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47th Futility: A St. Louis Story

The year was 1967. New business owners watched in awe as their hopes and dreams of having a professional hockey team finally came to fruition. The NHL was about to double in size. 6 teams previously under the league’s name would quickly become accompanied by 6 more.

6 new franchises…with 6 new names and logos…born into 6 entirely new locations.

One of those 6 would occur in the mid-sized, Midwest city of St. Louis, Missouri, where a long time fabric had been woven by Budweiser beer and Cardinals baseball. The owner of the team that was going to represent the city of St. Louis was a guy named Sid Saloman Jr., and it was going to be his task to put together a roster, a name, and a logo.

W.C. Handy had once composed his music in St. Louis, and he and others prior and future had tremendous influence on the city’s culture. Music, like beer or baseball, had become a huge aspect of that culture, and it would soon serve as a fitting new part of Saloman’s idea for a team name. And after little contemplation, he decided that the team’s official name would come straight from the title of W.C. Handy’s masterpiece. The logo would be designed as a blue musical note, much like the one on a piece of sheet music. Attached to this musical note would be a wing and three musical staff lines. It would come to be known simply as the Bluenote…

The St. Louis Blues were born.

Let’s fast forward to 1970. The team under the Arch, like the other five expansion teams, were just 3 seasons into their existence. The expansion had been wildly successful, and St. Louis, after just one trio of campaigns, had earned 3 consecutive berths in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Three Stanley Cup Finals…that’s an exceptional way to begin your franchise history.

The problem was, each one of them were fruitless efforts. These seasons, which had featured all kinds of promise for the new franchise, fell flat.

4 wins shy of a Stanley Cup…3 straight years….not 1 championship.

That 1969-1970 season was the last time, to date, that they’d reach the Final round.

 

A St. Louis Issue

Wayne Gretzky…Brendan Shanahan…Brett Hull…Red Berenson…Al MacInnis.

Each one of these players have something in common. As you know, they are part of large list of players, and great ones, to have worn the Note. All of them, and many others, have also won a (multiple) Stanley Cup(s) with other team(s) before arriving to, or after departing from, St. Louis. It has been these departures of key players that have haunted the franchise and its fans for decades. You can ask any true Blues fan…it’s a very sour subject…and understandably so. Since inception, it can be to the credit of some of these moves that one could argue, on paper, have cost St. Louis many an opportunity to win that beloved Stanley Cup that has eluded them for so long…

And it’s happened over…and over…and over again.

Coaches like Scotty Bowman and players like Brendan Shanahan, among many others, once wore the Bluenote. After departure, they became Stanley Cup Champions just years later with other teams. In return, the Blues received very little payoff. With a lengthy list of players to have entered and left the franchise, many of whom eventually found their way into the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s insane to think that after 47 seasons in the league, St. Louis has nothing to show for any of them. The ‘Notes have been in an endless struggle to find a winning combination since day one.

That struggle, strangely, has never included the regular season. The Blues boast one of the most consistent playoff representatations in the history of the NHL. In fact, the Blues once set a record for 25 straight appearances in the playoffs.

But as everyone knows, it’s one thing to be good enough to make it to the dance…and it’s entirely another to win the “second season.” That strange inability to win in the playoffs has been a problem seeking an answer for a very long time.

Many people have spoken of St. Louis as a great sports city, with great sports fans, and for 47 seasons and counting, the fans have supported their team through every up and every down. Fan favorites and highly touted players have come and gone. Great moments, and bad ones, have been burned in the memory of every die-hard, loyal fan. But for these fans, there is one very important memory still missing: the winning of a Stanley Cup. Never has a player wearing a Bluenote lifted the cup over his head, or enjoyed a championship parade, or watched a championship banner rise to the rafters.

As you can probably guess, after years of going without, there comes a point when enough is enough. Toss every excuse out the window. Not winning the Cup in a 47 season stretch is a long time to have not put it all together.

Arguably, it is the most bizarre history of any team in the NHL. You win enough to say that you’ve only missed postseason play 8 times in 47 campaigns, quite impressive in any means. You’ve had guys like Gretzky and Hull wear your sweater, which is rather remarkable. Yet in 39 postseason appearances, the number of championships? It just doesn’t add up.

 

Keeping the Faith

It’s now 2016. St. Louis is participating in its 48th season of franchise play. Its 48th! Next year will mark a century of existence and 49 seasons playing hockey, both for St. Louis and for the remainder of the 1st ever expansion class in the NHL.

Keeping this in mind, St. Louis is the only remaining team in the 1967 expansion to have never won the ultimate prize. The Flyers won two Cups in the 1970s, the first team of the expansion to win the Cup, going back-to-back in 1974 and 1975. Pittsburgh reached hockey glory for the first time in 1991, going back-to-back in 1992, and winning it all again in 2009. The Golden Seals had been forced to merge with Minnesota. Later, Minnesota relocated to Dallas to become the Dallas Stars, who found their way to the top in 1999 (led by all-time great, and later Bluenote, Brett Hull). Los Angeles reached hockey glory in 2012, and again in 2014.

There is something different about St. Louis…about the city…about its intimate connection to its sports franchises. The fans, the city, the team, the entire culture of St. Louis hockey is unique and loyal. History might suggest that the Blues deserve to have found several championships along their 47 season journey. Deserving, however, does not always translate to earning. It is this common dream, to reach hockey’s ultimate goal, which embodies all supporters, employees, players, staff, and businesses of the St. Louis Blues. It has linked all of them together, it has made the journey long, loyal, and perennially heartbreaking. But the hope and faith still remain…

And the thing about St. Louis is…they’re never going to quit. Every fan, personnel, and player can tell you what will be at stake come spring. They know the journey to the top is a brutal battle, a test of adversity, a test against the rest of the league’s best. It’s a commitment to the organization, to the city, and to a fan base. It’s the belief that one day it will finally be the Blues’ turn to bask in hockey glory…to witness the excitement and memories of Stanley Cup Championship hockey. It will be their long awaited opportunity to finally say that no longer must they dwell in the let downs of the past. Never again will the attention be on futile runs for greatness…

At the start of each new season, the question on everyone’s mind is simple… “Is it finally the year?”

Every season brings the same hope to the Gateway City, and the current campaign is no different than the previous 47.

In a few short weeks, the Blues will vie for hockey history. The culmination of what has been countless hours of hard work, dedication, adjustments, and training will determine a destiny for a team and its city.

From 1967 to present, the ultimate mission remains the same. It’s a mission which is extremely difficult to achieve, and extremely rewarding when fulfilled. When it happens in the city of St. Louis, it will be extraordinarily special.

48 seasons, 3 words, 1 goal…

Win the Cup.

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