Letter from the Editor, by Brad Lee
We’ve been here before.
In the 2008-09 season, everything was looking up. The Blues had made the previous playoffs before the Canucks unceremoniously dumped them in the first round in four straight games. It was a disappointing end to the season, but the overwhelming feeling among fans after the Blues had made a mad dash to make the postseason was that it felt like a turning point for the franchise.
Andy Murray was named a finalist for the Jack Adams award for Coach of the Year. The Blues didn’t make a ton of changes except for bringing some guys back from injury who weren’t part of the run. They got better from within. It was all set up for 08-09. They would contend for a better playoff seed, maybe even the division. This team was on its way. And then the whole fucking thing fell apart. Listless nights gave points away in the standings. They’d have a complete game and then sleepwalk through a couple games in a row. One step forward, two or three back. And the entire time, there was no panic. The words coming out of the mouths of players in the dressing room were calm and confident. They’d done it the season before, come back from long odds and made the playoffs. The players claimed to know what it took to improve the team and play better. All they needed to do was flip the switch.
And the switch that was flipped electrocuted Murray’s career in St. Louis. The core players on the Blues (some of the very same guys on the roster tonight) got Murray fired. We heard whispers that he might not have the personality to mesh with a young team, that his approach might not be a good fit. Bullshit. The players didn’t play like they had the year before. Maybe they didn’t do the little things or totally buy in. Whatever the case, blame the players.
The front office responded by bringing up from Peoria the cheap and available Davis Payne to coach the team. The new coach helped spark a change for awhile. There was a breath of fresh air on the team, a little more creativity, flexibility with the offensive game plan. And then they stopped listening to the guy who looks a lot like an accountant and he got fired. Payne is an assistant with Los Angeles and was in the building last night.
I wonder if he passed Ken Hitchcock in the hall in the building. I wonder if he gave some cautionary words to the big fella. "Be careful, Ken. These guys, some of them are quitters. They talk a good game, but they quit on Andy, they quit on me and now it’s your turn. Say, who files your taxes?"
It’s important to note that Payne got fired because the front office didn’t have confidence that he could lead the team to contend for a championship. Translation: GM Doug Armstrong didn’t think the players were responding to Payne and he wanted a guy with a proven track record.
If you’re Armstrong, your assessment of the situation is getting easier with every dumb loss. Murray was too rigid while Payne was too friendly and inexperienced. Hitchcock is Armstrong’s coach, hand-picked to lead this team long-term. He’s not going anywhere. So unless they think it’s the organist or the mascot or the fans, it’s gotta be the players.
After an 80-minute meeting with team "leaders" after the 3-0 shutout loss to Edmonton on Tuesday, Hitchcock told reporters that more players have to buy-in. Maybe it’s a poker game and guys aren’t putting in their ante. Maybe having a time-share condo is a metaphor for winning hockey teams. Whatever the case, it sure seems like the coach is hoping the players flip the switch. Good luck with that.
The last five seasons are a microcosm for the history of the St. Louis Blues. There are shining moments of glory that make you think the team is ready to jump to the next level and compete for its first Cup. And then there are nights like Tuesday when they put more than 40 shots on net, allow three goals on the first seven shots and begin looking less competitive as time lapses.
I think the Blues lack a little identity. They’re not a high scoring team. They’re not playing like a good defensive team. They’re not a veteran team, but they’re not a young rebuilding team either. They’re somewhere in the middle. Average Joe, a guy who writes every other game in the paper, hates this about the team. He would rather they blow it up and get young guys and hope one turns into a superstar. I would argue that if they could wrangle some cash, they’ve got some prospects and contracts to dangle to go for it. But they seem to be hanging out, in between. That was the hallmark of Blues teams for years: good enough to make the playoffs, not good enough to win it, never really rebuilding in the meantime.
We saw the rebuilding around here since 2005-06. Is it over? Does it need to start over? Somebody flip the switch.