“The night is darkest right before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”-Harvey Dent
Being an Uber driver allows me to circle the city of St. Louis just about every night, which means I drive past the Enterprise Center routinely. I wave at Big Al, salute the Golden Brett, and pull on down the street towards Tin Roof and Wheelhouse to pick up drunks.
While the updates on the newly named arena are still being completed. there’s an electricity building around the launch of the upcoming 2018-19 season.
I’ll be honest, things feel very different these days as the Blues’ training camp turns into the preseason here in less than a month. Normally, fans assume the team will compete for a playoff spot, thus putting them in contention for the Stanley Cup, the franchise’s first in 50-plus years. That’s the normal giving way to something else this year.
With the moves made by Doug Armstrong and Tom Stillman over the summer, Lord Stanley doesn’t feel as far away as it usually would in August. A hopeful bedtime story in years past has turned into a closer reality as the end of summer starts to show its face and the fall enters the makeup stage.
Back in the early days of July, Blues fans were antagonistic about the upcoming season. The Blues lost out on the playoffs by a single game, falling to Colorado on the final day of the season, which hit St. Louis even harder because of the team’s owner. Playoff thirst was within grasp and the team let it slip away. The time between playoff-less hockey in St. Louis was long enough for fans to roll their eyes when the team brought back David Perron for a third time.
Then, Tyler Bozak, a fine if far from great center, landed from Toronto. Complimentary pieces for a team lacking sizzle on the steak for many offseasons. But Armstrong took the gloves off and got serious.
When the Blues acquired Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres, heads spun faster than when Paul Stastny came home years ago. O’Reilly and the Blues had circled each other like matching lovers at a dance with several bodies in between them. The Blues were getting a guy who mopped the floors for a shitty team for years.
That wasn’t the entire deal. Armstrong managed to hand over Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund, two of his biggest “try hard crushes”, in the exchange. He acquired a very good hockey player and gained room on the salary cap! People thought trading Jori Lehtera and a couple draft picks for Brayden Schenn was Houdini work, and Armstrong told us to hold his beer.
Here’s the thing. Dougie wasn’t done.
Pat Maroon gave St. Louis Blues fans giant feel-good boners two years ago when he scored a goal off St. Louis with the Edmonton Oilers and delivered a tear-inducing postgame chat about missing his son. It was like watching Optimus Prime cry after defeating Megatron, or Chuck Norris slice into an onion after Delta Force.
It helped that Maroon was a boy man’s David Backes and fit a model that the Blues hadn’t possessed since #42’s departure: a large body in front of the net who made superstar players look even better. Maroon knew how to pass the puck, punch a guy in the face, and score 15 goals when no one was looking. He took less money to come home to be with his family and perhaps hoist a party on 14th and Clark next spring.
A gamble that Maroon is making with Armstrong and company until January 1, when the two parties are expected to negotiate an extension. The stars are aligned, and all Maroon has to do is the exact thing he’s done for the past few seasons. He can play on any line and demolish people in his path.
He may have been great in Edmonton and decent in New Jersey, but he hasn’t heard 20,000 screaming Blues fans shouting his name in his hometown. Stop with the pressure of playing in front of his people bullshit. Something tells me the Big Rig can handle it.
Perron. Bozak. O’Reilly. Maroon. Oh, and Chad Johnson backing up Jake Allen as well.
Here’s what it all means: the pressure is on Mike Yeo and Allen to rise to the occasion of the moves made by the front office. There should be no excuses in putting together lines that produce goals. There should be zero excuses for Allen not to put together a very good season, because this time he will have support in numbers.
God forbid if the power play is still a shit show with O’Reilly and Maroon lurking as options.
It’s been a long time since there was this hot of anticipation for a Blues season to commence. There have been recent years where a frenzy gathered for October, but it’s nothing like what I’m hearing around town right now.
Nothing matches what I feel when I drive by 14th and Clark every single night.
Will this be the year? Can “maybe next year” be retired? Do the Blues have it in them?
Screw off if you think it’s too soon to think like this, because I will. It’s painless to do so right now. The record is still 0-0-0, so ride the wave with me for a couple more months.
Who needs football when you have Blues hockey?
I don’t know about you all, but I’m very aroused.