In sports, the challenge isn't making it to the top, it's staying there. The Blues are now in the process of trying to stay at the top.
The Blues had this second best statistical season in 2011-2012, and possibly the best season in terms of fans. The Blues are finally becoming as bis in St. Louis as the days Al MacInnis, Brett Hull, and Chris Pronger were on the ice.
Over the course of the season they had major injuries hit the team, while some players returned from long-term injuries. Ken Hitchcock replaced Davis Payne. The Blues completely switched playing styles, and saw the success it brought.
The Blues had a great season, and they will improve on it in the upcoming season.
Perhaps the most important intangible in the sport of hockey is team chemistry. A team with good chemistry can ride it all the way to the Stanley Cup. But a team with made chemistry can implode dramatically.
For the Blues, chemistry won't be a problem.
Of the 20 starters the Blues had last season, only three are leaving for different teams; Carlo Colaiacovo, Kent Huskins and Jason Arnott. These three players have a combined total of only six seasons with the club.
The Blues also have their young core that has been playing together for longer than some of their NHL careers. Players like T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, David Backes, David Perron, and Alex Pietrangelo were all drafted by the Blues and spent time in the farm system, all while playing with at least one other.
The Blues core is what drives the team and leads the younger players, and they were fortunate not to lose anyone major to free agency or a trade.
The Blues had great chemistry last season, and this season could see it even better.
The Bluess are as good as they are today because of how they drafted right before and after the lockout. Oshie, Backes, Perron, Pietrangelo and Patrik Berglund all have come out of the Blues farm system and are now apart of the Blues' core.
Now, all of them are entering their prime.
David Backes has become the leader of the team and is the oldest player in the core. He has been with the Blues since the 2006-2007 season and has the most NHL experience of the core, at just 28 years old.
T.J. Oshie is just 25, and already has 175 points in four NHL seasons. David Perron, a year younger than Oshie, has 188 points in five NHL seasons. Berglund is also 24, and he has 163 points through four NHL seasons.
Alex Pietrangelo, the youngest of the core at only 22, has only been a Blues starter for the past two seasons. But in those two seasons, he has 94 points and is regarded as the best young defenseman in the NHL.
The Blues made some great picks around the lockout, and it is turning into success right now. The young core of the Blues is just getting into their prime. When all of them hit their prime, the Blues will be a Stanley Cup favorite year in and year out.
The Blues have also made some great picks in the recent drafts, and there are two big names ready to steal a spot on the Blues' roster: Ty Rattie and Vladimir Tarasenko.
Vladimir Tarasenko will be playing for the Blues in 2012, as he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Blues. The Russian-born right winger was in the KHL for four years before signing this deal. In Russia, Tarasenko played for HC Sibir, netting 44 points over four seasons. In his last he was traded to SKA St. Petersburg, where he had 16 points in his final 15 playoff games.
Tarasenko has the ability to be the pure goal scorer that the Blues need, and if paired with David Perron, could be one of the Blues' top scorers in his rookie year.
Ty Rattie also has the ability to be a big name player for the Blues. The Blues drafted Rattie in the second round of the 2011 draft, and he has already seen preseason action with the club. In his most recent season with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey league, Rattie amassed 121 points in 69 games.
Tarasenko and Rattie are both very young players that could instantly make an impact on the Blues. If there are any injuries, look for these two players to step up and produce.
Last season, the Blues had great defense with an average offense. But the Blues will be able to fix that this season.
Of the Blues' top 10 scorers from last season, only one of them is leaving: Jason Arnott with 34 points. Two of those players also spent a significant amount of time injured. David Perron finished the season with 42 points, while only playing 57 games. Alex Steen played an even smaller 43 games and finished with 28 points.
This upcoming season, both players should be absolutely concussion free. If they would have played all 82 games, Perron would have put up 60 points, and Steen would have had 53 points. Perron would have led the Blues, and Steen would have been one point behind the second best scorer.
The Blues will benefit from having Perron and Steen in the line up to bolster the offense. With Tarasenko coming over, and not losing any player with a significant presence on the score sheet, the Blues should have no trouble finding the net this season.
Ken Hitchcock was exactly the coach the Blues needed.
The Blues could not get it done when Davis Payne was behind the bench. Payne was a players' coach, meaning that he would let the players hold themselves accountable when they needed to and would let them figure out how to fix problems in their game.
This lead to missing the playoffs in his first season with the Blues, after picking up where Andy Murray left off. In his first and only full season with the Blues, the team finished fourth in the Central, mostly because of untimely injuries. But when the team started 6-7 in the 2011-2012 season, he was fired for Ken Hitchcock.
Hitchcock took over and immediately made an impact. In his first 18 games behind the bench, the Blues went 13-2-3. Hitch made sure that the defense was the center of the Blues game, and that every person was held accountable for what they did.
Hitchcock became the true leader of the team behind the bench, and his style of play was the system that everyone bought into and everyone contributed to.
The Blues fell flat on their face at the beginning of the season but finished strong behind Hitchcock. The Blues could see a Presidents' Trophy next season with Hitchcock behind the bench for 82 games.