As 2016 comes to a close, the halfway point of the season is reached as well. The St. Louis Blues have had a successful season so far, currently holding sole possession of third place in the Central Division. While they can be content with their place in the league at the moment, there are a number of things to look forward to in the New Year for hockey in the Gateway City.
2017 Winter Classic
In the most immediate future, the Blues will take the ice outside on the second day of the New Year. The match-up will be held at Busch Stadium, home to the St. Louis Cardinals, and they will take on their greatest rival in the Chicago Blackhawks.
Outdoor events in the NHL happen every year and have become somewhat normal for fans and players alike. This game, though, will be special. St. Louis has never participated in an outdoor event despite having reportedly expressed interest since 2011.
The time is now right for the Blues and their hopes of returning to the root of hockey are being fulfilled. Even better, though, is that they get to share the experience at home with their hometown fans in their city. The only thing that could really make next Monday’s event better would be a victory over the Blackhawks.
The event aside, this game is important for St. Louis. They have two games in-hand over Chicago and would benefit greatly from a victory over their division rivals. Divisional match-ups are always a four-point outing and a regulation win over the Hawks in the Winter Classic would be a step in the right direction for the Blues at the perfect time of the year.
St. Louis has been the benefactor of some excellent play by young guns in 2016 and that will only continue in the new year. As players, like Colton Parayko and Robby Fabbri, get more experience under their belts they will only continue to improve.
Considering they are already playing at such a high level, it is exciting to think about where they will be in a year. This new wave of skilled young players comes at the perfect time for the Blues.
It is Ken Hitchcock’s last season behind the bench and St. Louis wants to make it memorable. Doing so will be due, in part, to the success of key young players on the team. Opposing teams are often preoccupied with the myriad of well-known players sporting the blue note, so having less known players take advantage of their lesser status is a valuable asset.
While Vladimir Tarasenko and Kevin Shattenkirk are still making strides in their games respectively, having new developing players is always something to be thankful for and excited about.
Although it is too early to make claims of playoff appearances with any sort of certainty, the Blues are a likely candidate to make an appearance. They have a five-year playoff streak going and with this club, it would be surprising for them to be absent for next year’s postseason.
Making the playoffs, however, is an expectation for the Blues. They will not be happy with any result that does not end with a Stanley Cup banner being raised in Scottrade Center because they have set the bar that high for themselves.
It has been a difficult path for the Blues over the past few seasons and their prior playoff performances have been anything but spectacular. Last season, though, they managed to make it past the first two rounds. Despite their Western Conference Final elimination, the Blues took key steps in the right direction.
Their confidence was built and the 2016 postseason provided the foundation upon which this club can build. Especially considering the two teams they eliminated on their way to the Western Conference Finals.
To say that making it to the finals is expected of this team would be a bold but very true statement. They are wanting to make it as far as they possibly can to make 2017 the year they finally hoist the cup.
It has been half a century of the Blues fighting to be champions and if they can truly play to the best of their ability, there is no reason next year’s playoffs will not end in pure bliss.
The new year is a time to reflect on the past and look to the future positively. Considering the happenings of 2016 for the Blues, it seems likely that 2017 could be their year.
Fortunately, the wait is almost over.
Allison Scott is currently pursuing a journalism degree at the University of Missouri. She is passionate about the NHL and is a fan of both the St. Louis Blues and her hometown Dallas Stars. More articles by Allison can be found on Blackout Dallas where she covers the Stars. Follow Allison on twitter for more hockey and random tweets! @allisonnnscott