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Benjamin Hochman is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Blues and Sharks skate in game 4 of the semifinals

A Sharks slap shot hit the crossbar and bounces out during the second period of the game between the Blues and the San Jose Sharks in the semifinals of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Friday, May 17, 2019, at the Enterprise Center. Sharks Tomas Hertl and Blues Colton Parayko struggle for position as Blues goalie Jordan Binnington defends. (Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com)

The San Francisco Giants recently were in town.

They’re older now. The forever fresh-faced Buster Posey now is 32. So is Brandon Crawford, and the gold has worn off the shortstop’s glove. Even Madison Bumgarner is, at least occasionally, mortal. He allowed more runs (six) than innings pitched (five) last Wednesday at Busch Stadium. And manager Bruce Bochy has only a few weeks left wearing his Giants hat — until it’s back on his head on his Cooperstown plaque.

But these names and faces evoke Octobers. They were once postseason giants. They’re remembered as great champions. But they’re also remembered for their eternal reminder — it’s crazy-hard to repeat.

No team in sports has ever taught us more about the difficulties of repeating than the Giants — they won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, yet didn’t even make the playoffs in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Three-time champions in six years — and not one repeat in there.

Seeing the Giants in St. Louis made me think of the Blues.

Our town’s team accomplished the impossible — from the fewest points in the NHL in early January to Stanley Cup champs. And now the Blues will try to accomplish the improbable — a modern sports team repeating as champions.

The Blues should be pretty good this season. They’ll make the playoffs, could win a round or two. But it’s hard to think they can win it all, yet again.

If anything, the odds are against them. And not just the Vegas odds — the Action Network has the Blues at 16-1 to win the Cup in 2020, as does VegasInsiders.com (both sites have five other teams with the same or better odds to win it all). But the odds of repeating are so low, because of so many facets and factors.

There was the wear and tear on the body during the long playoff run (that most other teams didn’t endure). The shortened summer of training, compared to the other teams. The threat of injuries because of that. The hangover because of the Cup — first literally and then figuratively. And in this particular season, perhaps the best regular-season team of this generation — the Tampa Bay Lightning — returns for revenge after being ousted in the first round of the playoffs. Oh — and the Blues’ division, already “Norris-like,” was bolstered with acquisitions.

Only once in the salary-cap era (2016 and 2017) has an NHL team been back-to-back champions. That was the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were blessed with a generational talent in Sidney Crosby. Before that, the last Cup repeat winners were the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Baseball hasn’t had a repeat World Series champ since the Yankees’ three-peat from 1998-2000, back when the Blues’ Robert Thomas was in diapers. The last NFL repeat was New England in 2004 and 2005. And since we’re an MLS town now, how about this — Major League Soccer hasn’t had a repeat winner since the LA Galaxy in 2011 and 2012.

The Blues open camp on Friday. That looks wrong. This Friday? Weren’t we all just at the Cup parade? Is Brett Hull even recovered? But it’s true. It still seems like they just won the title, and now they’re preparing to defend it. And they have exceedingly high amount of exhibition games, too — eight. It’s all happening. Fast. The season opener is October 2 (incidentally, the first game of the National League Division Series is October 3).

The Blues’ front office did a steadfast and stellar job at retaining every free agent but one, and it made sense, with younger players on the cusp, to part ways with Patrick Maroon. Now, there is a very good chance that either the Blues or Maroon will win the Cup in 2020, because he’s on the Lightning.

But the Blues’ nucleus is pretty much the same one that arrived to camp a year ago, back when many people, including coach Mike Yeo, thought it was a group that could compete for a Cup. Again, this 2019-20 team should be good. And there are some firecracker prospects who hope to crack the club like the rookie Thomas did last year, and Vince Dunn the year before that.

Can Jordan Binnington play at the same level as last season? Of course not. But he still can be expected to play at a high level. And the Blues’ blossoming stars that beat the Stars (and Jets and Sharks and Bruins) return to the ice in their prime.

A lot of how the Blues do will be because of how the leadership leads. There is such a fine line between using past success as motivation and resting on laurels. This offseason, Blues players had to work harder and smarter in less time than opponents. But the Blues have something the other teams don’t — the confidence of knowing they have a group that can win a Cup. But surely, during the course of this year, the players will also be told that “last year was last year.” The messages sent by the coaches and captain must be synchronized.

If we learned anything from last season, it’s that the expected is often trumped by the unexpected.

For all the hockey analytics and scouting that goes into a season, sometimes it comes down to a little luck or a magic stick. That’s what makes it fun. That’s what made it fun — the greatest ride in St. Louis sports history.

The Blues are at it again. It’s (almost) hockey season. Get Craig Berube behind the bench and Ryan O’Reilly on the dot and Chris Kerber on the radio airwaves and Jeremy Boyer on the arena organ and let’s do this. Should be another thrill ride — though maybe not as bumpy.

But as for this year’s team trying to repeat — they might be Giants.

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