By the end of the summer, this is what the typical St. Louis Blues player will have done:
You hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time on home ice before walking through a car wash’s volume of champagne and beer in the dressing room, and then having an all-night celebration with teammates.
A few hazy days later, you attend a parade in your honor, as hundreds of thousands of St. Louis neighbors flood the streets to acknowledge your accomplishment and general greatness.
You travel to Vegas with teammates, where the Stanley Cup becomes a Sin City skeleton key, unlocking doors that many a bachelor party had tried and failed to break down with a battering ram.
After a few days, you arrive back in your small hometown (based on the percentages, in Canada) where family and friends treat you with the awe and reverence of an astronaut who just splashed down back to Earth after walking on Mars. The town organizes a day in your name, featuring parades and packed auditoriums and photo opportunities with the Stanley Cup, which you later use to both feed chow to your dog and ice cream to your cousins, though not at the same time.
You text a photo of you sleeping next to the Cup to everyone you’ve ever known or met tangentially, and briefly make it your Tinder profile shot.
After all of this, you actually get to exhale in a way 30 other teams of players never get to this summer, because for a brief moment you can take solace in the notion that you lived the dream instead of wondering what might have been, like the rest of those losers.
So tell me: Who wouldn’t want to feel all of that again a year from now?
Ask anyone who has won the Cup about getting back there again. The response amounts to being awakened from the greatest reverie and dedicating every living moment to return to euphoria. The Blues are, we imagine, no different. The desire will be there.
The question is whether this team has the stuff to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
As it stands, the Blues are ranked sixth in the latest ESPN NHL Power Rankings. They are tied for sixth with the Dallas Stars at 14-to-1 to win the Stanley Cup next season, per the Caesars sportsbook. (The Tampa Bay Lightning, who didn’t win a game in the playoffs last season, are naturally No. 1 in both.) This is around what you’d expect for a defending champion that returns most of its roster: The Washington Capitals were at 14-to-1 last summer.
And they lasted one round in last season’s playoffs.
What about the Blues? Can they do it again? Here are some reasons to believe, and reasons to doubt, that we’ll hear “Gloria” played on the last night of the 2019-20 season:
The Blues won’t repeat because it’s really, really hard to repeat. The Pittsburgh Penguins‘ back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017 were the only ones of the salary-cap era and the first since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Previously, back-to-back wins were actually commonplace: In that dynastic period from 1974 through 1992, it happened 10 times. Then the NHL grew from 21 teams to 31 teams, talent was no longer consolidated and was further dispersed by the salary cap, while the postseason remained at 16 teams.
Oh, and teams that repeat do so after playing more meaningful hockey in a year than many of them ever have before, and being asked to win that war of attrition a second time. In the Blues’ case, it’s after having played some of the “heaviest” hockey in the NHL last season, and basically having a playoff pace from January on after the early season ditch they dug for themselves.
The Blues will repeat because, on average, teams that win the Stanley Cup return with strong follow-up seasons. From 1998 to 2017, and excluding the lockout years, teams that won the Cup have averaged 102.5 points in the standings in the next season. That would have won the Central Division last season.
The Blues won’t repeat because they were lightning in a bottle. You know the drill by now: The Blues were dead last in the NHL on Jan. 3, and then rallied with a new coach and a hot goalie to earn a playoff spot — a run that included a 10-game winning streak — and then roll through the postseason. The chances of those stars aligning in consecutive seasons? The chances that they get those breaks the following year? Ask the Vegas Golden Knights about that.
The Blues will repeat because it’s not that they turned into something they’re not, but because they became the team they were built to become. Ryan O’Reilly put it this way to me at the NHL Awards: “It took us a while to come together and find that identity. But once we did, we became a team that was very tough to play against.”
They weren’t necessarily punching above their weight. They weren’t riding the PDO train, as they were 13th in the NHL (1.002) in that metric that measures, for lack of a better word, how lucky a team is. Once they found the right coach and the right goalie, they just became a solid, hardworking, efficient hockey team.
The Blues won’t repeat because Jordan Binnington won’t be Jordan Binnington again. C’mon: Only five regulation losses in 32 games, a 1.89 goals-against average, a .927 save percentage, 13.11 goals saved above average, .667 quality starts percentage … these are preposterously good numbers for any goalie, let alone a rookie. No amount of ice water in his veins — and, having covered him for months, it’s like the Arctic Ocean is pumping through his body — can chill the concern that the rest of the league will be more prepared for him now.
The Blues will repeat because who cares if he’s not Jordan Binnington again? The Blues had a .906 team save percentage and ended up with a points percentage of .604. The key to their run wasn’t just Binnington solidifying the crease, but the Blues playing worlds better defensively under coach Craig Berube than they had under Mike Yeo, when it looked like they were getting paid commission on every odd-man rush surrendered to opponents. They were the third-best defensive team in hockey last season in expected goals against (137.49), and were sixth best (138.7) in 2017-18. So, in essence, a really good defensive team became great, and then became excellent thanks to the value added by Binnngton. If he gives them average but consistent play, and they defend as well as they can defend, they’ll still be fine. (Heck, that scenario is basically how they won the Cup.)
