It was the culmination of the unlikeliest of stories, but the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues are Stanley Cup champions. The players arrived in a variety of ways: many were drafted by the Blues, others were traded for, and many were signed as free agents.
That does not distinguish the Blues from any other NHL team; however, there is more than meets the eye with many of these acquisitions. Let’s dig through the roster and find out how every one of the players who hoisted the Stanley Cup after Game 7 made their way to the organization.
Coaches/ Front Office
General Manager Doug Armstrong
Doug Armstrong is the Blues’ mastermind, and has been for over a decade. He joined the organization in 2008 after almost two decades with the Dallas Stars. Armstrong began as the team’s director of player personnel, but it was no secret that he would replace general manager Larry Pleau after Pleau’s retirement.
Armstrong took the reins in 2010. No player on this roster arrived before his time with the organization (with one caveat), and only a pair of them (Alex Steen and Alex Pietrangelo) were brought in before he was promoted to general manager. The Blues are, in every way, his brain child and no one deserves more credit than him, which is why Armstrong was a finalist for general manager of the year.
Interim Head Coach Craig Berube
Rest assured, the interim tag is only a formality. A finalist for the Jack Adams award, Craig Berube took over the team on Nov. 19 after Mike Yeo was fired. He spent most of two seasons as the bench boss of the Philadelphia Flyers before being hired by the Blues as an AHL head coach and was eventually promoted to assistant NHL coach.
Though the turnaround wasn’t immediate, he ultimately coached the team to a 38-19-6 record in the regular season. Berube became just the 11th coach to lead his team to a Stanley Cup Final after taking over midseason, and the seventh of those to finish the job and win the series.
Assistant Coaches Steve Ott and Mike Van Ryn
The Blues entered the season with two very new coaches backing up Yeo: Steve Ott and Mike Van Ryn. Both had ties to the Blues. Ott played parts of three seasons in St. Louis from 2014-2016 after arriving as part of the Ryan Miller trade. He retired after the 2016-17 season and was immediately brought on as an assistant coach.
Van Ryn also spent parts of three seasons with St. Louis, from 2000-2003, before being traded to the Florida Panthers for Valeri Bure and a fifth-round pick. He has been a coach much longer than Ott, joining the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL as an assistant in 2010. Eventually, he was named head coach of the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL, coaching them to a first place finish last season, before stepping behind the Blues’ bench in 2018-19.
The Blues drafted Ivan Barbashev with the 33rd pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. That pick was originally the property of the Edmonton Oilers, but came to the Blues when they traded David Perron to Edmonton in 2013. Perron, in turn, was drafted in 2007, with a pick the Blues had acquired by trading Bill Guerin to the San Jose Sharks.
This one might sting the Boston Bruins, though not as much as Samuel Blais did, laying 22 hits against them in the Stanley Cup Final. The Blues also drafted Blais in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, a big year for the team. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they did it with one of Boston’s picks, which they acquired by trading Wade Redden in 2013.
Tyler Bozak is one of the less complicated arrivals to the team. He signed as an unrestricted free agent before their Stanley Cup season, on a three-year, $15 million deal. In a Players’ Tribune article, Bozak explained that his desire to win the Cup was the reason he signed with the Blues. Few, if anyone, believed that he would accomplish his goal so soon.
Robby Fabbri came to the Blues from, where else?, the 2014 NHL Draft. The organization selected him with their first-round pick, 21st overall, and he showed a lot of promise before suffering two severe injuries. Now, he’s healthy and a Stanley Cup champion.
MacKenzie MacEachern’s NHL debut finally came this season, but it seemed like it might never happen. He was drafted in the third round, pick 67 of the 2012 NHL Draft, after the Blues traded Brad Winchester to the Anaheim Ducks to acquire a third-round pick. He toiled in the system for many years before making his debut. Though he didn’t play in the playoffs, he was on the ice after Game 7 as one of the team’s black aces.
Patrick Maroon was a simple free agent signing. He signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Blues before this season. The story behind his signing runs much deeper. He is, to use his own words, “a hometown hero, baby.”
Maroon is from Oakville, a suburb about 20 minutes southwest of the Enterprise Center. While he played much of his career elsewhere, his heart, and his young son Anthony, were always in St. Louis. He signed below market value to return to his hometown team and to be closer to his son. In the process, he won a Stanley Cup. Whether he re-signs or moves on, he’ll always be a hometown hero.
Jordan Nolan signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues prior to this season after logging 69 games with the Buffalo Sabres in 2017-18. He shuttled between the big club and the AHL San Antonio Rampage for much of the season, but was a black ace during the playoffs, and lifted his third Stanley Cup after Game 7 (winning in 2012 and 2014 with the Los Angeles Kings).
Ryan O’Reilly had one of the most incredible years in the history of the NHL. One year ago, he made controversial comments about the losing culture he felt had taken hold of the Sabres. After that, it was clear he was on his way out and the Blues stepped in to take advantage of the opportunity.
