Ask any serious Blues fan and they can tell you that the ranks of the Blues die-hards have been thinned over the last decades. The drought of the early 2000s killed off a number of us. Only the strong survived, and it would seem those strong souls would be able to endure any heartache our beloved hockey club would inevitably throw our way.
But now, within a week after another embarrassing, inexplicable 1st round playoff exit, there is something amiss. Something is changing. The scent of unseasoned wood is burning in the air.
Today it seems there are 2 sorts of Blues fans left; the first who has no time or tolerance for those whose love of the note is dead or dying, and the second type, who used to feel either indifference or scorn for the weaker of the pack, but who now feel a kinship with them.
I have never before seen so many fans swear that they are done. I have never seen so many people sound like they mean it. And I have never, ever counted myself amongst them, until now.
I have already decided that I cannot allow my children, the oldest of which are just now starting hockey, to get sucked into the life of broken dreams and empty promises that goes along with being a Blues fan. But now, beyond that, I don’t know how much I have to give.
I am tired of driving hours and spending untold fortunes on live Blues games.
I am tired of staying up late to watch games at home (I am in EST).
I am tired of having my entire day – or even part of my summer – sullied by the piss poor effort of a club that supposedly ‘committed’ itself to winning the Cup.
I am tired of seeing handsomely compensated athletes play a game that I PAY to play with less effort and drive than I expect on my beer league team.
But, like any shitty relationship that has gone on too long with one side giving more than they get, I can’t bring myself to leave. I want excuses to stay. I will begin courting another team for my kids to fall in love with, but I WANT to stay in the storied ranks of weathered Blues fans.
But I am going to need something. Some excitement. Something new to convince myself that the Blues really ARE going to change…that they won’t hurt me anymore…
As a form of therapy, I thought a lot about what that list looked like.
So, for all intents and purposes, here is my list…of demands.
In the context of the swarm of debate regarding ‘blowing up the core’ and parting ways with Hitchcock, I present my demands in the form of what I want to see for each player on the Blues’ roster.
Bear in mind I don’t need to see them all met…but a damn lot of them better be or I WILL find greener pastures. And based on the virus going through Blues Nation right now, I don’t think I will be the only one to fall out.
Ken Hitchcock: Gone.
I am not starting with him because I think he is the number one problem, but he is the most obvious. And he needs to go. He was the right medicine when he came in. He got us back into the postseason. But we have peaked with him. I am not going to harp on the specific decisions, whether it was his decision to play Allen in the playoffs, or to keep playing Allen after his game 5 self-directed bowel movement, or his endless, constant, ongoing, obnoxious tinkering with the lines (seriously Hitch, if something works for several weeks and then doesn’t work as well in ONE GAME, you don’t scrap the whole thing!) but he has run his course and this team isn’t going to make it to the promised land following him. Equally important, the fans are done with him, and none of us will think you’re serious about winning if the Cock is at the helm in October. Who do you bring in? I don’t know. I hear Dan Bylsma is looking for a gig.
Paul Stastny: Give him another year to prove himself.
No one is particularly happy with Stastny’s productivity in his first year as a Blue, but between the transition to a new team, new coach, new system, and the injury, we can’t begin to evaluate him and it wouldn’t be appropriate to cast him off. Also, he has an NTC, so we are stuck with him anyway.
Alex Pietrangelo: Keep him at the top.
While he hasn’t provided the offense a lot of us might have hoped and he had some breakdowns this season, Petro is rock solid. He is the future of the D-corps, though I think he would be better off with a different partner. A solid candidate for the "C" if Steen doesn’t get it.
Alexander Steen: Give him the "C."
Steen should be on the very short list of untouchables. His presence, his passion, his determination…THAT is what we need in a leader. He is mostly an opportunistic scorer but he can create his own chances if nothing else than through sheer will. He plays all over the ice and can be trusted in almost any role. He should be a part of the Blues organization and should help develop the next generation.
Jay Bouwmeester: Find a use for him.
He looked awfully shaky at times for a guy making the kind of money he is. I would like to trade him but his NTC complicates that. Once upon a time he was pretty solid playing back with Petro, maybe a new coach and a new system gives him a new life. Either way, we have to find a use for him.
