Before you can truly grasp the value of what the St. Louis Blues did on the trade market Friday, you have to go back to the Blues dressing room in the Staples Center last May. There sat a completely destroyed team, in a moment of utter disbelief.
You may recall the two major gaffes committed by Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick at the end of Games one and two that sent a ripper of a first-round series back to L.A. with the Blues up 2-0. The Kings had swept St. Louis in the second round the previous year on their march to the Cup, but now St. Louis had L.A. at their mercy. Guys like David Backes, T. J. Oshie and Jay Bouwmeester — high pedigree players whose playoff resumes are lacking — were primed to finish the job and wipe their personal slates clean.
Then their world shifted. Or perhaps it stayed the same as it’s always been for St. Louis.
L.A. promptly won four straight, allowing six St. Louis goals the rest of the way. Brian Elliott couldn’t make one more stop than Quick, and the Blues players — who thought they were ready for a series like this — were devastated to learn that they were not.
Ken Hitchcock wasn’t devastated at all. The Blues head coach was fuming mad at his players’ level of gamesmanship to have given back a series this way.
“What I’m going to tell them is, it’s not good enough,” Hitchcock told us in a near silent Blues room after the final loss had been administered. “If you want to be a champion, it’s not good enough. If you want to be a champion, you’ve got to find a way.
“I hope our players, when they pause and reflect on this, they’re really, really pissed off. We brought everything to the beach, and didn’t get it into the water.”
On Friday, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong landed his players a couple of awesome new beach toys. And after two trips to “the beach” with teams that had a chance, they will arrive this spring with an extra 15 pounds of muscle, and ready to kick some sand in the faces of the guys who have been stealing their girl for some time now.
“The thought of getting the grit and determination of a player like Steve Ott… and obviously Ryan Miller’s resume speaks for itself,” Armstrong said. “We think this gives us a better opportunity for success this year.”
St. Louis has the best kind of playoff experience: sour, unforgettable disappointment. It has a fantastic defence, and it has ample skill and tons of size up front. Now, it has as good a goalie as the National Hockey League has to offer.
The time to win has arrived in Missouri, after 45 seasons of banging on a door that has never fully opened. When they made it to the first three Stanley Cup finals in their existence after being part of that first expansion in 1967, St. Louis looked like Montreal on the Mississippi. But the Blues haven’t been back since, and that may be about to change.
“The deal was made on the here and now. We’ll worry about the future after the season,” Armstrong told reporters, after completing the type of power move that a GM can work a lifetime in the game and never pull off.
St. Louis gives up big power forward Chris Stewart, a B-plus goalie in Jaroslav Halak, a first-round draft pick in 2015 and a third rounder in 2016. In return they get Miller and a supreme third-line hitter/agitator with plenty of character in Ott, the third Sabres captain to be dealt away since 2013.
Suddenly, St. Louis has better goaltending than Chicago. They already have better size, and a defence that’s inching closer and closer to that awesome Chicago blue line by the month. That Central Division series will be the best of the second round, we’ll predict that right now.
This morning, the Blues can look at the Kings and Quick and say, ‘All right. Let’s see who wins now? ‘ They can look at Anaheim and know they’re bigger in a lot of positions, with a team absolutely built for the grind that is the National Hockey League playoffs.
“A pretty big power move,” Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano called it after beating the disrupted Blues 1-0 on Friday.
It was considered a big deal when Pittsburgh landed Jarome Iginla at last year’s deadline. This is bigger.
Remember when the Penguins landed Marian Hossa in 2008, then lost that Cup to Detroit? Or when Edmonton unearthed Dwayne Roloson and rode him to the 2006 final?
This is different than all of those, because the Blues were already right there, minus the goalie. Miller is the final step, the only weak link now welded tight.
The deadline is Wednesday, and as the weekend began, Chicago had no plans to make any major moves. I wonder if Stan Bowman is thinking twice about that today?