Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
There are only four weeks, two days and 16 games remaining in the St. Louis Blues’ regular season schedule after tonight’s contest with the Anaheim Ducks. Seven of the remaining Blues’ matches are home games, with four of them are against teams out of playoff contention as this is written. Of the nine road games yet to play, seven are against teams that will most likely not qualify for postseason play.
Of course, that doesn’t mean any games against the non-playoff teams are cakewalks. If the Blues are to participate in postseason play this year, they have to win most of those games, especially the three remaining games with Colorado, last in the NHL standings, and the two games left against Arizona, second to last in the league. The Blues are slightly ahead of Los Angeles and well ahead of Winnipeg.
Anaheim is playoff bound, at this writing in third place in the Pacific Division (albeit tied in points with second-place Edmonton at this writing), well behind first place San Jose. Calgary, ranked seventh in the Western Conference, well ahead of eighth place St. Louis, is right behind the Ducks, but the next division rival, the Kings, are way behind Anaheim, making it a pretty safe wager that the Ducks will be in the hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup this spring.
This is the 23rd season for the orange-clad quackers from Orange County (not including the lockout season), and the Ducks have qualified for the playoffs 12 times, making it to the Conference Finals in 2003 (losing the Cup to New Jersey in seven games), 2006 (losing to Edmonton in five games) and 2007 (winning the Cup in five games over Ottawa). Anaheim also lost in the 2015 Conference Finals to Chicago in seven games.
The Blues and Ducks have never met in postseason play.
It’s surprising to realize St. Louis and Anaheim have made only five trades since 1994, just one of which could be deemed major. The first transaction occurred in March 1993 when the Blues acquired defenseman Alexei Kasatonov in exchange for winger Maxim Bets and a sixth-round draft choice in 1995. Kasatonov, a 12-year veteran with CSKA Moscow and four seasons with New Jersey, played only eight games wearing the Note before signing with Boston the following season. In August 1994 defenseman Bill Houlder came east to St. Louis while defenseman Jason Marshall went west to Anaheim. Houlder played 41 games (five goals, 18 points) as a Blue while Marshall played parts of eight seasons with the Ducks (8 goals and 34 points in 370 games). In the third deal, the Blues acquired the 1995 sixth-round draft pick from the Ducks, which turned out to be Denis Hamel, in exchange for a sixth-round pick in 1996. Unfortunately the lanky winger never played for St. Louis, landing instead in Buffalo (for parts of four seasons), Ottawa (parts of three seasons), Atlanta and Philadelphia.
The major transaction between St. Louis and Anaheim happened in December 2007 when Andy McDonald was traded to the Blues for center Doug Weight, winger Michal Birner and a seventh-round pick in 2008. McDonald, a Colgate alum, spent seven seasons in Anaheim (highlighted by a Stanley Cup championship), scoring 92 goals and 167 points. McDonald went on to play six seasons in St. Louis, amassing 90 goals and 230 points, before retiring in 2013, citing concussion issues as the main concern. Weight played only 38 games in Anaheim (a disappointing output of 6 goals and 14 points) and signed with the New York Islanders in 2008, where he played parts of three seasons.
He is currently the interim head coach of the Islanders.
In February 2011, the last of the five trades was consummated when winger Brad Winchester was sent to Anaheim for a 2012 third-round draft pick, which turned out to be winger Mckenzie MacEachern, currently on the roster of the Blues’ farm team in Chicago. MacEachern has tallied four goals and nine points in 41 games for the Wolves this season.
The Blues are walking a precarious tightrope as the season gears down. One half of Blues Nation is hoping for a playoff berth, even if it means facing Minnesota, Chicago or San Jose in the opening round. For them, pride is on the line, especially after all the excitement of last year’s great playoff run. If the boys can just get in, they say, anything can happen, after all. Wouldn’t it be sweet to knock off the Wild, Blackhawks and Sharks on the way to a Finals meeting with T.J. and Shatty and the rest of the Washington Capitals? Yea, for sure, “the stuff dreams are made of” (with apologies to Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, and, for the Shakespeareans among us, with apologies to the Bard’s Prospero in the Tempest).
The other half of Blues Nation is hoping the Note fails to qualify, realizing the team is just not good enough to beat the likes of the Wild or Sharks and that the lower St. Louis finishes in the standings, the better the draft choice will be in the 2017 Entry Draft come June. Our best hope is the future, not the present, and it only makes sense to improve the team over the summer, especially if Tage Thompson and perhaps Jordan Kyrou are ready to play in the NHL. And why should any Blues’ fan spend money on playoff games now when it will be needed more in October since season tickets are going up around 10%?
To settle this difference of opinion, let’s draw upon the late, great M. Gandhi and his words of wisdom: “The future depends on what you do today.”