Going into last season, there were newfound expectations for the Blues. Coming off a surprise playoff run that propelled them to the playoffs in 2008-09, the Blues were penciled in as a top-eight Western Conference team just 12 months ago. They had all the pieces of the puzzle but one, according to their advertising.
And think about the opportunity for the entire organization headed into last season. Goaltender Chris Mason was playing for a new contract. Head coach Andy Murray had been recognized as a coach of the year finalist, earning him not a new long-term contract but the option year (this year). The young guys seemed poised to make the jump to the next level. Brad Boyes had something to prove. Keith Tkachuk wanted to go out a winner. Paul Kariya and Eric Brewer wanted to show massive injuries hadn't derailed their careers. General manager Larry Pleau wanted to leave the team on a high note, headed in the right direction. Youngsters Alex Pietrangelo, Jonas Junland and Lars Eller all wanted to make the NHL team and avoid time in Juniors or Peoria.
They had so much to play for and literally, the entire organization shit the bed. The coach got fired, the youngsters didn't progress, the injured guys struggled, the young guys didn't make the jump, Boyes got worse, Murray got fired, the prospects didn't come up and contribute, Pleau didn't exactly go out on a high note and the team missed the playoffs.
It's safe to say the Blues did not deal with the expectations and the pressure. The majority of players on last year's team had not dealt with the NHL spotlight during their careers. Part of me thinks they believed their own hype. Part of me thinks they didn't know how to deal with being a known quantity heading into games. They weren't going to surprise anyone last season and the Blues didn't do a good job of dealing with that.
As we enter the first preseason game tonight, the expectations are all back, maybe even more intense. All of the improvements in goaltending and in the other areas of the team I can't think of right now (did I mention they traded for Jaroslav Halak?) plus better goaltending along with solid play in net and all of a sudden the Blues look like a playoff team again. It seems like we're back 12 months ago with this team and the preseason expectations as an emerging hockey team. It's like playing a video game and the computer decides to screw you over with a fluke goal at the end of regulation to end a win streak and you decide to go ahead and press reset because the game cheated and everything with your season reverts back to before the computer screwing you over. Or something like that.
Have the Blues grown up and learned how to deal with expectations? Can they deal with pressure on a nightly basis to give a consistent effort and take each game seriously, you know, like every game counts (the NEW advertising campaign)? The first signs will be how this team gels during training camp and then how they play at home during October. The players know they screwed up last season. They know they got Andy Murray fired and Chris Mason banished to Atlanta and got Kariya concussed and unsigned and ended Tkachuk's career. They know the expectations.
No pressure, boys. No pressure.