Bernie: Winning The Stanley Cup Will Dramatically Change The Lives of These Blues’ Players And Coach

Oh, yeah. Friday, July 12, will mark the  one-month anniversary of the Blues’ stunning victory in Game 7 in Boston. It’s been a month since Stanley moved to St. Louis.

When the Blues captured the Stanley Cup, they changed many lives in one way or another.

Most of all, the boys changed their own lives … forever.

Especially these men:

1. JORDAN BINNINGTON: The Blues’ equivalent of the 1999 Kurt Warner, Binnington climbed from fourth on the organizational depth chart to lead the worst-to-first turnaround. Once this Blues’ hidden figure emerged for his opportunity of a lifetime, he wouldn’t be stopped. The rookie who didn’t play like a rookie was phenomenal in the Stanley Cup playoffs and essentially snatched the series from Boston with his spectacular road performances in Games 5 and 7. Binnington will get paid this summer. He will enter next season as the Blues’ No. 1 goaltender. And he’s a forever hero in our town. An unbelievable story — except Binnington was the real deal.

2. RYAN O’REILLY:  When the Blues acquired RoR from Buffalo, he came with some undeserved baggage. The fans and management had turned on O’Reilly in Buffalo; he was conveniently scapegoated and cast as a failed leader who couldn’t get the Sabres going. This characterization was absurdly unfair, but the smear only increased O’Reilly’s determination and motivation to take his career on a new, more positive and successful track. Mission accomplished.

Even during the toughest days of the Blues’ early-season struggles, O’Reilly outworked everyone and played better than everyone and never wavered. He was a perfect example of character shining through adversity. After leading the Blues in points during the regular season O’Reilly led all NHL players with 23 postseason points, came up with massively important goals in the Stanley Cup Final, and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the tournament. He was also winner of the league’s Selke Trophy for best defensive forward. O’Reilly is a champion. A gentleman. And a St. Louis sports hero. His reputation? Platinum. How much has O’Reilly’s life changed in the last year? How much did he change the franchise? O’Reilly played a prominent role in turning a great hockey town into a championship hockey town.

We love this dude.

3. CRAIG BERUBE:  Scotty Bowman couldn’t do it. Al Arbour couldn’t do it. Same with Joel Quenneville, Jacques Demers, Mike Keenan and Ken Hitchcock. A procession of excellent coaches all won Stanley Cups while guiding other NHL teams. But during their respective time as the coach in St. Louis, the holy grail of hockey remained elusive.

Enter Berube: a strong, straightforward, honest, humble and honorable man who commanded instant and immense respect from his players from the moment he took over as the interim coach after the Blues lost at home to the LA Kings on Nov. 19. “Chief” was the perfect coach at the right time. He got the Blues organized. He immediately cultivated a physical, edgy, relentless style of play that wore opponents down. He had the guts to install the relatively obscure rookie, Binnington, as the starting goalie. His communication with the players was calm, sincere but pointedly blunt. Berube held the players accountable with his strength — but never anger.

Berube told the boys what they had to do in order to jump-start the season — and he expected the players to follow. And they did. One of the toughest players in NHL history over his 17 seasons, Berube turned the Blues into a unit that represented the finest qualities of physical and mental toughness. A team that would not weaken mentally when struck and stunned by adversity. A team that shook off the infamous “hand pass” loss to San Jose by kicking the Sharks’ hand-passing asses out of the postseason.

Berube may have been one of the least likely candidates — in the world — to lead the Blues from worst-to-first and to the Stanley Cup and a parade of a lifetime. But he was just what the Blues needed. He was the first — and is the only — coach in the 52-year franchise history to lead the Blues out of hockey hell and into hockey heaven.

Berube’s life already has changed. He has a contract, and respect, and a secure place in the best-of-the-Blues legacy. But think about this: the way Berube changed the lives of his players, and the lives of the fans, by being the fearless leader of a team that changed history.

4. PAT MAROON: The tribute is quite simple: hometown boy returns to his place of birth, takes less money to suit up for his childhood team, plays a role in reshaping the Blues’ on-ice identity, and scores the biggest goal in franchise history — the epic second-overtime rebound in Game 7 against Dallas to keep the season alive. This was the hockey equivalent of a tap-in putt, but make no mistake about it: Maroon’s goal may have traveled mere inches on the ice, but when the Big Rig put it home, St. Louis hockey fans went on a ride to the moon. And the big guy who scored only 10 regular-season goals generated the most electric lightning-strike in St. Louis hockey history. He’ll never have to buy a beer or a burger in this town again. Best. Homecoming. Ever.

5. ALEX PIETRANGELO:   He isn’t a leader… he shouldn’t be the captain … he isn’t assertive … he needs to drop the gloves and fight. Yeah, OK. (And by the way, I plead guilty to saying some of those things about “Petro.”) But during the Blues’ 26-game push to the Stanley Cup, the Blues’ top defenseman made all of that noise go silent. a couple of mistakes earlier in the tournament, Pietrangelo shifted into another gear and played the best hockey of his life, finishing the postseason with three goals and a record 16 assists. In Game 7 at Boston, Pietrangelo’s slick goal on a backhander gave the Blues a 2-0 lead with eight seconds to go in the first period. That goal devastated the Bruins and proved to be the game-winner.

