Following their first-round elimination, some continue to draw comparisons between the Blues and Cubs for the way that both teams seem cursed when it comes to their quests to win a championship.
Cursed? The Blues should be so lucky.
It’s easy to blame your misfortune on a goat, Steve Bartman, or trading away the greatest home run hitter in baseball history. It’s much harder to swallow reality, which is that the Blues are no closer to winning a Cup now than they were a year ago at this time. The worst part about the Blues losing to the Blackhawks isn’t that it occurred in the first round, or that the team saved its worst hockey for the end of the season, or even the fact that Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook got to celebrate victory. It’s that the Blues received a clear view into what they’re not.
It’s one thing to chalk up losing to the Blackhawks because you don’t have Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane on the roster, but the differences between the Blues and Blackhawks are rooted much deeper than the abilities of those two stars. The Blues built their roster on the backend, which is evident in the investments the team gave to Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, Barret Jackman, and Jordan Leopold. This team wants to control the puck, grind opponents down, and win battles in front of the net, which is a philosophy that’s easy to buy into. Until, that is, you see how the Blackhawks are able to win.
The Hawks want to control the puck too, but only long enough to create open space for Toews, Kane and Patrick Sharp. They too can win in front of the net, as Bryan Bickell demonstrated throughout this series. Lost in Game 6’s blowout was Keith’s outstanding effort, which included keeping the puck in the offensive zone in order to allow Chicago’s goal-scorers to gain positioning. You didn’t see the same defensive breakdowns by the Hawks as you did from the Blues, whose strength was supposed to be its defense. The Hawks also had the edge in net as Corey Crawford outplayed Ryan Miller, who wasn’t anywhere close to being the difference maker that many believed he would be when Doug Armstrong nabbed him from Buffalo.
Does the crux of the Blues’ problem lie in the philosophy of the team? Is it the coaching staff? These are the questions that Armstrong faces. The solution isn’t to blow up the roster but it would be naïve for Army to stand pat after what he just witnessed. Ask the Pittsburgh Pirates. That team’s front office is finding that out now after they ended their postseason drought, only to stand pat in the offseason and get worse in the process.
So many predicted that this was the Blues’ year. This wasn’t just media hyperbole, as the players and fans felt it, too. If this was supposed to be the year and the end result was another first-round exit, does anyone truly believe that the Blues are just one forward away from winning it all? Normally teams that lose in the first-round have something to build off of…a take-away. But unless Tarasenko and Schwartz are ready to become Toews and Kane, this Blues team is in a holding pattern. And if the problem is the makeup of the roster, teams don’t generally find that out until it’s too late.
Thus, the worst-case scenario is that this core is good, but not championship-caliber.
Too bad there isn’t a goat around to blame.