It’s been a rather remarkable year in the NHL’s Western Conference playoffs. As expected, the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks vanquished eighth-seeded Minnesota. But aside from that series, it’s been a case of expecting the unexpected. It was a nightmare for the other top seeds. Second-seeded Anaheim lost to Detroit, third seed Vancouver was swept by San Jose and, of course, the fourth-seeded Blues fell in six games to Los Angeles.
In the East, top-seeded Pittsburgh advanced, but No. 2 seed Montreal was eliminated by Ottawa. Washington and Boston are being forced to Game 7 by the Rangers and Maple Leafs, respectively. This points out the unpredictable nature of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s really hard to win, and it takes not only skill, but some luck to win a Stanley Cup.
Like most Blues fans, I’m sorely disappointed and feel let down by their loss to the Kings. I agree that they need a sniper, and I agree that there need to be changes before they can win a Stanley Cup. But I’m not on board with the idea of the franchise starting over again because this group of players hasn’t done it yet.
In 2008-09, the Kings started out with a nucleus of Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. That year, they missed the playoffs. The next season, with the additions of Dustin Brown and Rob Scuderi, they made the playoffs and lost in the first round. Then, in the 2011 playoffs, L.A. – with Kyle Clifford, Dwight King and Jake Muzzin aboard – lost in the first round again. It wasn’t until last year, when they added Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Slava Voynov to their four-year-old nucleus and replaced coach Terry Murray with Darryl Sutter, that they won a Cup. Quick was 26, Doughty 22, Kopitar 24, Williams 30, Brown 27 – and the high-priced Carter and Richards were 27 and 26, respectively.
It took even longer for the Detroit Red Wings. In 1990, seventh-year center Steve Yzerman and a group that included former Blues Bernie Federko and Tony McKegney missed the playoffs. The next year, with Sergei Federov joining Yzerman, they were eliminated by the Blues in the first round. They added Nicklas Lidstrom and a host of Russians in ’92, and were eliminated in the second round. The nucleus of Yzerman, Federov and Lidstrom was added to again the next year, when veterans Dino Ciccarelli and Paul Coffey joined the mix. When Scotty Bowman took over behind the bench in 1994 and the Wings lost to San Jose in the first round, lots of fans wanted to break that team up.
It wasn’t until 1995 that the Wings made it to the Stanley Cup finals, in the fifth year that nucleus was together, and 1997, their seventh year, that Detroit won the Stanley Cup. Additionally, Yzerman was 31 and in his 14th year when he won his first Stanley Cup. Federov was 27, Lidstrom was 26, and Russians Vladamir Konstantinov 29 and Slava Kozlov 26.
This Blues club’s nucleus was started in 2007-’08 when 19-year-old David Perron joined 23-year-old David Backes. The next year Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie entered the mix, and two years later Alex Pietrangelo joined full-time, and the Blues swung a deal for Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart. Last year they had the second-best record in the league and this year, of course, they disappointed in the lockout-shortened season.
I certainly forgot that this was the third full season for Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk, and tend to take a short-sighted view. But the fact is that the real nucleus of this team didn’t get started until five years ago. Pietrangelo will start next season at 23 years old. Shattenkirk will be 24, Stewart, Berglund and Perron 25, and Oshie 26. That doesn’t even include Vladamir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Dmitrij Jaskin, who are all 20 or under. Backes is the old man of the Blues’ developed guys at 28.
I’m sure in looking back that the Kings and Red Wings are glad they didn’t dismantle their nuclei despite the disappointment those had dispatched. I’m not saying this team doesn’t need changes (because it does), and the Kings and Wings made changes before winning that I didn’t mention. But this group hasn’t had a lot of time together and isn’t that old, and the nature of the playoffs, especially in this season, lends itself to random weirdness. I hope the Blues don’t all of a sudden become so impatient with this group that they blow it up and start over. If the Blues start over, it’s not going to be with free agents and veterans. With the cash this franchise has, they’ll have to go back to ground zero with more 19-year-olds if they’re going to start over.
Make some tweaks, but don’t give up on these kids quite yet. History tells us that patience will pay off.