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Want to Have a Crack at the Stanley Cup? Join the Blues!

by Jeff Ponder

Marian Hossa didn't have to go to the Stanley Cup Finals three years in a row to win Hockey's Holy Grail; he could have just been a member of the Blues before the lockout and he would have been ensured a victory.

Does anyone remember those teams from 2001-04? You know, those teams that went to the playoffs every season and made every game exciting. That seems like eons ago for many Blues fans...

Just recently, Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville lifted the Stanley Cup over his head for the first time in his life. Coach Q, who has a 97-44-19 record as coach of the Hawks, could not seem to accomplish this feat with the team that first handed him the head coaching job, the St. Louis Blues. This is despite the fact that Quenneville is the winningest coach in Blues history, and that he took the Blues to the playoffs seven times in as many seasons.

But this isn't the first former Blue from that era that has moved on to better things since leaving St. Louis.

The very first year after the lockout (the year that Blues fans collectively have blocked from their memories), Chris Pronger and his mighty Edmonton Oilers surged as the eight-seed to face defeat in game seven at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, who by the way swung a deal with the Blues to acquire center Doug Weight for the Cup run. Weight skated the Stanley Cup around RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, to the dismay of his former teammate in St. Louis. But Pronger didn't quit there.

After asking for a trade and drawing in much conspiracy, Pronger became an instant leader in the Anaheim Ducks' locker room and once again led his team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007. He paired up against one of the most dynamic lines in hockey, Daniel Alfredsson – Jason Spezza – Dany Heatley, and shut them down to capture Lord Stanley's Cup in just a five-game series. His stubborn play in front of the net and bone-crushing hits were a big reason for the team's amazing run.

But another team pleaded for his assistance. Just last summer, the Philadelphia Flyers worked a deal with the Ducks to send Pronger to the City of Brotherly Love. It was obvious this deal was made because the Flyers just did not have the manpower to shut down their hated cross-state foes, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pronger did his job and proved that he is still an elite defenseman when he was the driving defensive force behind the Flyers' Stanley Cup bid. Even after becoming an even bigger bully to his opponents, the Flyers lost in game six of the Finals to Quenneville and the Blackhawks. It was Pronger's third Final appearance in the five years that he has been away from St. Louis.

But these guys are not the only ones to make a long stride to the Cup. Former Blues captain Dallas Drake won the Cup with Detroit in 2008 after being bought-out by St. Louis the season before. Along with Drake, Chris Osgood, the goaltender who served a short stint with the Blues before the lockout, was a stand-out player for the Red Wings in their 2008 victory. Osgood also made another Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2009 when he and his teammates fell to the Penguins in seven games. Not too shabby for the Blues' former property.

With all of the success that has ensued after the lockout for former players, its a wonder that players such as Pavol Demitra and Michal Handzus haven't tasted the sweet taste of winning the Stanley Cup. One of the players that stuck around, except for a dreadful stint with the Thrashers, was Keith Tkachuk. Needless to say, Tkachuk never got a true chance to win the NHL's championship.

New Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong and President John Davidson have already begun works to change that luck for its players though. Drafting a young core of steady defensemen and colorful forwards started the transformation of the team from their post-lockout stiffness. But with the acquisition of Jaroslav Halak from Montreal, Blues management is making baby steps toward parading the Cup down Market Street. Their motto just may be to watch the former players enjoy their victory so that the current Blues can have the same fate for many years to come.

Thoughts to Ponder: Jaroslav Halak is a Blue at the moment, but what about when free-agency rolls around? It is projected that Halak will be searching for a handsome raise from the current $775K salary that he makes. Halak is expected to reach a top-ten NHL goalie-type salary, so expect to see his asking price to be about a five-year, $25 million contract. The Blues have all but said that Paul Kariya is on the outs, plus this deal means Chris Mason is likely on the same boat as Kariya. Freeing up their salaries should be enough to make Halak happy... With Halak's arrival, the Blues will now likely steer away from drafting a goalie in this year's draft. Jack Campbell was touted to be the Blues' pick, since he is a top goalie-prospect and is not expected to be a top-ten pick. The Blues may want to trade down in the draft now, to a team such as San Jose or Washington, whose goalie futures are certainly in question. Trading down could mean a NHL-ready roster player or a few more picks in later rounds.

Stay tuned in with Jeff Ponder's BluesNetMix blog by checking in every Tuesday at bluesnetmix.com.

1 comment:

  1. Too long and too rambling, just get to the point.