There probably wasn’t a champion worthier of the Stanley Cup in the eyes of NHL fans than the St. Louis Blues, following their victory over the Boston Bruins. At least there shouldn’t have been outside of Boston, anyway. And that isn’t just because the Bruins consistently rank among the most hated NHL teams.
It turns out, even Bruins fans can find something to at the very least appreciate in the aftermath of the heartbreaking seven-game-series defeat. There’s no shame in it. It may hurt now, but there’s a silver lining here.
Actually, there are five. Here they are.
5. Good for Blockbuster Trades
The Blues didn’t just win the Stanley Cup, but arguably last summer as well. General manager Doug Armstrong made a slew of moves highlighted by the blockbuster acquisition of eventual Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Ryan O’Reilly.
Armstrong tried to go all-in by sending Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and two draft picks to the Buffalo Sabres all for O’Reilly. “Tried,” because, even though Thompson can still pan out along with the draft picks, it’s becomes clear that the Blues made out like bandits.
The Blues got a legitimate No. 1 center, who went on to lead them in scoring during the regular season and playoffs. They gave up close to nothing that would have helped them this past season. Sobotka and Thompson combined for 25 points, while Berglund is completely out of the league.
Watching O’Reilly skate around with the Stanley Cup probably cuts like a knife into old-school hockey types. Many had assumed he was a cancer and had to go, simply because he was surprisingly candid in an interview and admitted to having lost passion for the game. So, not only is the Blues championship a victory for common sense, but also for trades in general. It turns out all O’Reilly needed was a change of scenery.
As a result, there’s good news for fans who tend to enjoy watching trades unfold (so, generally all of them): GMs all over the league will have a hard time justifying sitting on their hands after the masterful job Armstrong did crafting his roster. Sure, it’s likely incredibly painful for Sabres fans, but once the sting fades they may realize an NHL in which blockbuster trades are made and then work out means only good things moving forward.
4. First Stanley Cup in Franchise History
If you’re not a Bruins fan, at least some part of you was probably pulling for Blues fans if not the Blues themselves. In the entire history of the franchise, they had never won the Stanley Cup.
Put simply, they deserve this after their first three seasons in existence, watching helplessly as the Blues ended up being the best of the worst only to be thrown to the wolves in a faux Stanley Cup Final… three straight times. They got swept every series, including against the same Bruins in 1969-70. Since then, not even one Stanley Cup Final appearance, until now.
Call it payback or justice. Whatever it is, it’s finally time that Blues fans can celebrate a championship victory. And if they can break a curse of sorts, not having won the Cup since coming into the league in 1967-68, maybe teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who haven’t won it all since immediately beforehand in 1967, can too.
3. No Blue Had a Stanley Cup Before
It wasn’t just the first Stanley Cup for the Blues. It was also the first Stanley Cup for each of the Blues.
While that factoid also pleasantly disproves old-school types who believe championship experience is necessary to go all the way, the actual takeaway is this: Now every member of the Blues does have championship experience. No one can take that away from them.
That includes “old guys without a cup” like Jay Bouwmeester and Alexander Steen. It also includes St. Louis natives Patrick Maroon and Chris Butler who get to enjoy the experience of having won one with their hometown team. Hell, David Perron, experienced heartbreak just last season, having reached the Stanley Cup Final with Las Vegas Golden Knights only to fall short. No longer.
And, finally, Robert Bortuzzo, whose four-year tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins inconveniently fell in between their 2009 championship and the first of two they won starting in 2016, can look at himself in the mirror and no longer wonder “is it me???” No, it turns out it isn’t.
2. Binnington Is the Ultimate Underdog
Maybe the significance of the championship victory is somewhat lost on rookies Robert Thomas and Sammy Blais. After all, so soon after being drafted they’ve been able to enjoy the ultimate height of achievement in their sport. They no doubt appreciate it, but maybe not as much as the aforementioned “old guys without a cup.” In any case, there’s at least one rookie who probably gets “it” more than most: goalie Jordan Binnington.
It’s obviously been a whirlwind campaign for the goaltender. He had only a single NHL appearance to his name prior to 2018-19. Now, not only is the soon-to-be 26-year-old a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate but a Stanley Cup champion as well. It’s the stuff of legends, especially seeing as he was supposedly a depth goaltender, a career minor-leaguer in the making before the magical run.
Everyone loves a good underdog, especially one with as much of a knack for interviews as Binnington. He may not be a man of many words, but he is suddenly one of many accomplishments. It’s the prototypical feel-good sports story. The stuff movies are made of.
1. The Greatest Turnaround in NHL History
Seriously, this is exactly like a sports movie. A last-place team goes on a run to not just make the playoffs, but win it all? Hollywood couldn’t write a better script if the town tried.
Everyone must have heard the story by now: In early January, the Blues were in last place in the entire league. They then played at a 118-point pace the rest of the way to earn the third Central Division seed in the playoffs, upsetting the likes of the Winnipeg Jets, San Jose Sharks and now Bruins en route to a championship victory.
Things like that don’t happen. They shouldn’t anyway, but only in the sense that it goes against everything hockey fans have been taught, namely how “you can’t make the playoffs in October, but you can miss them” and if you’re out of it by American Thanksgiving, you’re done for and should tank by selling off assets to build for the future and secure a high draft pick.
That would have been the easy thing to do. No one would have questioned Armstrong for so doing. Granted, it might have meant his job just like it did then-head coach Mike Yeo’s. Instead, they kept with it. They won. The implications for every NHL team moving forward are undeniable: If you’re a fan of a last-place team, there’s still hope. How can anyone root against that? Even if you’re Yeo… or a Bruins fan.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.