As 2016 comes to an end and 2017 is quickly approaching, it leaves room for a lot of reminiscing. While the year did not go exactly as planned for the St. Louis Blues, there are still some great things to look back on.
Eliminating Chicago, Defeating Dallas
St. Louis finished the 2015-16 season in second place in the Central Division. While they fell short of their goal to be the top seed in the Western Conference, it was still an accomplishment to complete the regular season with home ice advantage.
In year’s past, the Blues struggled to create any sort of momentum with the playoffs and were plagued with early exits. This year, however, that changed.
The Blues eliminated the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round and were able to head into the second round with confidence. They moved on to face the Central Division regular season champion Dallas Stars.
Their second round series was just as hard-fought the first. The teams went back and forth and each struggled at times and thrived at others. Ultimately, the Blues came out on top with a dominant 6-1 victory that eliminated the Stars in Game 7.
After the victory, the Blues headed to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 15 years to take on the San Jose Sharks. Although they fell to the Sharks in six games, the Blues were able to prove to themselves and the league that they were capable of success in the playoffs.
That sense of confidence is arguably the apex for the Blues in 2016, because they can build on it.
Solidifying Jake Allen as Starter
Although Brian Elliott was a big part of the Blues’ organization for five years, his time with his team reached its expiration date in 2016. Trading Elliott during the offseason allowed St. Louis to officially transition the role of designated starting goaltender to Jake Allen.
Goaltending is a significant component of successful teams and splitting Allen’s time with Elliott was preventing his growth. After trading Elliott, the Blues committed to Allen full-time and gave him the best chance to take the team into his hands. While he is not considered an elite goaltender, his play has helped the Blues earn 43 points through their first 36 games this season.
Establishing Allen as a starter was a great decision by the Blues in 2016, but the impact of that choice will be much more evident at the end of 2017. Hopefully, No. 34 will maintain his recent high level of play so the Blues can have more success in the New Year and beyond.
It’s obvious that not making it to the Stanley Cup Finals is the biggest low point of the year for the Blues. Professional sports are about results and last season St. Louis failed to reach the goal they set for themselves.
The team wants a championship and they want it now. The organization has been around for half of a century and has yet to raise the Stanley Cup.
Despite the confidence gained from making it through the first two rounds of the playoffs, it was difficult to see their season come to an end so close to the Finals. St. Louis played a solid regular season and overcame obstacles to make it that far and when it all came crumbling down, it was a hard pill to swallow.
No NHL team goes into a season hoping to fall short, but the reality is that only one teamfulfillss their goal. It was not St. Louis’ time to be the Stanley Cup Champions but maybe 2017 will be.
Hitchcock’s Retirement from Coaching
The other negative aspect of 2016 of note is that head coach Ken Hitchcock will be leaving his post behind the bench at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. His decades as a leading NHL bench boss will come to an end as he hangs up his clipboard and passes his duties onto the next man.
Hitchcock’s tenure in the Gateway City is one to be proud of and it’s hard to see him go. He has coached 363 games for the franchise, posting an impressive 224-103-36. His success with the team has been notable over the last five years and it is difficult to know it is coming to an end.
Although it is disappointing for the franchise to lose their coach to retirement, it is a reminder of how meaningful this season is. Maybe Hitchcock’s departure will inspire the team to work harder and push even more to be victorious when it counts.
The Blues had a good year in 2016. They did not accomplish everything they set out to do but were able to quiet their critics and grow as a team. Whether or not those critics remain quiet, is dependent upon 2017’s events. Luckily for the Blues, that is entirely under their control.