David Perron felt ready when driving to his charity hockey tournament in early August.
Like many Blues, Carl Gunnarsson was ready after his Cup day during the summer.
Brayden Schenn said he won’t truly feel ready until after the banner raising ceremony at Wednesday’s season opener against the Washington Capitals.
They’re all ready to put the Blues’ Stanley Cup championship season behind them. But more importantly, they’re all ready to repeat.
In what might as well be the team motto for this season, Vladimir Tarasenko put it succinctly: “One is not enough.”
The Blues finally got a taste of the glory last season, winning the first NHL championship in franchise history. They liked the feeling. From the tension-packed games down the stretch of the regular season, to four grueling playoff series culminating in a Game 7 victory over the Boston Bruins in the Cup Final.
To the jubilation and mayhem that followed. On the ice at TD Garden after Game 7, on the flight home, at the parade and rally under the Gateway Arch. There was the weekend in Vegas, and for some Blues the NHL Awards show and the ESPYS. Then Cup days for each and every player. So much work led to so much fun.
Even during this preseason, when the Blues arrived at a venue on the road or took the ice for a pregame warmup, they were looked at differently. They had a different aura to them. After all, they are the reigning Stanley Cup champs.
“When you do it once, you have the feeling of winning,” Schenn said. “And how cool that parade was and seeing your name on the Cup and everything else. I think it just makes you want to do it again.”
“As we started winning, you could tell the attitude and the general joy of coming to the rink and playing together was just enhanced all the time,” Alexander Steen said. “So we just wanted to keep that going. I think that’s where the hunger is. And once you’ve had it once, you want it again. It’s pretty addictive.”
Perhaps Ryan O’Reilly put it best. In his entire NHL career prior to last season in St. Louis, he had been in the playoffs only twice in nine seasons. In both of those playoff seasons (with Colorado), he never made it out of the first round.
Then in Buffalo, he was so miserable with the Sabres’ losing ways that he was losing his passion for the game.
“I want to be known as a winner,” O’Reilly said. “I want to win that Cup again, and I don’t think once is good enough. I’ve obviously been through so many seasons that didn’t go well. And then you get a taste of what it’s like and how fun it is.
“Last year’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey. And that’s what I want to have again. I want to win and prove we’re better than everyone else.”
TOUGH TO REPEAT
Only one team over the past 21 seasons has repeated as Stanley Cup champion — the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins. The advent of the NHL salary cap in the 2005-06 season, coupled with the start of free agency a decade earlier, has made the task tougher.
Of the 13 prior Cup champions in the salary cap era, nine didn’t make it out of the second round the following season. Seven of the 13 were eliminated in the first round or didn’t make the playoffs in their title defense year.
Why is it so tough to repeat?
Craig Berube is not a big-picture guy; he’s the ultimate day-to-day coach. But he took a stab at the answer.
“To win it first of all, you gotta have some bounces go your way,” Berube said. “And you gotta play extremely hard. If you don’t do that you won’t win. And to do it again, go through another whole season, it’s tough.
“It takes a commitment from your team to really push through the season to make the playoffs. Because it’s tough to make the playoffs. This league’s tough — there’s 31 good teams. ... And then when you get in (the playoffs), it’s another two-, two-and-a-half-month grind.”
Even with the salary cap, teams manage to keep most or all of their core players. But it’s harder to keep role players. Over time a roster can erode. But in terms of returning players, only one team has been in a better position for a title defense during the cap era than these Blues.
Of the 23 Blues who appeared in at least one postseason game last season, only Pat Maroon and Joel Edmundson have not returned. Maroon signed a free-agent contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning last month. Edmundson was traded to Carolina on Tuesday as part of the Justin Faulk trade.
Of the 13 previous Cup champions in the salary cap era, the average number of playoff participants lost the following year is five players.
The 2011-12 Chicago Blackhawks returned only 14 of 24 players who appeared in at least one playoff game for their Cup team. That’s the lowest retention rate.
Only the 2014-15 Los Angeles Kings topped the Blues in their title defense season by returning 22 of 23 players. But everyone else among those 13 defending champions lost between two and nine players.
GANG’S ALL HERE
Last year at this time, half of the Blues’ forward corps was new. Jake Allen was backed up by Chad Johnson in goal. Up front, it took nearly half the season for the forwards to settle into their roles.
Not so this season. There is some competition for ice time and line/pairing assignments. But for the most part, the players know each other, get along with each other, and know what to expect from each other on the ice.
“Guys have roles on this team,” Schenn said. “I think that’s what makes this team successful. Everyone buys in, everyone feels like they’re important, and I think that was a huge key for us last year. When guys buy in, we’re winning hockey games. And when we’re winning, everyone’s confident and feeling good.”
A year ago at the start of training camp, the Blues were coming off a five-month hiatus, having failed to make the postseason for the first time in seven seasons. This time around, coming off the Cup victory, their offseason was two months shorter.
That made for changes in offseason training routines, less time for injuries and surgeries to heal, and less time to recharge batteries. Tyler Bozak, who had never made it out of the first round in Toronto prior to coming to St. Louis, said his golf game took a hit.
Fairways and greens aside, all of those other factors could take a toll on the Blues late in the season. This past season, for example, defending Cup champion Washington look tired in losing its first-round playoff series to Carolina.
For now, at least, these Blues look focused, energetic and motivated.
“When you do something like that (win a Cup) and you leave the guys pretty quick, a week after, you start missing ‘em,” Bozak said. “So I know everyone was super-excited to get back, even with how short the summer was. Everyone couldn’t wait to get back and start getting after it again.”
As for the missed offseason training time, some Blues are looking at their 26-game playoff run as a form of “offseason training” since it took place while most other teams were off.
“Yeah, exactly,” Bozak said. “You probably have less time to get out of shape, I guess, when you play that long. But from what I’ve seen everyone’s in really good shape, everyone did well on testing, and everyone’s skating well out there.”
The Blues seem determined to avoid the ultra-slow start that cost Mike Yeo his job last season. With basically the entire team back, the familiarity could help the Blues get out of the gates quickly.
Now it’s all about getting to their game. The Blues pride themselves on being hard to play against, being physical, doing the dirty work in the corners and on the forecheck, defending well, working well together. It’s not a flashy game, but it got St. Louis a hockey championship.
Because of that dream season, they will forever be sports legends in this town. Imagine if they won two in row.
Ever have the same dream twice?