In St. Louis, more fans are bleeding blue than ever.
In a town known for Cardinal nation, a small set of fans have been bleeding blue, cheering the Blues from the worst attendance the year after the lockout to now selling out Scottrade Center on a nightly basis.
The fans saw the Blues rise to the top of the Central Division and second place in the Western Conference last season, which produced the second-best statistical campaign the club has seen in its history. The Blues rewarded the passion of the fans with the first playoff series win since 2002.
The Blues are finally back to the success that saw the club post a 25-year playoff streak and the fans deserved to be pumped for the future.
The Blues made history last season, winning the Central Division for only the second time in the Central's history and on only the second occasion since 2001 that the Red Wings did not win the Central.
For the Blues, they were only five points behind the 1999-2000 team, which won the Presidents' Trophy.
The Blues showed that they could be an elite team in the NHL and now have to prove they can continue to be one.
The Blues have a target on their back and are going to have to perform well. Blues fans get to go see them defend their title and try to be the first team since the 1997-1998 Dallas Stars to repeat as Central champs and not be the Red Wings.
The Central is arguably the best division in the NHL, and the Blues were the best last year. Everyone wants to beat the best.
Because it has taken a while for the Blues to become relevant again, rivalries have taken a hit. The Blues formed one with the Blue Jackets because they were competing to not be last in the division.
But now, the Blues are fighting off the Red Wings and Blackhawks to win the division.
In the late-90s and early-2000s, the Blues and Red Wings always seemed to meet in the playoffs. From 1996-2002, the teams would meet in the playoffs four times and would also play six games against each other in the regular season. The animosity would always be in the forefront and the players despised each other.
But before the Red Wings, the Blues and Blackhawks were rivals. The Blues and Blackhawks formed one of the most intense rivalries because of fights and penalty minutes between the two clubs. The rivalry culminated during the St. Patrick's Day Massacre.
One of the biggest complaints that Blues fans have is that the team has never had a solid owner. Fans claim that if the Blues had a stable owner committed to the team long-term, there may have been a Stanley Cup in St. Louis already.
But all of that can change.
The Blues changed owners to Tom Stillman on May 10, 2012 and he is committed to bringing a Stanley Cup to St. Louis.
Stillman has the pockets to lure top free agents to St. Louis and is ready to deliver St. Louis its first Stanley Cup.
Blues fans may not have to complain about an owner for much longer.
Perhaps the most sought-after prospect in the pipeline has been Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko has not been courted by other teams, though, but by the Blues.
The Blues drafted Tarasenko in the first round of the 2010 NHL draft at the 16th spot. Tarasenko was seen as a high-risk/high-reward draft pick because while he had tremendous ability, it was unsure if he would even come to the NHL.
For the past two seasons, the Blues have been courting Tarasenko, trying to lure him to the NHL. Over those two seasons, suiting up for two different KHL clubs, Tarasenko played in 96 games and scored 66 points, while playing the majority of his ice time on the bottom two lines.
But when he was placed on the first line for the playoffs with SKA Saint Petersburg, Tarasenko scored 16 points in 15 games. Rather than continuing to play on the lower lines, Tarasenko agreed to come to the Blues and signed a three-year entry level contract.
Tarasenko has the ability to be the pure goal scorer the Blues need and fans should be excited about his potential.
If only one person received credit for the success of the Blues last season, Ken Hitchcock would receive it.
Hitch posted a 43-15-11 record through 69 games last season, good enough for a .623 win percentage, and a .703 point percentage. Both of those are the best for any Blues head coach in a single season.
For his success with the Blues, Hitchcock won the Jack Adams Trophy, awarded to the best coach in the NHL. Hitchcock won the award because of his philosophy of defense-first hockey and the team's acceptance of the philosophy to win.
Hitchcock has the ability to lead the Blues to their best season ever and possibly their first Stanley Cup. That is enough to get fans excited.
While Hitchcock was the coach of the year last season, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott were the goalies of the year.