David Backes: Strip the captaincy; relegate him to a role more appropriate for his skill level.
I would have him listed as "gone" were it not for his NTC. For me, this is the biggest sign of trouble. The idea of being done with "Captain America" would have been completely unacceptable only a year ago. We all love watching him give it to the big guys on other teams. We had big dreams for Backes…but he isn’t going to live up to them. As the leader of this team, I can’t help but connect his emotional instability to the teams overall fragility. He is a power forward who scores gritty goals and the occasional sick deflection. The problem is that kind of player needs someone else to create the chance for him, and his goals come far too infrequently for what he is paid. Throw in the occasional temper tantrum or stupid penalty and it is clear…if Backes can clean himself up, he can be a good defensive forward who gets some gritty goals but he will never be a difference maker, and he is not a very good leader.
Kevin Shattenkirk: Keep him right where he is at.
Solid defensively, one of the best offensive D-men in the league. Shatty should be on the ‘untouchable’ list, or at least on the ‘only if you blow my mind with a deal’ list. One key thing about him; playing on what is essentially the second paring behind Bouwmeester and Petro is one of the things that increases his effectiveness, so that is a plus for Bouwmeester for what that’s worth.
TJ Oshie: Gone.
Another unimaginable thing for many of us only a year ago. Oshie was a beast when he played like a beast. When he banged bodies and created his own space he was a force to be reckoned with. When is the last time Oshie has played that sort of game? His scoring style requires him to get in tight, and he isn’t playing hard enough to do that these days. I can’t remember the last time Oshie scored a clean goal by rifling one past a goalie…you know…the things top 3 forwards have to do. I DO remover, however, several really bad passes leading to turnovers… He can’t score unless he can get in tight and he isn’t playing with enough energy to get in tight…it is a recipe for chronic underperformance. Trade him now while the memories of his Olympic performances are fresh enough to get someone to overpay.
Zbynek Michalek: Probably on to greener pastures.
In the small sample size we got of Z, I mostly liked what I saw and I think he could be a huge asset for us. But, he makes a big chunk of money and could feasibly want to keep doing so. We may not be able to afford to resign him, but if we can I would gladly keep him.
Patrik Berglund: Give him (more) time to develop.
Heads are going to explode as I advocate for giving the perennial underperforming whipping boy more time. First, we won’t get much for him and he has a weird modified NMC which starts in a month or so. But this is more than that…look at his play the last month or so, and in the playoffs. He had fire and dare I say a bit of grit. I think with a different coach and consistent linemates, he has a chance. If he is a dud again next year, dump him. We aren’t going to get any less for him then.
Barret Jackman: He should stick around.
Jackman is almost out of runway. There isn’t a lot left in the tank for the guy. We could refuse to resign him and force him into retirement or let him play out a year or two somewhere else, but that would be a really crappy thing to do. I feel dirty just typing it. Jackman is the only Blue who has come close to the suffering threshold endured by most fans. He should never, ever wear another jersey. Period. Personally, I think he has another couple laps in him. We should get him penned to a short, cheap deal and keep him on for defensive depth and leadership.
Carl Gunnarsson: Gone.
Gunny has another year left on his contract and he should not be a Blue when it expires. Let’s trade him right away before he enters ‘rental player’ status and we get even less. The guy that was supposed to help move the puck hasn’t been much more than a defensive liability and constant reminder that Polak no longer plays for us. In fact, Gunny should be paying us for having bailed him out of Toronto.
Jori Lehtera: Keep him.
His rookie season was a pretty solid success, we have him signed for a reasonable sum, and Tarasenko isn’t the same player when Lehtera isn’t on the ice. This guy should have his ticket punched as long as Tank says he wants him around.
Steve Ott: Gone.
While I don’t share the same Ott-hatred that many of my fellow writers do, he needs to move on. We simply can’t afford to spend a roster spot on a player like this. It was fun, Ott, but now it’s time to move on.
Brian Elliott: He should be the 1A next year as long has he doesn’t implode.