At the time, the package the Blues surrendered felt massive: two roster players (Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka) two picks (a 2019 first and a 2021 second) and a top prospect (Tage Thompson). But Berglund and Sobotka fizzled quickly: Berglund left the roster entirely and Thompson did not develop as quickly as many expected. Additionally, the first-round pick is now the 31st overall, a consequence of the Blues’ championship.
O’Reilly, on the other hand, was more than advertised. He was the Blues’ heart and soul for much of the regular season, leading the team with a career-high 77 points. He led in playoff points as well, netting 23 for an even 100 between regular and postseason games. In the process, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP and capped off his season by taking home the Selke Trophytoo.
David Perron has a unique distinction: he’s played for five NHL teams (the Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ducks, and the Vegas Golden Knights, in addition to the Blues) but he’s never signed a contract with anyone but St. Louis. Before this season, Perron signed his fourth contract with the Blues, and was rewarded with a Cup in its first year. He is also the only one of these players who started his Blues tenure before Armstrong joined the organization. He was originally drafted in the first round in 2007.
The Blues didn’t rely on Zach Sanford much in the playoffs, until he was called upon in the most critical moment. He was chosen to replace Oskar Sundqvist after the latter was suspended for Game 3 of the final, and while the Blues scuffled in that game, Sanford earned a permanent roster spot.
He first came to the Blues as a prized piece of the trade that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals. The Blues acquired Sanford, whom Armstrong targeted in the deal, along with a first-round pick (more on that shortly) in the 2017 NHL Draft. It was a bold deadline sale by Armstrong, and Sanford played a key role in the final.
For many years, Jaden Schwartz has been a central piece of the Blues’ forward core. The team drafted him with their first-round pick, 14th overall, in the 2010 NHL Draft, a fundamental draft year for the franchise, and Armstrong’s first at the helm. Schwartz was critical in helping the Blues advance through the first round and had two hat tricks in this postseason run.
Now we return to the aforementioned first-round pick from the Shattenkirk trade. The Blues used that pick as part of the package to acquire Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers. They surrendered Washington’s first in 2017, their own first in 2018, and Jori Lehtera, who was more of a salary dump than anything else at that time.
Schenn has spent two seasons with the Blues, scoring 124 points during that time. While he was not a top point producer in the playoffs, he scored critical late goals in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. With one season remaining on his contract, he could be one of the first players from this roster to leave St. Louis. If he does, he will have helped bring the city its first Stanley Cup.
Steen is one of two players whose career in St. Louis started before Armstrong took the helm. The Blues traded Lee Stempniak to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008 in exchange for Steen and Carlo Coliacovo, a trade that was considered lopsided at the time. It hasn’t looked any better since.
Steen is a top-ten player in Blues franchise history in games played, goals, assists, and points. He played 963 career regular-season games (710 of those in St. Louis) before playing for a Stanley Cup, something his father, Thomas Steen, never got to do in his legendary 950-game career. When he finally got the opportunity, Alex seized it, and seized the Blues’ first Cup in the process.
When the Blues traded Ryan Reaves to the Penguins in exchange for the 31st overall pick, Sundqvist was something of an afterthought coming back. He’s not an afterthought anymore, as he established himself as a critical piece of the Blues’ forward group and a key penalty-killer. Never was that clearer than when he was suspended for Game 3, probably the Blues’ worst performance in the playoffs.
We mentioned earlier that the 2010 Draft was a foundational one for the Blues. Vladimir Tarasenko is the other reason why. The Blues traded David Rundbland, a 17th overall pick the season before, to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for the 16th pick in 2010. With it, they chose Tarasenko, a Russian sniper whose willingness to leave Russia and play in the NHL had been called into question.
It took a few years, but Tarasenko finally debuted in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s been the face of the franchise. He’s scored more goals than anyone but Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares in the last five seasons, and now, he’s achieved his ultimate goal: a Stanley Cup for his adopted hometown.
Robert Thomas is one of the Blues’ top young players. He was selected by St. Louis with their 20th overall pick in the 2017 Draft. He established himself as a top-tier threat in the second round against the Dallas Stars, even being double shifted at times, before an injury hampered the second half of his playoff run. Even so, few players on the Blues have brighter futures than Thomas.
In the wake of the Ryan Reaves trade, the Blues wanted someone to replace his grit and toughness. They signed Chris Thorburn to a two-year contract prior to the 2017-18 season. Though he did not make a significant on-ice impact, he was a valuable locker room presence and a prized black ace in the playoffs. He was fourth in line to lift the Cup after it was presented to the captain, Pietrangelo.
Once upon a time, Jay Bouwmeester was seen as the last piece in building a top contender for the Blues. Near the end of the lockout shortened season in 2013, the Blues traded a first-round pick, defenseman Mark Cundari, and goaltender Reto Berra to acquire Bouwmeester from the Calgary Flames.
He had never played a postseason game before arriving in St. Louis. He’d never played in the Stanley Cup Final until this season. Prior to that run, Bouwmeester was the longest-tenured player in the league to never have had the opportunity. He played at an elite level in the Final, despite a rocky start to his season, and now can retire (when he’s ready) having won hockey’s top prize.