The Blues won’t repeat because the Craig Berube Effect can’t be repeated. Berube, who finally had the interim tag lifted with a new contract weeks after the Blues won the Cup, went 38-19-6 after taking over from Yeo. He was the perfect contrast to Yeo: a meat and potatoes players’ coach whose even temperament was just the sort of thing the Blues needed when, say, an entire officiating crew misses a hand pass to cost them a conference final game in overtime. Sometimes a coaching change can be like a shot of adrenaline to the heart of a team. But now he’s the full-time coach.
The Blues will repeat because … OK, that’s a fair point actually, and the message of a coach gets quieter and quieter as time progresses. But in his second stint in the NHL, Berube certainly looked like he picked up a trick or two last season, and has the total buy-in from the players entering next season.
The Blues won’t repeat because O’Reilly probably isn’t doing that again. The winner of the Selke and the Conn Smythe trophies had a career-high 77 points last season in a wire-to-wire performance for the ages. That’s a 0.94 points-per-game average, light years beyond what he has done previously. This isn’t to say that one of the best two-way players in hockey will all of a sudden become fat and happy after a Cup, but you can’t ignore the additional motivation O’Reilly had after escaping Buffalo last season.
The Blues will repeat because it’s not just about O’Reilly. “This team showed a lot of character all year long, and then they found their footing,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong told me after the Cup win. “They didn’t care who scored. Or who the stars were.” Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn up front, with Robert Thomas, Zach Sanford and Jordan Kyrou as the next wave. Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko eating up minutes on the back end. Yes, O’Reilly was arguably the glue that held it all together. And there’s no reason to believe he can’t be that again, even if he doesn’t break offensive records in the process.
The Blues won’t repeat because the West is a meat grinder. Matt Duchene is in Nashville. Joe Pavelski is in Dallas. Nazem Kadri is in Colorado. Phil Kessel is in Arizona. Vegas is Vegas. Calgary is Calgary The Sharks are, for the most part, still the Sharks. The Jets aren’t the same Jets, but still dangerous. Good luck, St. Louis.
The Blues will repeat because, to paraphrase Arby’s, they have the meat. The “heavy hockey” the team played in winning the Cup had the expected copycat effect for some teams — looking at you, Milan Lucic and the Flames — because the Blues showed that’s the kind of “by any means necessary” play you need to advance in the West. Well, that and some outstanding offensive talents and an all-world goalie. They help too.
Can the Blues repeat? Absolutely. Will the Blues repeat? You’re going to have to come back to this spot in two months to find out. No sense in making that kind of proclamation when there are still players’ dogs out there that need to eat out of the Stanley Cup.
From earlier this year:
– Trevor bloom (@bloom1123) April 24, 2019
This actually falls under the “Protest Jersey” exception in the Jersey Foul rulebook, as it’s a clear troll job of a hated opponent combined with support of the local team. There’s something delightfully punk rock about it, declaring the Los Angeles Kings as old and busted and the Vegas Golden Knights as the new hotness. Not a Foul.
Are you dead or alive?
As summer hockey distractions go, mega kudos to @GameTimeArt for this wonderful puzzler:
The best hockey player born on your birthday has to score on a penalty shot to save your life. The goalie he’s facing is the starter of the Stanley Cup champs the year you graduated high school.
Do you get to see tomorrow?
– Noted Hockey Fan (@GameTimeArt) July 24, 2019
Ah, but I graduated high school in 1995, so he’ll be shooting on none other than Martin Brodeur.
I think I’ll see tomorrow. Maybe.
Listen To ESPN On Ice
The full season archive of our podcast can be found on iTunes. Honestly, if you’re lounging at the pool, nothing is better than listening to two people who have had it up to here about playoff officiating.
Four incredible things about Phil Kessel‘s house listing
Kessel, America’s sweetheart. will ply his trade in Glendale, Arizona, next season, which means it’s time for him to put his $2.1 million house in the Pittsburgh area on the market. To the delight of literally everyone, the realtor put photos of said house on the Internet. Here are four incredible things about Phil Kessel’s old house:
I have so many questions. https://t.co/fyT96TPhXe
– Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) July 24, 2019
1. The movie room. There’s a chance that this single chair facing the protection screen was placed there by the staging people in order to try and better sell the house. Or, there’s a chance that Phil’s screening room featured a single chair, for Phil and only Phil, because no one else wanted to come over and watch what we assume are a steady stream of Adam Sandler comedies and films about talking animals.
2. Those posters. In the screening room are the kinds of posters you’d expect to see, like “Rounders” for example. And then there’s this:
– king husband (@elanpin) July 24, 2019
Yes, a poster for the all-time Mariah Carey bomb “Glitter,” and one that appears to have a personalized inscription for Phil. As friend Barry Petchesky said: “If Coyotes beat writers don’t ask about this before literally anything else they should be fired.”
3. The wine cellar. Phil’s house had a temperature-controlled room that appeared ready to house a few hundred bottles of the good stuff. It appears Phil may have mostly used it to house his finest vintages of Bailey’s Irish Cream.
4. His office. Phil apparently used to keep his replica Stanley Cups on the windowsill of his office, much like the dad in “A Christmas Story” put that leg lamp in the window of their house. These are all major awards!
“Using the best contracts in hockey to create the optimal NHL team,” aka “Eh, who needs goalies?” ($)
The Battle Creek Rumble Bees is an early contender for hockey name of the year.
The NHL makes an interesting hire when it comes to sports wagering and its place in the game.
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
Round 10 billion of the analytics vs. eye-test debate.
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
My extensive look at the restricted free agents who have and haven’t signed yet.