Deliberately ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. It’s still there. You only make it worse by pretending it doesn’t exist. And sooner or later, it may rear its ugly, snake-like face and make you regret not addressing it sooner.
On the surface, things look swell for the St. Louis Blues. The team is competing for President’s Trophies and the roster is deeper than it’s ever been, filled with the likes of David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Steen, Alex Pietrangelo, Patrick Berglund, and Paul Stastny.
But there is an elephant in the room: having signed those players, the Blues have to actually pay them and still find a way to make a profit. For the Blues, this is easier said than done.
The Blues’ Finances Are Shockingly Bad
In 2006, the Blues were ranked as the 16th most valuable NHL franchise out of 30 teams, valued at $150 million. By 2012, the Blues had dropped to DEAD LAST in the league. And despite moving up to number 28 in 2013, the Blues are still worth less than the likes of the Arizona Coyotes, the Florida Panthers, the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Nashville Predators, to name a few.
Just let that sink in for a second:
The Blues are doing worse than the NHL’s most godforsaken hockey wasteland (Phoenix), a place so toxic the NHL itself had to step in and run the team.
Even more alarming, the Blues have already been sold twice in the last 8 ½ years. In 2006, after losing the GDP of a small country (the Blues lost $91 million over the previous five years, by far the biggest loss in the NHL), billionaire Bill Laurie had had enough. In stepped Dave Checketts. And in 2006, the Blues actually made money for the first time in a long time, ending up a whopping $1 million in the black.
But it was not to last.
Since 2006, the Blues have lost between $2 and $10 million EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Checketts, not surprisingly, did not care for losing millions of dollars, and so he sold the team in 2012 to a new ownership group let by Tom Stillman, which graciously kept the team in St. Louis.
In 2012 (-$10 million) and 2013 (-$2.5 million), the Blues continued to lose money.
This Is the Perfect Time to Panic
When Stillman bought the Blues in 2012, Bernie Miklasz wrote this (emphasis mine):
Fans already are clamoring for Stillman to increase the player payroll and go on a wild spending splurge in the summer free-agent market. That’s unlikely, if not impossible. . . . If you think that Stillman is rolling in money and can engage in bidding wars for free agents with Detroit’s Mike Ilitich or the Wirtz family in Chicago, think again.
This fair and reasonable prediction turned out to be completely wrong. Under Stillman’s watch, the Blues have vastly increased player payroll, literally to almost the maximum allowed under the NHL’s salary cap, and they signed arguably the top player in free agency (Paul Stastny) to a huge, $28 million, four year contract. Next year, there are going to be A LOT of players that need to be signed or replaced, and very little money to do it.
From the outside looking in, this looks incredibly foolish. Increasing your spending when you are already hemorrhaging money is a good way to go bankrupt.
There has to be some explanation us fans are not privy to. Perhaps the current ownership figures a deep postseason run is the only thing that can save them, financially, so they might as well go for it, balls to the wall. Or maybe they just want to run the team into the ground and sell it to Seattle. I don’t know.
But it’s a gamble I would prefer the team not take. Because if the Blues go up for sale again soon — the third sale in about a decade — it will almost certainly be the end of the St. Louis Blues. If insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting different results, you would have to be insane to keep the team in St. Louis and expect to turn a profit.
The Thin Ray of Hope
Forbes’ most current NHL values should come out soon. I will be watching to see where the Blues are at. If the team is finally making money, then good job management! Keep it up! They clearly know something I don’t.
But if the team is still losing money, then . . . I don’t know, what can we do? Just enjoy the ride, I guess. If you’re gonna go out, might as well go out swinging, preferably at the Blackhawks and Kings.
Just another reason to really savor this season, Blues fans. Go Blues.
Jeff Herman is a Blues fan, hockey nut, fantasy guru, family man, and attorney. He lives and works in St. Louis.