Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results-Albert Einstein
I will admit that I am insane. And, unfortunately, so is Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong. The organization saw a Blues core quit on coach Andy Murray and get him fired in January of 2010, thinking that would spur his group to greater effort. Almost two years later, Armstrong and John Davidson saw a laissez faire attitude that caused them to replace Davis Payne with Ken Hitchcock.
And when Blues players decided they didn’t want to accept Hitchcock’s demands for excellence and quit performing for him, the future Hall of Famer was replaced, too. After seven games and six wins under Mike Yeo, apparently the Blues core determined that “we’re good,” and decided to take it easy again. Each time, the Blues responded for a while, but ultimately reverted to the form that gets coaches fired.
At some point, you would figure that a group of players would be satisfied and begin to exhibit the professionalism to play hard every game.
Heck, if a couple is paying $200 to attend a game, even an NHL player should appreciate that for a normal person, that’s a pretty expensive evening. At the very least, it’s reasonable for fans to expect players to play hard every night.
But not with these Blues. Through two consecutive groups of players, they’ve seen fit to take nights off and not really appear to care about winning. As Armstrong said upon firing Hitchcock, “we don’t lose with pride.” Indeed, when you watch veterans like Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, Jori Lehtera, Jaden Schwartz and Vladamir Tarasenko, there are nights when it looks like they’re mailing it in. It could be that they’re distracted by something in their personal life, or perhaps they’re dealing with injuries that we’re unaware of. But one inescapable fact is that this franchise has fired three straight coaches on the heels of players not performing up to the level of their contracts.
Amazingly, that’s all Blues fans ask for. Back in 2006 when Dave Checketts took over the franchise and Davidson became president, they commissioned a survey of their season ticket holders to find out what they wanted in a team. And by a significant margin, Blues fans said that a team that came to work hard every night was more important to them than even a Stanley Cup Championship. Apparently, many Blues players over the last few years haven’t been aware of their fans’ desires.
Armstrong looks to the north…up Interstate 55 and in the standings, and sees why his team is struggling to even make the playoffs: “When we play the Chicago Blackhawks, every night (Patrick) Kane, (Jonathan) Toews, (Brent) Seabrook, (Duncan) Keith and (Marian) Hossa are the best players, bar none. They can have whatever movement they want around that, their best players are their best players every night.”
Who are the Blues’ best players on a night-to-night basis? We know that core is supposed to be Tarasenko, Schwartz, Steen, Stastny, Colton Parayko, captain Alex Pietrangelo and the injured Robby Fabbri. But how often do you see them all be the best Blues players? Nobody knows when they’ll all show up. Hitchcock had to talk too many times this season about his fourth line of Kyle Brodziak, Ryan Reaves and Scottie Upshall being his best line. He talked about giving less than their best effort being in this year’s Blues’ DNA. He said he thought he could change it, but you just can’t change DNA. With the team on the outside of playoff contention looking in, the Blues took it easy in Winnipeg on Friday night, losing 3-0 and prompting Yeo to tell Jeremy Rutherford of STLToday.com “This should be a good slap in the face for us. I don’t know. I get the sense that sometimes we just assume, just think, that things are going to turn around for us.”
A team on the edge of playoff contention needs a slap in the face? Really?
I can see how, if Pietrangelo would try to cajole a lagging teammate to be better, that high priced veteran would think “what have you ever won.” Troy Brouwer could lead last year, because he HAD won. The Blues brought in guys in the past that had won…guys like Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott…but they weren’t good enough anymore to carry that leadership weight. The Blues have no players who have won a Stanley Cup, and that’s what they need…a good player that has won and will get in the face of guys who aren’t performing.
Armstrong has signed Steen and Schwartz to long term deals. Tarasenko is the highest paid player on the team. He’s stuck with Stastny for one more season. If the Blues are ever going to be great enough to win a Stanley Cup, they’re going to have to get their best players to play hard every night. The best way to do this is have strong leadership in the dressing room. Armstrong’s main charge this coming off-season is going to have to be to find a player, through free agency or trade, that has the pedigree of being a top-nine forward that has the personality to immediately earn a leadership role. Brouwer commanded that respect. Clearly, with this group a coach doesn’t command enough respect to get the highest paid players to play hard every night. And there isn’t enough pride among the group to recognize that not only are they costing themselves an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup, but they’re embarrassing themselves before fans, opponents, coaches and front offices around the NHL.
So, the Blues need to find a bell cow. With the long-term contracts and the performance of the players that have those contracts, it’s going to be hard to move them. And no, changing coaches again isn’t the answer. That would be, as Albert Einstein would say, insanity.