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I have only vague memories from the Old Barn: scalpers desperate to unload Loge tickets, tracing with my feet the outline of where Arena Bowl once stood, voices echoing off walls through endless concrete corridors. Old El Paso nachos, a North Stars goalie named for a taco.
But aside from my mug night prize, still emblazoned with the date from 1989 and its claim of being good to the last drop – and it still is – my Blues memories began in earnest in 2006. Awful, awful 2006.
My wife and I moved to St. Louis that year and, enriched by my childhood memories, chose to embrace the Blues. I read an article this year decrying the absence of sellouts; the average attendance in 2006-07 was around 12,000/game and rightfully so. The Blues were better than the previous year, finishing third in their division and 15 points out of eighth place. That said, most garbage fires smell better than the 21 wins put up by the 2005-06 Blues, so expectations weren’t high.
And that brings me to this season. Expectations! We had them. But was that really smart of us? Let’s reminisce about December or March if you can bear to do so. Remember asking yourself which Blues team would show up? I read plenty of opinions which gleefully spread around blame: the Brodeur box-office experiment, Hitchcockian line juggling, the injury bug, tuning out… but in spite of all these reasons, the Blues would still take their 1st and 2nd period nap for a few games in a row and then throw down four or five shutouts over the next two weeks. The 2014-15 Blues were just impossible to predict.
That’s what made the two weeks before the playoffs so infuriating, at least to me. All of a sudden, punditry turned favorable; the line juggling was finally going to release Stastny’s full power, goaltending was solid, and third reason. You pick which one. It was all bullshit of course. Hopeful bullshit, but still the same scent wafting up from the depths of Scottrade.
You knew and I knew and everyone knew exactly which Blues team we’d see in the first round against Minnesota: the confoundingly streaky 2014-15 Blues. They certainly didn’t disappoint – we got exactly the team that we saw all year. But now the internet is rattling with calls for Hitchcock’s head, or Oshie’s hair, or the thread which sews the captain’s C. Shouldn’t we have had this conversation months ago?
We didn’t. We chose to believe that the Blues were loading up for a deep run. We chose to believe that the six-goals-and-a-shutout Blues were going to show up every night. We chose to believe that this year’s Blues were something different than the team we knew.
That’s on us, honestly. So how do we prepare for next year? Heads will not roll. Oh sure, someone will be gone by next year, but it won’t be everybody and their brother. Thinking about who can get us the most value leads to the sad conclusion that it’s Steen… so let’s pretend that’s not on the table. We’re Blues fans; we can pretend with the best of ‘em.
I know how to steady myself for next year, so stick with me if you’re on board. Pretend it’s 2006.
I’m serious! Follow me here: in 2006, the expectations were pretty low but they were tenable. The 2006-07 Blues had to get better and they did. Meanwhile, this year, fans including myself – and I am a happy fool for the Blues – really believed for a few moments that this team was going all the way. The same team that lost in the first round over and over again was going to win the Cup? That doesn’t make sense. Let’s look at next year like this year was more akin to 2005-06. Not the part where that team ten years ago finished in last place; the part where both teams, ten years apart, played no hockey games in May.
The St. Louis Blues can either roar or squeak into the playoffs; we know now that their record before qualifying doesn’t matter as long as it’s good enough. What they must do is improve when it counts. So let’s stop worrying about the Cup, because it’s not coming. Instead, let’s spend the summer arguing about how the Blues can make the spot changes they need to win a best-of-seven series. Most of my ideas revolve around getting faster, but I’ll let a wiser commentator iron out the details. My concern is how to keep my emotions and liver healthy for another season and my only conclusion is tempered expectations.
So here’s to the rising 2015-16 Blues. In my mind, they’ll be the 2006-07 Blues all over again. I don’t need to know they’ll win a Cup – just that they can win four games over two weeks.