Photography by Kevin A. Roberts
When you follow a team like the Blues, a franchise that has essentially spent its entire history making the playoffs only to come up short of winning it all year after year after year, championship predictions can feel more like jinxes than reasons for hope. Still, we were pleasantly surprised—downright shocked, if you want the truth—to see ESPN's Scott Burnside picking the Blues to win the Stanley Cup. At least, we think that's what he did. There was a lot of hedging, and a bit of overwriting. But read this:
"In a season when goaltending and coaching acumen might be the two most important assets a team possesses, we turn our eyes along the Mississippi and suggest that the Gateway Arch might just be a pretty good place for the St. Louis Blues to host a Stanley Cup parade next June."
I mean, it's only necessary to pick a location for your Stanley Cup parade if you first actually win the Stanley Cup, right?
Now, Burnside doesn't sound completely confident in his pick. He admits that predicting the outcome of the NHL season before even a single game has been played, especially in a shortened season like this one, is a fool's errand. He notes that there are several other contenders: the star-studded Penguins, the Rangers with Rick Nash, and the defending champion Kings among them. And he points out that to win a title, the Blues will need to take another major step forward, building on last year's surprising success.
But hey, let's not nitpick. This is a member of the national media (in fact, a writer from ESPN, the network that doesn't seem to know that hockey exists) paying attention—no, even better, predicting a championship parade—for our very own Blues.
It makes at least a little bit of sense, doesn't it? Ken Hitchcock is the defending coach of the year, having led St. Louis to 43 wins in 69 games (after taking over mid-season) and its second-highest point total ever. As Burnside points out, the Blues had the best defense in hockey, and they won their first playoff series since 2002. (Sure, they got demolished by the Kings in the second round, but everybody got demolished by the Kings last year.)
The team is healthy (thanks, lockout!). The roster is loaded with young stars, with a few more hot prospects on the way. Plus, Hitchcock has done this before. When he was coaching the Stars, they followed up a very good season in 1997-98 with a championship in 1998-99.
Can he do it again? It's an interesting enough question that any lockout-burned fans planning to quit hockey might want to seriously reconsider.