The celebration has hardly subsided, but Blues forward Alexander Steen said, “You’ve got to put it in the rearview mirror.”
The “it” he’s referring to is the team’s come from behind playoff run that ended with the Blues capturing their first Stanley Cup.
“From Day 1, we’ve got to start over,” Steen said. “We’ve got to start building what we want to do this year, bring with us what we can from last year – all the learning experiences because we had a lot of them, especially looking at the first half of the year last year – and make sure that we learn from all those things.
“I think you start fresh. We’ve got to redo everything again, build the same structure, the same team camaraderie and all those selfless things that we were doing last year.”
The team is pretty much the same this season. Oakville native Pat Maroon has signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who did not make a playoff appearance, signed with the Anaheim Ducks.
Maroon will never be forgotten for his huge contributions. In Game 7 of the second-round matchup against the Dallas Stars, he scored the game-winning goal in double overtime to give the Blues a 4–3 series win and keep their postseason hopes alive.
Now, those hopes are focused on repeating as NHL champions. That’s not an easy task.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back titles in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. The Detroit Red Wings did it in 1996-97 and 1997-98. That’s it. Just those two. So, it’s not impossible but the odds are long.
“Before we won, I thought if we won one, it’s going to be enough, but we just want to win again,” Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko said. “We don’t want to lose anymore. I think we have a pretty young group of guys there and it’s good for them at the start of their careers to have Cup experience, and one is not enough.”
The team does not want to be thought of as a one-hit wonder.
“A lot of people saying it was an accident and it’s on us to prove we’re not just a one-year team,” Tarasenko said. “We’re a good team and we can continue playing well.”
Blues coach Craig Berube, who took over last Nov. 19 when the Blues fired Mike Yeo, agreed that the team has what it takes to repeat.
As the team bought into his system, Berube changed the team. He also became just the second interim head coach in NHL history to guide his team to a Stanley Cup title. As a reward, he earned a three-year contract to continue coaching the Blues.
“When we talk about moving on, we can’t sit there and [say], ‘Aw, we’re Stanley Cup champions.’ You’ve got to work,” Berube said. “It’s a tough league. It’s tough to make the playoffs. There’s a lot of good teams. Our division’s very good. We’ve got to get ready. We’ve got work to put in.
“You’ve got to be ready, you’ve got to be competitive and you’ve got to be ready to go.”
Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong believes his squad is built to make another run for the Cup.
“Our team is built a certain way and that’s not going to change, and I don’t think Craig’s coaching philosophy will change,” Armstrong said. “We want to play quick. We want to play heavy. We want to play in the offensive zone. That’s the way we’re built.”
Armstrong did a lot of that building.
In arguably one the biggest moves in the team’s history, Armstrong sent Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson along with a first-round pick in 2019 and a second-round pick in 2021 to Buffalo to get Ryan O’Reilly on July 1, 2018.
O’Reilly was coming off a frustrating season with the Buffalo Sabres when the Blues acquired him. The 28-year-old forward rekindled his love of hockey in St. Louis, leading the Blues with 77 points [28 goals, 49 assists] in 82 regular season games.
He was voted the winner of the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL and the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs. He had 23 points [eight goals, 15 assists] in 26 games to help the Blues win the Stanley Cup.
The other big move Armstrong made was promoting goalie Jordan Binnington from the American Hockey League. Binnington went from fourth on the organizational depth chart a season ago to raising the Stanley Cup over his head in a matter of months. He also went from making $650,000 to getting a two-year, $8.8 million contract over the summer.
Life is good for the 26-year-old goalie, who was selected in the third round of the 2011 draft. All Binnington did when he came on, was go 24-5-1 with an NHL-leading 1.89 GAA and .927 save percentage in the regular season; then, lead the Blues to the Cup by going 16-10 with a 2.46 GAA and .914 GAA in the playoffs, capping his terrific half season off by out-battling Tuukka Rask in the final.
With the team in place, it’s time to get going.
“Basically, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Berube said. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to move on from last year.
“The message is you’ve got to put the work in. This team has good character and leadership. They’re hungry. They look fresh to me and ready to go. They want to get playing.”
Alex Pietrangelo agreed.
“We’re ready to move on. When you win, you want to win again,” Pietrangelo said. “When you’re on top, you want to stay on top. That’s the goal.”
Alexander Steen concurred with Pietrangelo.
“We’re getting back to work. Remembering how you got there is the feeling you want,” Steen said. “Remember that hunger. Now that we’ve done it once, it’s kind of like an addictive feeling.”