This year has been downright miserable; no rational person could deny that. COVID-19 has affected everyone and everything, and the turmoil has not skipped over the hockey world. There have been financial difficulties at all levels of the game, disrupted schedules, a noticeable absence of fans, and a myriad of other ripple effects that could take years to sort out.
If you’re a St. Louis Blues fan, you might remember a year that rivals 2020 in terms of misery. Coincidentally, the year to which I’m referring was also incredibly turbulent in the hockey world, and that upheaval led to a completely different era in the NHL. Blues fans, brace yourselves: Let’s take a painful trip back to discuss the 2005-06 Blues.
Life After the Lockout
The 2005-06 season followed one of the darkest periods in league history. The lockout that occurred the season before still remains the only time in North American professional sports history where an entire season, including playoffs, was fully canceled.
”This is a sad, regrettable day that all of us wish could have been avoided,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in February 2005 after the last chance to restore some semblance of a season was squandered.
The focal dispute was the implementation of the salary cap, which was favored by the owners and opposed by the players. We all know who won that quarrel.
In addition to the institution of the salary cap, the league introduced the shootout and a number of other rule changes that we still see today. The pre-lockout and post-lockout NHL looked and felt different, but hockey fans justifiably rejoiced when the game returned to the ice. Unfortunately, the relationship between the players and owners was more fractured than ever, something we’d see bubble over again more than once. There were also some difficulties associated with returning after more than a year off. No team struggled more than the St. Louis Blues.
The 2005-06 Blues were led by head coach Mike Kitchen, who was an assistant under Joel Quenneville until the team fired the latter during the 2003-04 campaign. During the 03-04 season, the Blues finished with 91 points, and even with the midseason firing, they still managed to make a playoff appearance, losing to the Sharks in the first round.
St. Louis lost two crucial pieces heading into the post-lockout season: Al MacInnis, who was captain, and Chris Pronger, who is still the last defenseman to win a Hart trophy as MVP of the league, an award he won with the Blues in 2000. With those centerpieces gone, the roster was in need of leadership and depth. They turned to 36-year-old right winger Dallas Drake and named him captain. Other leadership pieces included wingers Keith Tkachuk and Scott Young.
The aforementioned Young, at 38 years old, led the team in scoring with 49 points; he also had a +/- of -32. The next two leading scorers for the Blues were Doug Weight (35 years old) with 44 points and Mike Sillinger (34 years old) with 41 points. Sillinger also led the team in goals with 22. Their lack of scoring would haunt them throughout the year, and goaltending was no better.
Four goalies played 12 games or more that season. Curtis Sanford was the team’s most consistent netminder, going 13-13-5 with a .908 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.66 goals against average (GAA) over 34 games. Patrick Lalime played in 31 games and went 4-18-8 (!) with a meager .881 SV% and a 3.64 GAA. St. Louis had holes up and down its roster and nearly played themselves out of contention by mid-November.
Feeling the Blues
The Blues were 2-12-3 by Nov. 12, garnering only five points over the first 17 games of the season. That night, the team lost 3-1 to Nashville; it was their eleventh loss in a row. Another losing streak of nine games between January 4–20 put the team at a brutal 10-29-7. To put salt in the embarrassing wound, the team lost 18 of its last 19 games of the year, going 1-14-4 over that span.
Blues fans might have wished that the lockout stretched into the 2005-06 campaign. The forgettable season came to a merciful close on April 18 with a 3-2 OT loss against the Blackhawks. St. Louis finished with a record of 21-46-15, which was good for 57 points. The team finished in the basement of the entire NHL.
A contributing factor to the Blues’ failure that season was tanking for the draft. Although the NHL instituted the draft lottery in 1995 to dissuade teams from tanking, its odds still favored the last place team to garner the first overall pick more so than it does now. The Blues ended up securing that pick in the 2006 draft, taking defenseman Erik Johnson first overall. The team would trade him in 2011 to Colorado, where he still remains, after playing only two full seasons with St. Louis.
The dismal season in 05-06 was the first time the Blues missed the playoffs in 25 seasons. The 1978-79 team went 18-50-12, which deserves an honorable mention on the list of terrible Blues’ teams. With 2021 on the horizon and an optimistic feeling of brighter days ahead, St. Louis fans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing their team is currently competitive and far removed from the horror show that was the post-lockout Blues.