Patience, the circumstances of the NHL gave the fallen Blues time to reverse course
Blues management gave the veteran core of the team a chance to break out of their impressive downward spiral.
Blue teams of yesteryear may not have been so lucky. Back in the day, Mercurial Blues general manager Ron Caron wouldn’t have kept his cool after eight consecutive defeats.
The teacher reacted quickly to serious falls by shaking the group. Caron would foreshadow his trades by noting that “the meat is on fire.”
And Caron didn’t use a slow cooker.
Mike Keenan was even more manic when he got the keys to the front desk. The Blues in 1995-96 used 46 different players – forty-six! — as the greasy-haired despot shuffled his list from week to week.
Today’s Blues are not subject to sudden personnel moves. Yes, CEO Doug Armstrong issued an ominous warning that continued failure could lead to major change.
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But so far, the only notable moves were plugging AHL call-ups Josh Leivo and Nikita Alexandrov into the lineup and sending Jake Neighbors to Springfield for more seasoning.
Led by team captain Ryan O’Reilly, the Blues eventually responded to Armstrong’s challenge. They reeled off three straight wins, including impressive road wins over the Vegas Golden Knights and the defending champion Colorado Avalanche.
“We’re winning a lot of puck battles,” Blues coach Craig Berube said after the win in Denver. “We’re starting to step up our game in the offensive zone.”
The Blues got back on track and began to catch up for the playoff race. His trade cooled some of the talk about reworking the roster.
Armstrong did not take more dramatic action for several reasons. He considers himself more patient these days, though his competitive fire burns as bright as ever.
The NHL’s salary cap system limits trade activity, especially early in the season when few potential buyers have much salary cap flexibility.
Cap concerns aside in 1995-96, Keenan kept players coming and going. Here are the players Iron Mike sent from October 2nd to March: Guy Carbonneau, Rick Zombo, Dale Hawerchuk, Esa Tikkanen, Ian Laperriere, Jeff Norton, Donald Dufresne, Roman Vopat, Patrice Tardif, Craig Johnson, Dallas Eakins, Denis Chasse, Kevin Sawyer, JJ Daigneault and David Roberts.
This season’s NHL trade activity will pick up as teams deal with long-term injuries and the season approaches the trade deadline. Meanwhile, executives looking to buy or sell should be patient.
A tight end might be willing to trade an asset for an overpaid tight end to pick up some combination of draft picks and prospects. Solving another team’s puzzle can pay off in the long run, but Armstrong wants to avoid that path.
When the time comes for the Blues to re-tool, they will do so as they strive to remain competitive. It is not an easy task.
Another mitigating circumstance is the results of the league up during the first quarter of the season. Some hopefuls also got off to fast starts, while many playoff hopefuls stayed around .500.
Some teams have moved away from the group. Boston and New Jersey sprinted to fast starts in the Eastern Conference, while Vegas jumped ahead in the Western Conference.
But the playoff race bogged down in the middle, preventing the Blues from falling too far behind.
The Minnesota Wild started the season 7-6-2, including 2-4-1 at home. The Nashville Predators are off to a 6-8-1 start, with two of those wins coming against the San Jose Sharks in the NHL Global Series and another against the reeling Blues.
The Calgary Flames were one of the favorites in the Pacific Division, but started 7-6-2 despite playing 11 of their first 15 games at home. They recently snapped a seven-game winless streak, but a six-game road trip looms in the final two weeks of November.
The Vancouver Canucks met last season with new coach Bruce Boudreau to raise expectations for this season. But his 4-9-3 start this season has drawn sharp public criticism from team president Jim Rutherford.
The Blues finally settled down by beating the Sharks at home with some long overdue puck luck. Then they ended the Golden Knights’ nine-game winning streak with a resilient performance in Las Vegas.
Then, somehow, they survived a crazy 6-on-3 finish to hold off the mighty Avalanche. This win could be a huge confidence booster.
“It’s definitely going well,” Berube said. “The chemistry has been good. I like the lines right now.”
The Blues will have to get past a lot of teams to get into the playoff race, but they include the expansion Seattle Kraken in Year 2 of their existence and the Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes.
Next on the Blues’ schedule are the Blackhawks, who have suffered a 2-4-1 lull after their surprisingly strong start. Then come home games against the injury-depleted Washington Capitals and struggling Anaheim Ducks, twice.
This core group has a chance to bond and stay together, at least for a while longer. There are many Blues alumni who wish they had the same opportunity.
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