The way we have treated Elliott as an organization bugs the shit out of me. The guy puts up great stats and we trade for Ryan-fucking-Miller instead of trust Moose in the crease for the playoffs? What a shot to the gut… Then, Allen (who had been shaky enough when Elliott was injured that we dusted off Martin-fucking-Brodeur) goes on a small hot streak and a season of ‘he’s our guy’ platitudes are thrown out the window. If I were Elliott, I would tell the Blues to fuck off and demand a trade. But Elliott is way too classy for that. Give him the crease next year. Let Allen develop as a highly used back-up. Ride Ells into the playoffs and give him a chance to prove he is the guy. He has given us too much for us to never even give him the chance.
Olli Jokinen: Eh, don’t really care.
No demand for him. Honestly, I am not even sure what we got out of that deal. He only played a couple games. For cheap enough, he might be a useful role player. Then again, we don’t want him taking up a roster spot. Take him or leave him. All the same to me.
Jaden Schwartz: Part of the NEW core.
We all know that this kid works his tail off and plays way bigger than he is. While he doesn’t have the lights-out skill tank has, he is a valuable asset and a solid top 6 forward. He should be part of the new core that the Blues build their tomorrow around.
Vladimir Tarasenko: The NEW face of the Blues for years to come.
The Blues have already said that they will sign Tank at all costs. And "all costs" will probably end up being just as high as you imagine for this kid. This is the new heart of the Blues. He needs to solidify himself defensively a bit, but he has it all. Personnel decisions should be made in terms of how they complement this kid. The style the new coach builds for the team should be based on how well it utilizes this kid. Tarasenko IS the Blues, and if we are going to get a Cup in my lifetime, this kid is going to lead the charge.
Marcel Goc: Let him go.
He was ok, but he lacks the speed and energy we need on that 4th line. He will take up roster spots that other players need to develop.
Ryan Reaves: Keep him.
Reaves is too popular and is a big part of the character of the team. If someone was willing to make an unrealistic offer to get him we should entertain it, but for what he is paid and for the way he executes assigned duties, we aren’t go to do much better than Reaves.
Dimtrij Jaskin: Let him fight for a spot.
He isn’t costing much and the potential is huge. Look to see him blossom a bit next season. If he does, he should be part of the new core alongside Tank…kind of like a Backes but without the drama. If he doesn’t, he has the size to serve as an energy guy. Either way, no point in moving him unless we get a great offer for a prospect with more potential upside…which isn’t likely.
Ty Rattie: Let him fight for a spot.
Again, like Jaskin, keep him around unless a good deal is offered for him.
Jake Allen: Keep him, but keep him as a backup for now.
Everyone says this kid is the goalie of the future. I don’t know about that but even if he is, that future isn’t now. The kid had pressure twice this season and buckled both times. Once when Elliott was injured, which led to us getting Marty. Once during the playoffs, which led to us getting humiliated. I don’t fault him for the loss…Hitch shouldn’t have played him in my opinion. Either way, the kid isn’t ready. And if you look at his historic career performances, he has never been a superstar at any level aside from last year with the Wolves. I personally think the jury is still out on Allen, but either way he shouldn’t be the dedicated starter next year. Someone – preferably Elliott – should carry more of the load.
Chris Porter: Take him or leave him.
Porter isn’t going to be a top-6 guy. Let him fight for a spot on the 4th line. Or trade him for a pick. Whatever.
Chris Butler: Take him or leave him.
Like Porter, I am not impressed. He isn’t going to be a top 4 defenseman and hasn’t excited me much. I frankly don’t want him taking up a roster spot that a younger, developing guy like Bortuzzo could take. If he earns it, keep him around. If not, trade him for a pic.
Robert Bortuzzo: Bridge deal.
I bet that Bortuzzo can be a top 4 defenseman in this league. He looked damn good in what we saw of him. Solid defensively, played with some real fire. He is an RFA this year, so offer him a bridge deal and give him a year to show us what he can really do.
Magnus Pääjärvi: Give him a chance under the new regime.
I couldn’t help but feel that his lack of success was due largely to Hitch’s system. The kid showed occasional flashes of skill. Let him fight for a spot under the new regime.
There. That’s it. Simple enough, right?
Seriously, if there isn’t something from this team to show me that there is a REAL commitment to changing the culture then I am done. For now anyway.
Because when the Blues lose, it shits on my day. It bums me out. And right now, as of this moment, this team hasn’t earned that commitment.