Will the Blues buy-in this time? Goodness, the saying has filled fan forums, twitter wars and the inside linings of the Scottrade Center for all of Ken Hitchcock's time as coach of the St. Louis Blues. What does it really mean? In a series of videos released this week, the Blues let fans inside the preseason training camp coaches meetings. There were several videos that dealt with players coming to camp out of shape, more competitive practices and the different phases of camp. The longest video, clocking in at over 11 minutes, was about this "buy-in" factor that has greeted the front end of many Blues fans and scribes mic dropping put downs. What does it mean?
Right off the bat, Hitchcock(who looks like he has coached players since the dinosaurs disappeared) drops this hot biscuit on us to his table of coaches. Brad Shaw, Kirk Muller, Ray Bennett and some other dude who never talks.
"It's the buy-in that allows us to be more puck possession oriented. We've sold it for the entire four years."
Essentially, what I am getting at is that the buy in factor means the players going all in and giving max effort or it's a savvy term to sell to the public. It's nice to tell the media member working till 11pm that the buy-in factor is still high even after back to back losses. I know Hitch has a philosophy like every other coach but it's getting stale now. We know his ways. Does he want to change them? Well, he hints at it next.
"If it doesn't pass the smell test with the leaders, it won't pass the smell test in the room."
By leaders, Hitch is referring of course to David Backes, Alex Steen, Alex Pietangelo and anyone else with team equity. If the leaders don't get it, then why would the Dmitri Jaskins and Robby Fabbris? No, that doesn't mean if Backes says the buy-in factor stinks like old garbage that it will be gone for good. At least Hitch is allowing his players to get a voice.
"I want to get what those words(character and culture) mean to you", Hitch says to his coaches as everybody in the room looks like it's two minutes til lunch.
"They've reached a stage of maturity wise that they know the game plan so let's get them to buy in to what they want and we want." Again Hitch is referring Backes and company and the spread of this new idea. It sounds like instead of trashing this overused saying, Hitch wants to help it evolve into some new form of teaching on the ice. Halfway, he is right. Let the leaders digest it and then filter it through the young guns and rookies.
"There's a different between embracing and compliant." For all the people who wanted the Blues to change their ways and reshift the on ice initiative, this meeting is a good thing. Maybe the end of dump and chase and the unbalanced offensive attack that doomed the Blues in the playoffs. Maybe not.
These are mere meetings after all. It's easy to enforce a set of rules on a bunch of 18 to 19 year old kids just dying to brandish a team jersey and score the next big goal. Selling it to a room full of veterans disgruntled with their recent team history failure at the big moment is much harder. This is the beast that Hitch and his coaches are chasing. Changing the framework of the way a team attacks a plan on the ice during games. It's tough work.
Shaw goes on to explain that it's as hard as anything to download of way of playing hockey into a veteran player. Some take it better than others. However, Shaw goes on to explain that when the players buy in, it does help the team perform better because they aren't just mercenaries on a sheet of ice but teammates with a common goal.
Muller talks about watching other teams in the playoffs and seeing "why" those team found success and noticing the different trends in the game.
Hitch talks about certain strategies like "pinch or no pinch?" and "finding the middle of the ice". Shaw talks about Chicago's way of using the aerial attack to put a team on their toes instead of simply pushing the pace.
Bennett knows that it can't be a democracy and players will have to follow a certain set of instructions but that there is room there to get their input.
All of this is interesting because when the coaches get together, the dynamic of a season is starting to unfold. There's a reason you don't see coaches fight each other on the ice. They do it in these preseason meetings. Every teacher has to know what the syllabus is before the class starts. Just like it is in baseball and football, a head coach has a team that believes in what he believes but that comes after these discussions.
What I got out of this video was that the fans screaming for this or that to happen mid game or midseason aren't alone. The coaches are human and think about that too. After all, everybody is a fan of this game and wants the Blues to walk down 14th and Clark on a hot summer day and celebrate. This video showed me how much input each coach has and how much they want the player to inject their opinion without losing the sense of structure within a team fabric.
Will any of this be enforced on February 8th in the trenches of a season? Yes and no. All seasons start out going one direction and start pushing towards others. Does any of what I've said here make any sense? Probably not but welcome to hockey's preseason. The engines are still warming up.
Does the "Buy-In" factor work or is it worth mentioning or retaining in white hot Blues discussion? Yes, because it's the way Hitch gets his guys to play. While he's here, the Buy in lives. In a way, I think every team carries this kind of philosophy and simply attaches a less redundant label to it.
Here's the truth. On October 7th, the discussion stops and the puck drops ladies and gentlemen. Are you ready?