Despite a lower profile than Maroon, Chris Butler is also a hometown hero. He signed a two-way contract with St. Louis in July 2014 and he has been part of the organization ever since. Butler has served largely as a seventh defenseman or an AHL call-up, and was the Rampage’s captain most of this season. He has served the franchise well for half a decade, and has earned this reward.
Michael Del Zotto
Michael Del Zotto was the Blues’ only trade deadline acquisition this season. In need of some defensive depth, Armstrong traded a sixth-round pick to the Ducks for the pending UFA. Del Zotto played seven games in the regular season and got three assists. He did not play in the playoffs.
The Blues chose Vince Dunn with the 56th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, their own second-round pick. He then made his NHL debut last season, logging 24 points and averaging 17:14 in 75 games.
This season, Dunn was even better, collecting 35 points in 78 games. He was a difference-maker in the playoffs, and drove the play offensively, before a puck hit his face and injured him in the Western Conference Final. He did not return until well into the Cup final, but played well once he was back on the ice.
Joel Edmundson’s lineage with St. Louis traces back to the team’s decision to sign defenseman Dennis Wideman as a free agent prospect in June 2004. They later traded Wideman to the Boston Bruins for Brad Boyes (in 2007), and then traded Boyes to the Buffalo Sabres for a second-round pick in 2011. That pick, the 46th, was used to select Edmundson from the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Like Steen, Gunnarsson also came from the Maple Leafs organization. In June 2014, the Blues traded Roman Polak to Toronto in exchange for the Swedish defenseman. Despite struggling with injuries since then, Gunnarsson has played in 277 games for the Blues, and now has helped them bring home a Stanley Cup, especially with his game-winning goal in overtime in Game 2.
The Blues chose Colton Parayko in the third round of the 2012 Draft, number 86 overall. The Blues were happy to get the University of Alaska-Fairbanks product, whom they hoped would hide from prying eyes in such an obscure location.
Parayko had already established himself as a dependable NHL defenseman, but the postseason was his coming out party. He was critical for the Blues, and formed half of their shutdown defensive pairing alongside Bouwmeester. When the playoffs were over, he finished in the top five of Conn Smythe voting, just behind Pietrangelo.
Speaking of the team’s captain, he joined the organization as the fourth overall pick in the 2008 Draft, joining Steen as the only player who wasn’t brought in under Armstrong’s immediate purview. However, it was Armstrong who named Pietrangelo as David Backes’ successor in the captain role. He finally rewarded the organization’s faith in him by being the first ever Blues captain to lift the Stanley Cup.
Mitch Reinke has only played one NHL game, that in the 2017-18 season. He did set a franchise record with the Rampage this season, surpassing Keith Yandle in scoring by a rookie defenseman. Thereafter, he was called up as a black ace, assisting the Blues in training and preparing for their playoff run. He joined the organization as a college free agent in March 2018.
Jake Allen was chosen one round after Pietrangelo, 34th overall in the 2011 Draft. He was seen as the team’s goalie of the future for many years, before struggles beset him in the last few seasons. He is now an overpriced backup, but he is also a Stanley Cup Champion.
The most interesting arrival story may belong to the most interesting character in the Blues’ run: Jordan Binnington. His arrival in St. Louis can be traced back to Brendan Shanahan and Scott Stevens.
In July 1991, the Blues signed Shanahan as a restricted free agent from the New Jersey Devils. Because the Blues had already surrendered their four first-round picks as compensation for signing Stevens (also an RFA) away from the Capitals the season before, an arbitrator decided that Stevens would have to go to the Devils as compensation for the Shanahan signing.
Shanahan played four seasons for the Blues before being traded for a young defenseman named Chris Pronger. Pronger became a franchise legend, but after budget issues arose, he was traded to the Oilers for, among other pieces, Eric Brewer in August 2005. Brewer was the team’s captain during their worst period, and was ultimately traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in February 2011 for Brock Beukeboom’s contract and a 2011 third-round pick.
That third-round pick, number 88 overall, was used to select a young goaltender out of the Owen Sound Attack. From there, Binnington bounced around the Blues’ system, even playing with the Providence Bruins last season when St. Louis was without an AHL franchise. This season, he made his unexpected debut and the rest is history.
When Binnington ascended, he left Ville Husso, whom the Blues believed was their next young goaltending superstar, in his wake. Husso still got to lift the Cup after Game 7, though, as he’d been called up as the team’s third goalie in the playoffs.
Husso’s arrival can be traced to Tomáš Kaberle. The Maple Leafs traded Kaberle to the Bruins in Feb. 2011 for Joe Colborne and picks. Colborne was then traded to the Calgary Flames prior to the 2013-14 season, in exchange for a 2014 fourth-round pick. That pick was then attached to the Gunnarsson trade with the Leafs, and the Blues used it to select Husso.
What Does the Future Hold?
Few, if any, Stanley Cup teams have ever stayed exactly the same going forward. Will veterans like Thorburn, Steen, or Bouwmeester retire on top? Will unrestricted free agents like Maroon or Gunnarsson move on? Will the Blues make unexpected trades?
The names on the team will change but the names on the Stanley Cup will remain forever. Though these men came to the Blues from a variety of different paths, they came together and achieved something no other Blues squad has ever achieved: Stanley Cup glory.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.