Pietrangelo’s leadership was maximum-strength. From this point on, no one should ever question his ability to lead. He’s the only team captain in Blues history to lead The Note to the Stanley Cup. In doing so, Pietrangelo permanently altered his image — and the perceptions — among STL sports fans. One day his No. 27 will be hanging from the rafters at Enterprise Center.

6. VLADIMIR TARASENKO: I’ve always been puzzled by the anti-Tarasenko smears. Well, those days are over. He scored 11 goals, including two game winners, and had 17 points during the quest for the Stanley Cup. And as we found out later, Tarasenko was playing on an injured knee that required surgery after the posteason.

the start of the 2014 playoffs through the completion of the Blues’ Stanley Cup mission, here are the NHL’s top-two postseason goal scorers: Alex Ovechkin (34) and Vlad Tarasenko (33.) And over the last five NHL regular seasons only Ovechkin has more even-strength goals (140) than Tarasenko (135.)

Tarasenko has always been an elite goal-scorer — and a winner. But now he’s a Stanley Cup champion too. From now on, he’ll be viewed with the proper amount of respect and adulation.

7. JAY BOUWMEESTER: his NHL career began way back in 2002, at the age of 19. For nearly 17 seasons Bouwmeester had built a reputation, and earned his pay, for being a true professional who mastered the challenge of playing defense by relying on his intelligence, keen instincts, and ability to move the puck with touch and precision. “Bow” has been among the NHL’s most enduring and trusted defensemen of his generation — and a helluva penalty killer — but that was never enough for some folks.

Rather than appreciate Bouwmeester for the many things that he did well, whiners maligned him for his limited number of flashy, wow-factor moments. Bouwmeester was never going to be popular with the short-attention span nimrods who can’t appreciate the finer points of excellent hockey. But moments after the 1,269th game of his NHL career — regular-season and postseason combined — Bouwmeester hoisted the Stanley Cup.

The Blues’ 4-1 Game 7 triumph at Boston capped a postseason in which Bouwmeester logged 23:30 per game, contributed 48 minutes to the penalty kill, and notched seven assists. With Bouwmeester on the ice, the Blues outscored postseason opponents 24-15 at even strength. That plus 9 was the best among Blues’ defensemen.

Bouwmeester has played and competed like a champion for nearly two decades — and he’s officially a champion now. And no one will ever fail to appreciate the skill and poise of this master technician again.

8. ALEXANDER  STEEN:   Fairly or unfairly, Steen had a coach-killer rep, but all of that went away when the longtime Blue responded to Berube’s request to move to the fourth line with an uplifting display of enthusiasm, selflessness, and willingness to do what’s right for the team. With Steen fully embracing his assignment, the Blues were propelled by hugely impactful performances from the No. 4 line throughout the postseason. Steen, 35, has spent 11 years with the Blues, playing in a combined 797 regular-season and postseason games. He wasn’t just marking the days on the calendar. In terms of continuous, uninterrupted service none of the 2018-2019 Blues had pursued the Stanley Cup longer than Steen. His faith, diligence and loyalty to The Note were rewarded on June 12 at Boston when Steen raised the Stanley Cup with his teammates. Steen went from a hard place to a soft spot in the hearts of Blues fans. No one will forget how Steen put his ego and pride aside to benefit his team.

9. DAVID PERRON:   in terms of his unusual career, Perron is one of the more underrated Blues. Unusual? Yes. He’s had three different gigs as a Blue, totalling eight seasons and 535 regular-and-postseason games. The Bles drafted him 26th overall in 2007. He made his Blues’ debut at age 19, in October of 2007. At age 28, Perron was signed by the Blues as a free agent. And he was signed as a free agent — again — last summer at age 30.

Perron was sneaky good in the 2019 playoffs, scoring timely goals, messing with opponents to distract them, and connecting with various linemates.

Drafted as part of a new-generation core that would lead the Blues to Stanley Cup, Perron ultimately came through and delivered — but with a new core, and as an older and wiser player. What a journey.

This is clear: Perron will be a beloved figure in Blues’ hockey for a very long time. After his playing career he’ll be one of the Blues alums that make fans smile when they see him show for a game at Enterprise.

10.  JADEN SCHWARTZ:  I think his status is elevated and will stay that way for a long time. After an 11-goal regular season that caused him considerable torment, Schwartz helped lead the way, especially in the early rounds, with 12 postseason goals and eight assists. He had two hat tricks — one against Winnipeg, the other vs. San Jose.

Let’s pause to think about what Schwartz did in the first-round series against Winnipeg: score the winning goal on the road with 15 seconds left in Game 5 to give the Blues a 3-2 win (and a 3-2 series lead) … and then, in Game 6 at Enterprise, score all three Blues goals to give his team a 3-0 lead on the way to 3-2 victory that clinched the series.

That’s amazing. Really amazing. And perhaps a bit overshadowed by other Blues’ heroics that occurred later in the postseason. But a remarkable postseason drive can’t happen without a powerful launch, and it’s fair to say that Schwartz launched the Blues in round one. And he’ll be cherished for that. In that series Schwartz erased doubts and became a top player … a money player. That’s a giant step in his career.

(Note: I didn’t include GM Doug Armstrong and chairman Tom Stillman on this list, but that was intentional … it wasn’t an oversight. This list was designed to be about the players and their coach. I’ll have a lot to say about the Blues’ GM and owner in an upcoming piece. Thanks.)

And thanks for reading …

–Bernie