something they have to try to emulate. You might not get an exact copy, but you have something to shoot for.

The same is true of the NFL. Things change at a snail’s pace in pro football, so you kind of have to go with the latest trend.

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There are so many players built in certain ways for certain eras that trying to play a different way gets you in trouble. Trying to play a pass-heavy offense when I was a kid was fun to watch, but did not always lead to championships. There was not enough balance or focus on defense.

Now, suddenly, all the run-first teams can’t get out of the first round of the playoffs, if they made it at all. Those kinds of coaches are considered dinosaurs.

The NHL is completely different. Fans do not want to treat it differently, but it is different.

The main difference is there is turnover. Maybe not on the rosters, but with the champions.

The Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back championships in 2015-16 and 2016-17, but it was almost 20 years since the last two-time champion. You have had great teams, such as Chicago and Los Angeles pop up along with the Penguins, but you have also had franchises like Tampa Bay, Carolina, Anaheim and Boston sneak in there for a Stanley Cup too.

The one thing they all had in common is they won and that’s about it. Chicago won with long, stretch passes in behind unsuspecting defenses with a tremendous transition game. Pittsburgh has won both with skill and with grit, depending on which title you look at.

Los Angeles basically just ground their opponents into the ice. Boston was kind of a mix of all those things when they won in 2011.

Point being, there has been no one way to win. There is no Splash Brothers of Golden State you need to try to copy. There is not an offseason game plan of acquiring a bunch of shooters or wide receivers that will guarantee success.

The Blues are proof of that. They tried to play the copy game and it got them very little than the frustration they ended up with before.

The Blues tried to get bigger and outmuscle the Kings and Blackhawks and got some success with it. However, they ran out of gas when they got to San Jose in 2016 because the Sharks could play heavy but had the skill too.

St. Louis then tried to copy the Penguins after that. The focus was only on speed – the Blues had to get faster. Faster, faster, faster is all we heard.

Fans latch on to that stuff and they think you need nothing but speedy guys and to have four lines of guys that are all capable of scoring. That’s all well and good if you’re playing a video game. Real life works differently.

The Blues attempted to play with four lines of guys that were all capable of scoring to begin 2018-19 and that did not work at all. You can blame Mike Yeo if you want, and he does deserve plenty of blame. However, the bigger problem was that nobody had a role.

Whether they consider themselves a top line player or not, hockey players desire structure. They need roles. To expect a fourth line player to score goals when you are likely only going to play them eight minutes or so is unfair.

Ask them to focus on their defensive game and bring energy and they will find ways to chip in the occasional goal if they have the skill.

Beyond that, there is no one way to win. Look at the final four teams in the 2019 playoffs and try to figure out the pattern.

San Jose has some of the longest surviving core members on their team. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns have been on that team for what feels like forever, but they are all still playing at a high level.

Carolina went the other way. Other than journeyman Justin Williams, the Hurricanes are a young team overall. Most people honestly thought they were tanking when they got rid of Jeff Skinner and made some leadership changes. Instead, they made the conference finals.

Boston has a huge mix. There are a couple guys still around from the 2011 champions, but they added a lot of talented youth on top of that. They are very good at offense and defense, but not great at either, focusing on balance overall.

That is similar to how the 2018-19 Blues have become. They injected some youth into the team where it was needed, but just focused on what they could do best with the talent they had.

They stopped trying to be Chicago because they don’t have the puck moving ability to hit those zone to zone passes. They stopped trying to be Pittsburgh because they don’t have the speed at this moment in time. We have seen the Blues falter when they reverted to those out of the comfort zone tropes and look dominant when they play their own game, as cliche as it sounds.

As fans, we want dominance. We would all love to toss out any of your four lines and feel like they were going to blow by anyone they go against.

That’s hard in the NHL. If you have nothing but speed, a bigger team will beat you up. If you have nothing but bruising bodies, the speedsters might blow by you. The bottom line is you cannot bet on any one thing because you never know what is going to win.

Next. Best Six Blues Playoff Performances. dark

If the NHL were like the NBA, the finals would have Tampa Bay and likely either Calgary or Nashville, based on talent alone. Instead, we have a mix of teams across the board and nobody knows what is going to happen.

It sounds simple and it’s not, but in the NHL, the best thing to do is pick out what you do best and build on that. Trying to copy anyone is a fool’s errand.