The biggest sports story of the week, or at least Monday night: The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup for the second time in four years.
My reaction: good.
I don't say this to annoy Blues fans. Obviously folks that love the Blues don't want to see the rivals doing so well. This would be like Cardinals fans watching the Cubs (or even Reds) celebrate a World Series championship for the second time in four seasons. It's not much fun.
But I don't hate the Blackhawks.
Part of this is for personal reasons; I just like Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. He's a gentleman, and a helluva coach who got a raw deal in being fired by the Blues late in the 2003-2004 season.
It should also be pointed out that Quenneville coached Colorado after his dismissal in St. Louis and the Avalanche fired him too.
(Then again: unless you've been fired multiple times, you aren't a legitimate NHL coach. What a crazy business; in the NHL coaches are blamed for everything.)
Quenneville, however, followed in the grand tradition of former Blues coaches winning Stanley Cups elsewhere.
Scotty Bowman: Nine coaching Stanley Cups. Five with Montreal, one in Pittsburgh and three in Detroit after his termination in St. Louis. And another four Stanley Cups as a member of a team's hockey management staff. Bowman is an adviser to the Blackhawks. His son, Stan Bowman, is Chicago's executive VP and GM.
Al Arbour: four Stanley Cup triumphs as coach of the NY Islanders after leaving St. Louis.
Jacques Demers: Coached the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1993.
Quenneville: two Stanley Cup championships in Chicago.
Add that up, and an ex-Blues coach has won 16 of the last 40 Stanley Cups.
Of course, the current Blues regime of owner Tom Stillman (and partners) and GM Doug Armstrong have nothing to do with that history. They didn't fire Bowman, Arbour, Demers or Quenneville.
Which brings us to my second reason for not having a tantrum over the Blackhawks toppling Boston in six games to win the chalice again...
This will put more pressure on the Blues organization to get to where the Blackhawks (and others) are.
That's a good thing.
I welcome that.
I know many of you disagree with me on this, but I'm tired of the Blues' rock-star culture. I think the players _ who enjoy wealth and celebrity status here _ haven't done enough to earn the unconditional love and respect that they're given here.
The current nucleus has been together for several seasons. They had a terrific 2011-2012 season, finishing No. 2 overall in the standings but were swept in the second postseason round by the Los Angeles Kings. The nucleus had a good but certainly not great 2013 season, making the playoffs for the second consecutive season for the first time since the 2003 and 2004 Stanley Cup tournaments.
The 2013 Blues blew a 2-0 series lead to LA and got bounced in the first round. In all, they've won a single postseason series (over San Jose in 2012) and have lost three. These guys haven't established credibility as a legitimate contender.
I was bothered by comments made by Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock after the Blues' elimination by the Kings this year. Don't get me wrong; I understand that they were upset by the loss. They have pride. They are competitors. They want to win. Overall, Armstrong-Hitch have provided excellent leadership. I like and respect them.
That said, they seemed offended by criticism over the loss. They didn't think it was fair. They talked about how the current group shouldn't be lumped in with the Blues' historical postseason futility. And that's true -- but only to a point. Again, this current nucleus has its own history... playoff losses to Vancouver (one) and LA (twice) and a lone postseason victory over San Jose.
Hitchcock didn't think the 2013 season should be viewed as a failure; he sees it as an opportunity for growth. I understand where he's coming from. But I come from a different place: when a team has pumped money and invested years into developing a core nucleus and the group still can't get out of its own way in the postseason, then that's a failure. It doesn't mean the regime is failure or that a window has closed or that it's time to write everyone off. Not at all.
But after what we saw from this team in 2012 _ and again down the stretch of the 2013 season _ it's reasonable to expect more. It's reasonable to hold the Blues accountable, and to register reasonable criticism, when a good team squanders a 2-0 series lead. It's reasonable to criticize a team that fritters away leads of 2-0 and 3-2 ro lose lose Game 3, relinquishing a chance take supreme command of the series.
I don't see why anyone should hold back from expressing their frustration over the Blues taking a step back in 2013 ... and make no mistake, they did take a step back. They weren't as successful in the regular season, and they didn't advance as far in the postseason.
Were the Kings a tough matchup for the Blues? Absolutely. But so what? That's sports. You have to find a way to defeat a team that's blocking your path. You can't just lose to them and say "Oh, it was a tough matchup for us" and expect a pass. It's the Stanley Cup postseason; the most intense battle in professional team sports in North America. They're all tough matchups.
You can't suggest _ as the Blues have _ that they would have prevailed if they'd played another team instead of LA.
Number one, it doesn't work that way. You can't choose your opponents. Want to avoid the Kings in the first round? Fine. Finish higher in the regular-season standings instead of giving away games, as the Blues did through baffling stretches of lethargic hockey _ times when Hitchcock publicly challenged his players for failing to "buy in" with total commitment to the system.
Number two, the Kings were beatable. The Blues won the first two games. The Blues dominated the early stages of Game 3. Even with the series tied 2-2 the Blues were right there; they lost Game 5 in overtime at home, and lost Game 6 by a goal. The Kings were there to be taken, and the Blues didn't do it.
We know that the Kings were beatable ... the Blackhawks defeated them, in the Western Conference Final, correct? That's why I don't have as much patience as others do. The Blues had a great chance and didn't come through. And I don't like hearing the GM and coach trying, in their own way, to justify failure.
That's why a Blackhawks' Stanley Cup can be helpful.
The Blues need to raise their standards. They need to find ways to make their team better so they can win the most important games of the year instead of worrying about doing post-series spin control to try and rationalize the defeat.
By winning again, the Blackhawks put even more pressure on the Blues to deliver, to aspire to a higher level. And I see that as a positive. I don't think the Blues needed to be reminded of how far they have to go, or what's necessary for them to reach the level of a champion. But just in case they needed a little refresher on that lesson, the Blackhawks provided it ...
Thanks for reading...