Halak came to St. Louis to be the goalie of the future, but a lackluster season gave the fans doubt. Management still saw potential, and signed Brian Elliott to back him up. Elliott then became the breakout star of the year.
Halak struggled out of the gate, and Elliott came in to steal the show. His outstanding opening performance forced Halak to contend for his job and the two became the most effective goaltending tandem in the NHL.
Last season, Halak and Elliot tied the post-expansion record with 15 shutouts. Elliot set Blues records for lowest goals-against average (1.56), highest save percentage (.940) and longest shutout minutes (241:33).
The two had the lowest goals-against average combined with 1.87, earning them the William M. Jennings Trophy.
The Blues may have seen the best goaltending tandem since Jacques Plante/Glenn Hall. Another season with that kind of success will surely give the Blues a great chance at the Cup.
One of the reasons that the Blues have been building towards their success is because of the drafting the Blues did. The Blues drafted now big names such as David Perron, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Ryan Reaves and Alex Pietrangelo.
All of these players are a part of the core players the Blues use, whether it be in goal scoring, leading or being gritty. And thanks to brand new contracts to Oshie, Perron and Reaves, they will be together for a while.
Reaves received a two-year contract, Perron, a four-year contract, Oshie, a five-year contract and Chris Stewart signed a one-year contract.
Pair this with four years remaining on Backes' contract and one year left on Pietrangelo's contract, and the Blues will have their talent primed for a repeat season in 2012-2013.
The Blues will have to work in the future to keep their talent together, but at least for this upcoming season, they have their core together and ready to take the team deep into the playoffs.
The Blues were bitten fairly hard by the injury bug last season, and no one felt it more than Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini. Both players lost significant time in the regular season before coming back right for the playoffs.
Steen received his concussion on December 27, 2011 and returned to the ice on March 25, 2012. Steen scored four points in the final seven regular-season games, but only scored three points in the nine playoff games.
The offseason gave Steen much-needed rest and he should be in top shape once the preseason comes around.
Meanwhile, D'Agostini was hit on January 26, 2012 and returned just a few games after Steen, on March 31, 2012. "Dags" only scored three points in his final seven games of the season, including the playoffs.
D'Agostini needed more rest in the regular season and playoffs, and hopefully the offseason helped him recover even more.
The Blues were lucky to have Steen and D'Agostini return for the playoffs. But with them back and healthy for the entire season, they will make the Blues even deeper and deadlier.
Even if the Blues get bit harder by the injury bug than they did last season, they will not have to worry. The Blues have prospects that are just waiting to take the NHL by storm.
The one prospect Blues fans cannot stop talking about is Ty Rattie. Rattie was drafted by the Blues in the first round of the 2011 NHL draft and has spent his time in the minors playing for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL.
And he has been tearing it up.
In the 2011 season alone, Rattie put up 121 points in only 69 games. Over the course of three seasons and 197 games, Rattie has scored 237 points—or 1.2 points per game. If he can put up numbers like that in the NHL, he will be among the elite of the elite.
Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak will have some competition of their own once Jake Allen is NHL-ready. Allen was drafted by the Blues in the second round of the 2008 NHL draft. Allen has spent his most recent seasons splitting time with Ben Bishop in Peoria of the AHL.
Bishop posted a 2.93 GAA and .915 save percentage in Peoria and was considered to have a bad year. His best season stats are a 2.21 GAA and .923 save percentage while in the QMJHL in the 2009-2010 season.
Also, prospects such as Phil McRae and Adam Cracknell experienced significant time at the NHL level playing games for injured players before being sent back down to the AHL.
The Blues are set when it comes to prospects. All of them have talent and are primed to make sure the Blues continue their success.
But when it really comes down to it, Blues fans are excited just because the Blues are back on the ice.
The Blues have the pieces to be a team that can break the consecutive playoff appearance streak. This Blues team has the ability to bring home St. Louis' first Stanley Cup. The Blues can win. Period.
Fans will flock to the rink because of the success the Blues had last season and the ability to succeed in the future. Fans will show up because they love the sport of hockey.
So why are Blues fans excited for 2012-2013? Because the Blues are back in action.