The St. Louis Blues season has not gone according to plan. A team picked by many in the offseason to compete for the Stanley Cup after making sweeping changes to the forward group, the Blues find themselves sitting just one point out of last place in the entire NHL. Their ten wins through 28 games ranks ahead of only Chicago’s nine, and a -16 goal differential puts them among the league’s worst.
Changes have already come, as the team fired head coach Mike Yeo early in the year and replaced him with Craig Berube behind the bench. Just recently the team has decided to recall goaltender Jordan Binnington from the minor leagues to replace struggling backup Chad Johnson, and rumors have swirled around captain Alex Pietrangelo who remains sidelined with a hand injury. None of that though has resulted in real results on the ice or in the standings, and the frustration is obviously building in the St. Louis dressing room. Today at practice during a particularly physical drill a fight broke out between Robert Bortuzzo and Zach Sanford, likely a result of that frustration building inside members of the Blues.
Fights between teammates like this aren’t entirely uncommon in professional sports, but still illustrate how players are feeling during a season of disappointment. Chris Butler, who has experienced a fair bit of struggle through his long professional career, was incredibly articulate in his explanation of that frustration and disappointment today:
Guys are at a point right now where they’re so frustrated with how things have gone, that you then start sitting back. You then start lacking that aggressiveness to your game, where if you’re going to make mistakes we have to make them [while] being aggressive. We gave up the line on some rush chances, we backed in a little bit too quickly at times just because I think guys are afraid of making that second mistake, or making that turnover, that bad read that may lead to something.
It’s a fragile group. It’s hard to go out there and just play and have fun and enjoy the game when things aren’t going your way. So how do you get back to that point? I’m not sure, but it’s something we’re going to continue to stress. It’s that mental toughness. You have to show up every single day, every single shift and find a way to contribute in a positive way.
There’s no doubt that the Blues are searching for a way to turn things around this season and won’t be one of the teams throwing in the towel anytime soon. The team invested heavily in players like Tyler Bozak, Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron in order to give them some more depth up front, and so far it hasn’t turned into much on the scoreboard. Young players like Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas will be ready to make a bigger impact eventually, but right now it’s up to the veteran core of the team—or perhaps the front office—to find a way to right the ship. That could come with more transactions, or it could come from just performing closer to expectations. One way or another we’ll find out who the Blues really are over the next few months, and how they deal with this situation.