The St. Louis Blues winning the Stanley Cup was amazing in and of itself. However, the team’s long-term success might be even more surprising.
Let’s face it, the St. Louis Blues actually have quite a few things going against them. While we all love this city to varying degrees, whether we call it home or not, it is not exactly a hub that attracts players from all over.
St. Louis is a small-to-mid-sized market that has gone through several cycles of being competitive or not. Some of that was due to ownership and some is just a fact of the economics of sports.
St. Louis is also viewed as purely a baseball town. Stan Kroenke used that notion as part of his lame defense for moving his football team to Los Angeles. It has also been used as a phrase of both derision and pride about the city.
Blues fans proved that wrong by having one of the biggest parties of all time in their Stanley Cup celebration parade. Still, it is a notion that does get around until a player comes here and changes there mind, and often stays after their playing days.
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As mentioned, the team has had varying degrees of owners too. They’ve had guys that threw money at every problem, whether wise or not. They’ve also had guys that wanted to win, but pinched every penny until it was flatter than if you’d laid it on the train tracks.
Thankfully, Tom Stillman and his group have proved to be one of the best groups in charge. Doug Armstrong has also proven to be one of the best, if not the best, general managers the team has ever had.
However, even taking all of that into account or disregarding it (whichever is your preference), the team’s long string of recent success is actually quite astounding when you think about it.
Ask yourself how most sports fans, regardless of whether hockey or not, think about their teams getting better. Most would answer through the draft.
That is true in almost all sports. There is a reason the NFL draft is one of the biggest non-game events of the year. Teams build through the draft, for the most part.
The Blues are a slight exception to that rule. The Blues have definitely built their franchise up through the draft, but not in the conventional way.
Many fans, and even some analysts, go with the simplistic view that you need a high draft pick now and then to really jolt your team. That is where the Blues separate from the norm.
As recently as December of 2018, the winter just prior to the spring where the Blues won the Stanley Cup, fans were suggesting the team should just tank in order to get a high draft pick. There was a decent smattering of fans saying the team should lose for Hughes – eventual top pick, Jack Hughes.
Thankfully the team rebounded and won their first Stanley Cup. I think we can all agree that’s better than any top pick overall.
To the point, though, the Blues have had great success in recent years. The last time they failed to reach 90 points in a full season was 2011, the last season under Davis Payne.
In 20 calendar years, the Blues have had 90 or more points 14 times. They hit 100 points or more five times and came just a point shy of 100 two more times.
They did all this with almost no lottery draft picks. The last time the Blues got a top 10 draft pick was 2008 when they selected Alex Pietrangelo and before that it was 2006 when they had the top pick overall and selected Erik Johnson.
In fact, Johnson is the team’s only first overall pick in franchise history. The only other close ones were Pietrangelo at 4 and Perry Turnbull at 2 in 1979.
If we focus simply on recent history, the Pietrangelo and Johnson picks were the only top 10 picks the team has had in the last 20 years. You can actually stretch that to 30 years since 1989 was the last time the Blues had a top 10 pick other than 2006 or 2008.
St. Louis has made a habit of making shrewd picks and either being smart or lucky with them. David Backes was a second round pick and toward the end of the round.
T.J. Oshie was selected 24th overall. David Perron was 26th overall.
Jordan Binnington and Colton Parayko were both third round picks. Ivan Barbashev and Vince Dunn were taken in the second rounds and Sammy Blais was a sixth round pick.
Even more high profile players such as Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko were taken in the middle of the first round. Schwartz was 14th and Tarasenko 16th in 2010.
In fact, the Blues even went without first round picks some years. 2019, 2015, 2013, and 2011 all had no top round picks for the Blues – something to do with being an odd year, I’m sure.
Whatever the reason, St. Louis has turned themselves into a perennial powerhouse without needing those high picks. Give Armstrong credit – Doug or Bill – or John Davidson or Larry Pleau or whomever. It all boils down to St. Louis doing something right that is not the trend across sports.
They’ve made fantastic trades and supplemented that with being smart in free agency. The picks they’ve made have had a chance to succeed because they were not often put in a position where they needed to lead the team immediately.
The Blues found their recipe for success and, from a fan’s perspective, we have benefited greatly from it. Not only were we rewarded with the Stanley Cup, but we have not had to grit our teeth through lean years such as teams like the Miami Marlins or Kansas City Royals where they would win and then gut the franchise and start over.
The Blues were never focused solely on the draft and have kept the team competitive throughout.