St. Louis Blues Extremely Lucky To Have Tom Stillman And Company

ST. LOUIS, MO - FEBRUARY 2: Tom Stillman, Chairman and Governor of the St. Louis Blues speaks during number retirement ceremony prior to a game between the St. Louis Blues and the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Scottrade Center on February 2, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - FEBRUARY 2: Tom Stillman, Chairman and Governor of the St. Louis Blues speaks during number retirement ceremony prior to a game between the St. Louis Blues and the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Scottrade Center on February 2, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images) /

Sometimes even when you have something good, you don’t quite realize it. The St. Louis Blues have that in their current ownership group.

When the St. Louis Blues were up for sale in 2011, there was a lot of hand wringing and fear in the city. It was not the first time fans were afraid the team might leave the city and even though there was much less talk of it than when the team almost left for Saskatoon, it was still a worry.

In stepped local businessman Tom Stillman and a group of investors to save the Blues. They said all the right things and said they fully intended to keep the Blues in St. Louis.

It all sounded great. However, it always does.

Whether it’s what they believe at the time or just good public relations, owners always seem to say the right thing when they first buy a team. Just think back to Bill Laurie or Dave Checketts.

They all talked about grand visions for the team. While their path was different, each one went in with the public idea of trying to win a Stanley Cup.

Laurie just flashed a lot of cash, some of which was spent foolhardily. Checketts was more reserved in his dealings, but still tried to put a decent product on the ice while rebuilding.

Neither got to the promised land, though Laurie’s teams came close. Both sides’ biggest problem was a lack of future planning, which would ultimately play a part in selling off the team.

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This is not foreign to owners of any franchise in any sport. They all like the sound of winning and making money, but the act of it is very difficult.

The Pegula family in Buffalo is finding that out. Like previous owners of the Blues, the current owners of the Buffalo Sabres came in and made bold statements and grandiose promises. “Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence will be to win a Stanley Cup,” said Pegula on Feb. 22, 2011.

It was all music to Sabres fans ears who have waited for a Stanley Cup just a few years less than it took the Blues to win one. For their long suffering fans, it has been a test in patience.

Coincidentally enough, Pegula took over the Sabres around the same time Stillman purchased the Blues. St. Louis has been fortunate that the Blues took a better path.

As an outsider, I cannot speak to how the Pegulas have been. Perhaps they have been the kind of owners that talk a big game, but actually cut spending in random places to make the bottom line better *coughSenatorscough*.

That was not what happened initially. Buffalo gave big contracts immediately to Christian Ehrhoff for $40 million and $27 million for Ville Leino.

Leino only had 46 points in 137 games with Buffalo. Ehrhoff was only slightly better at 87 points in 192 games.

Of course, the Blues were the beneficiary of another Buffalo flameout. Ryan O’Reilly came to the Sabres with high hopes, got burnt out on losing and pretty much forced his way out. St. Louis got the spoils of victory there as O’Reilly was the MVP in the playoffs when they finally won a Cup.

Buffalo is going through something similar now with their star, Jack Eichel. After five years straight of losing, Eichel is getting that O’Reilly itch where the grass is looking lush and green anywhere but Buffalo.

The problem is the Pegulas seem to have no intention of selling or relinquishing control. Majority owner Terry Pegula’s wife, Kim, just released a statement saying she would remain in her position of team president.

As her husband before, all the right things are being said. “Sometimes I kick myself in, saying, ‘How come I didn’t see this sooner?’ That’s on me,” Pegula said in an ESPN article, referring to a restructuring that began last year.

“But that’s what I’m trying to do now, trying to really remold and reshape the organization into what Terry and I envision,” she said, referring to her husband. “One thing I’ve been preaching is sustainability, about how to ensure that we are here in this Buffalo area for a long time.”

That sounds wonderful and turning a team around is not always easy. When you consistently botch things and Buffalo has hardly sniffed the playoffs, the words seem hollow.

The Sabres have missed the postseason nine straight years, 11 out of the last 13 and 14 out of the last 18 years. Just imagine the Blues not only not winning the Cup but only seeing playoff action four times in almost two decades.

The Pegula family was not around the entire time of that futility, but they have not improved it. Meanwhile, even though Blues fans were getting antsy and tossing vitriol around social media, St. Louis has only missed the postseason once since Stillman took over and that was because they crapped the bed in the final game of that season against Colorado.

Additionally, St. Louis has regularly been near the top of the league since the ownership change. Meanwhile Buffalo continues to languish.

The Blues do have a few advantages. While the finanaces of each owner could be similar, or might even favor Pegula, St. Louis is actually home to several key businesses. That helps when you have companies that can buy suites.

Buffalo has no major companies in their city. So, the majority of their money comes from the average fan. It’s not completely an apples to apples comparison.

Nevertheless, from a fan perspective, Blues fans need to be thanking their lucky stars someone like Stillman and his group purchased the Blues. They came in with a smart plan, implemented it and spent money wisely to keep the team positioned to be profitable.

Pegula came in with similar intentions, but it has all gone pear shaped. Things are such a mess now that the Sabres just fired their general manager, Jason Botterill, just weeks after saying his job was safe and he had the backing of the team to keep on their path.

Arguments can be made as to whether this change has anything to do with the Eichel situation, but that’s speculation. Whatever the reason, it highlights how ownership groups can all have the same goal and put their franchises in completely different situations.

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Thankfully, the Blues are owned by Stillman. The guy cares about the city and his team and making a profit is a byproduct. That is not to say he would be alright with losing money, but he has managed this franchise so smartly that the team can be frugal in the right spots, make some profit and still put a fantastic product on the ice.

Things could be far worse than even Blues fans have gone through. We are lucky.