The End of an Era doesn’t have to be graceful and classy. But you hope that it can be steady. Sometimes it’s just time to move on, with a natural if disappointing transition from good to bad, with familiar-favorite players being eased out or traded to clear room for a newer and younger wave of talent. It happens. It doesn’t have to be hideous.
Well, so much for that here in St. Louis with the Blues.
Many of the 2022-2023 Blues have quit on the job. They’ve quit on each other, the coach, the general manager, the generous franchise ownership owner and their loyal, loving fans. With a few exceptions, this group has no heart, no character and no pride.
They’ve disrespected the true-Blue warriors that invested their lives in this franchise: real men like Barclay Plager and Bob Plager and the legion of players that have bled for the Blues.
In a little less than four years, the Blues have gone from drinking champagne from the Stanley Cup to splitting up, and spitting up and not giving a damn about anything except getting paid. They are rancid. They are a disgrace.
The players turned on coach Craig Berube weeks ago, if not longer than that. And now he’s turned on them. This is also a predictable development at the End of an Era. The hissing usually leads to trades, and the firing of the coach.
“A lot of our best players are not doing the job,” Berube said late Thursday, after the Blues coughed up a 2-0 lead through their blatant indifference, losing 3-2 to Vancouver in overtime.
The Blues have lost four in a row – and have given up three goals for every goal they’ve scored during this wretched withdrawal from competition.
What is happening here?
“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask them,” Berube said. “I guess they don’t care about the team. I don’t know. I’m not sure why.”
Later, after praising winger Alexey Toropchenko for his intense and determined effort, Berube came back around to blasting the freeloaders who are stealing paychecks from Stillman’s accounting and payroll departments. On the ice, there’s no accountability. The Blues’ rink is filled with too many grifters and drifters.
“Our best players don’t play with any passion, no emotion and no inspiration at all,” the coach said. “They don’t play inspired hockey. You cannot play in this league without emotion, grit and being inspired. They’re getting paid lots of money, and they’re not doing the job. End of story.”
The complete end of the story isn’t written yet.
GM Doug Armstrong is working on more trades, and hopefully he’ll send a few more of these slackers on their way.
Brayden Schenn – long overrated by local media – has relinquished any claim that he has on the team captaincy after the Blues traded Ryan O’Reilly. Schenn is supposed to be leading this group right now, but he’s a huge part of the problem. His credibility is shot. This season the Blues have been outscored 63-40 at even strength with Schenn on the ice.
The team’s expected goal share with Schenn out there is an absurdly poor 39.8 percent. But this is another horror-show scenario for Armstrong because the Blues owe Schenn $6.5 million per season through 2027-2028. Schenn already is a money pit, and he’ll turn 32 years old this summer.
Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas were rewarded with huge contracts before the season – and apparently those deals include a clause that makes their effort level optional from game to game. Thomas isn’t nearly as impertinent and entitled as the flaky Kyrou, but “RT” should be stepping up as a leader instead of stepping into the mess to make the pile of bull larger.
I don’t need to talk much about the defensemen. This is an ugly, ugly problem that lacks an easy solution. I’ll just throw two quick stats at you: At even strength the Blues have been outscored 59-39 with Parayko in action, and the deficit is 74-44 at all strengths. When Torey Krug is playing at even strength, opponents have outscored the Blues 54-27. Armstrong made another regrettable mistake by signing Nick Leddy. Justin Faulk isn’t sharp, but I don’t think he’s dogging it. He’s just not playing as well as he should be.
Armstrong must make a decision on Berube’s future.
Here are the reasons to keep the coach:
A) He did one of the all-time great coaching jobs in leading the Blues to Stanley Cup in 2019. And as recently as last season the Blues earned 109 points, which ranked ninth among the 32 NHL teams. You’d think he’d get some of that ol’ benefit of the doubt. And maybe he will.
B) He’s an honorable, hard-working and earnest man who is nothing like the phonies he coaches. He’s a much better person than they are.
C) After this season Berube has two years remaining on a guaranteed contract that will pay him $7 million total through 2024-2025. Through no fault of his own, Stillman has been wasting too much money on big-pay, low-value frauds. And now we expect him to eat $7 million and dump Berube?
But is that enough to justify staying the course?
Is it Berube’s fault that Armstrong squandered millions of dollars on mediocre, declining defensemen? No. But let’s be honest here; scapegoating coaches is a preferred NHL tradition. Even the good NHL coaches are victimized by selfish, bad-guy players who know how to toss their coach over the side, and into a deep swamp. And team management nods as the coach sinks away. Can’t fire all of the players, right? That’s always the cop-out logic.
Then again, Berube’s system has petered out, and the Blues may have to adapt to a new style of play. And we can’t avoid the truth here; Berube obviously has lost the team – except for the decreasing population of admirable veterans plus young players who want to work hard, try to improve, and learn as much as they can as soon as they can.
But once the sorry, no-account, high-salary veterans low bridge the coach and weaken him, is it even remotely possible to keep him? If you’re going to reset the roster, does it make sense to start over behind the bench?
Armstrong and Stillman will make that call. The End of an Era is making just about everyone involved look pathetic. Pavel Buchnevich is one established star who competes with purpose, and I’d like to see him take over the locker room. With 24 games remaining in their regular-season schedule, the best we can do is root for the Blues to lose and secure an earlier pick in the first round of the 2023 NHL draft. And it’s a good idea to get the snakes out of the locker room.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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All stats used here were sourced from Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference and Evolving Hockey.