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For Blues chairman Tom Stillman, it's a celebration of a title that's still hard to believe

For Blues chairman Tom Stillman, it's a celebration of a title that's still hard to believe

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St. Louis Blues host first open practice of 2019-20 season

Blues chairman and governor Tom Stillman watches during the first practice of the 2019-20 season open to the public at the Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. (Photo by Sid Hastings)

Hanging on a hook in Tom Stillman’s office at Enterprise Center is a black checked sport coat, a bit wrinkled and with a faint smell of champagne. It’s the jacket Stillman wore into the Blues’ dressing room at TD Garden in Boston and the one that was drenched in champagne in the ensuing celebration. He is not going to get it cleaned.

“Rookie mistake,” he said. “I think it’s going to be retired.”

It’s been a wild 3½ months — “111 days,” he notes, to be precise — for the Blues’ chairman since his club won the Stanley Cup. He’s seen a parade, a huge victory party under the Arch, had the Cup at his house, seen his name on it, and after all that, it is still hard for him to grasp.

“They’ve been, in some ways, a little detached from reality,” he said. “It still doesn’t completely seem real or completely sink in that we won the Stanley Cup. I’ll be reading an article and come across the words, ‘The Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues’ and I’m always a little taken aback still. It hits you in my chest, and ‘Oh my gosh, we did that.’ It’s been a lot of fun and at the same time, sometimes (you’re) in a state of disbelief.”

He had the same feeling the first time he saw his name engraved on the Cup.

“Did this really happen?” he said.

That’s not an uncommon feeling around Blues Nation, with a team that toiled longer than any other and a fan base that suffered longer than any before finally winning the Cup. Those days have vanished, washed away on a Wednesday night in Boston.

The new season is here, as the Blues lost at home to Washington 3-2 Wednesday in their season opener.

Stillman is glad those days are over.

“I confess that that got old,” he said of references to the franchise’s long drought. “I understand it and everybody certainly has a right to have their feelings and views about it. It doesn’t mean you love hearing about it or being reminded of it. From the perspective of people in this building, whether on the hockey side or the business side, you can see how the feeling would be, we weren’t here then. We’re trying to do something different now and nobody wants to be saddled with that. And I didn’t really like our players, especially young players, being saddled with that, but it is what it is.

“It is a breakthrough moment, a breakthrough year. It certainly changes that narrative forever. But at the same time, we start a new season tonight and now we need to go and prove it all over. We feel like we have a very good team and still have a window for some time, so nobody is satiated here.”

The Blues are in good shape to make another run at the Cup, and not just this year. As it has routinely been, the team is right up against the salary cap as it goes for the Cup again, something that takes commitment from an ownership group that doesn’t have the deepest pockets and is in the nation’s 21st largest market.

“I think in today’s NHL, it’s difficult to win or even have a serious contender if you’re not in the neighborhood of the cap,” Stillman said. “So that’s a commitment we made because we wanted to win a Cup for the Blues franchise and for St. Louis. That cap is a two-edged sword. If not for the cap, the St. Louis Blues wouldn’t exist. Not in St. Louis. We could not have kept up.

“At the same time, we’re going to have to keep improving our revenues and everything we do to keep up with that cap because it’s going to continue to rise, driven by the big market teams like Toronto and Montreal and New York and Philadelphia that have much bigger revenue bases.

“That was a decision you have to make advisedly after a lot of thought and analysis. Our feeling in the end was, we wanted to be competitive, we needed to be competitive, so we made that commitment.”

Along the way, Stillman has learned the strangely addictive quality of the Stanley Cup. Players, managers, owners all want to get it. And then once they’ve got it, they want to get it again. The Stanley Cup has turned up in all sorts of places around town, and everywhere it goes, it’s the center of attention.

“It’s so fun to see people’s reactions,” said Stillman, who happily shows off a photo of him with the Cup in his arms on the flight back from Boston. “It is this mystical, mesmerizing presence. You can’t keep your eyes off it. People are just drawn to it. Even people that aren’t hockey fans. You just see this huge, beautiful silver trophy with all the dents and you have some sense of the history and lore behind it and it just draws people in.”

The Blues have a couple more weeks with the Cup before it goes back to its home in Toronto. Stillman wants it back.

“It’s very difficult under any circumstances (to win) and it’s been shown to be very difficult to repeat,” he said. “It’s happened only once in the cap era. But it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”

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