This week at St. Louis Game Time, we are looking at underdog Blues players or teams. Who is the guy who embodied the relentless work ethic we love? For me, Vladimir Sobotka almost immediately sprang to mind.
Now, I will admit, Sobotka never produced exceptional offensive numbers (his career-high was 33 points in 2013-14). But, that’s the whole point, right? What he lacked in offensive production he more than made up for in physicality and less flashy aspects of the game, such as faceoffs.
Over six years with the Blues, Sobotka posted 624 hits in 329 games - not bad for the five-foot-eleven, 190-pound forward. Also over that span, he won 57% of his faceoffs, including a whopping 61.9% in 2013-14. For reference, reigning Selke Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly’s average hovers around 55%.
Sobotka also did not shy away from dropping the gloves. Remember when he landed a vicious right hand on Matt Duchene? Well, you can see the fire in Sobotka during that fight. Like Darren Pang said, “Pound for pound, is there a tougher guy in the NHL than Vladdy Sobotka?” When he was with the Blues, I could not agree more with Panger.
During the playoffs, Sobotka elevated his game to another level. He netted an impressive 3 goals and eleven assists in 32 postseason appearances with the Blues. He thrived in the more physical style that defines NHL playoff hockey, averaging over three hits per game (102 total). Even more than during the regular season, Sobotka epitomized the Blues’ attitude and spirit.
Unfortunately, Sobotka left the Blues for the Kontinental Hockey League in 2014 and would play in Russia over the next three seasons. Though an understandable move, his grit and hockey intelligence were missed. He finally returned to St. Louis for one game in the 2016-17 season and 81 in the 2017-18 season. That year, he posted his second-best season totals with 11 goals and 20 assists. Again, he dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 54.3% of draws.
Despite Sobotka’s success, the Blues still had not won a Stanley Cup. In an effort to bolster the roster, General Manager Doug Armstrong sent Sobotka (along with Patrik Berglund and Tage Thompson) to the Buffalo Sabres for O’Reilly. Of course, the trade paid off, with the Blues taking home Lord Stanley in 2019.
I can’t help but think that it would have been nice for Sobotka to lift the Cup with the team. To me, he played hard every game. He could hit, fight, score, win faceoffs, kill penalties – all traits that scream the Blues ethos. But, hockey is a business, and regardless of how well Sobotka fit in, the acquisition of O’Reilly propelled the Blues over the finish line.
Nevertheless, Vladimir Sobotka encapsulated what it means to play for the Blues. His work ethic and consistency made him a valuable player on the Blues roster, and he certainly flew under the radar, making him one player deserving of the “underdog” title.