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Top 5: Reasons the Blues are Contenders

Image via KSDK.com

The Blues, currently sitting at 4th Place in the West with 60 points, have had their best season to date in years. And folks, that’s not a fluke.

1. The coaching is there: Not discounting what Andy Murray and Davis Payne brought to the table, but Ken Hitchcock has truly been able to take the rains and get players to play. Halak has taken his spot back as the number one goaltender, while TJ Oshie has proven why he belongs on a top line – all with Hitchcock’s help. The early-season move was a bit unexpected, but could not have been placed at a more opportune time.

2. Home is where the heart is. The Blues have the best home record in the league at 19-3-3. That’s not a coincidence. Scottrade Center has become one of the more difficult rinks to play at, and with an ever expanding fan base (yes, even those bandwagoners), the team knows the 6th man will make a difference. That big blue bear helps, too.

3. The Central Division: Let’s not discount the fact that the Central division, with the exception of the Blue Jackets, is arguably the best division in the league. Seeing Detroit and Chicago six times a year is a challenge, as well as Vezina Trophy hopeful Pekka Rinne and the Predators. Unlike many college teams, no one can say the Blues have an “easy schedule” (14 back-to-back series this season).

4. We’re not afraid. You won’t meet another team that uses their size like St. Louis. From 6-3, 225lb. David Backes (who has it out for any man who’s ever stepped foot onto a Team Canada roster) to “5-10, 198lb” (talk about exaggeration…) Vladimir Sobotka, this is a team that knows how to play rough. The physical presence on the ice extends from forwards to defensemen, and (almost) always stays within the Shanaban rules.

5. It’s about damn time. The last playoff run the Blues had in 2001. The last cup appearance was in 1970 with Scotty Bowman as our head coach. This is a team that has been in a rebuilding phase for 5 years, and it’s time for the team to be built. This is a group of guys who want to win, and that determination will take them as far as they want to go. Hopefully, that will be at a parade on Market St.

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Another one bites the dust.

To much surprise last night, Ken Hitchcock was named the 24th coach in St. Louis Blues history – the 4th in the past 6 seasons – to “relieve” Davis Payne of his duties for the 6-7, 13th place team. Let’s discuss that word – relieve.

According to Merriam Webster, “relieve,” a transit verb, means a : to free from a burden : give aid or help to b : to set free from an obligation, condition, or restriction. With the way this team has played since January 2010 when Payne took over, a “relief” is just what it is – for Payne, that is.

“It’s shocking and it’s disappointing, but in the end, you’re responsible for all the areas of your hockey team,” Payne said. “There were pieces that weren’t firing on all cylinders and it’s under my umbrella of responsibility. But I also can say that we were looking at a favorable schedule ahead and ready to turn the corner.

“That said, if this is what gets things going, then I’m all for it. I wish nothing but the best for the team and this group of guys. They deserve it.”

via No Jackets required: Ken Hitchcock hired by Blues, Payne fired – Puck Daddy – NHL Blog – Yahoo! Sports.

However, is it really his fault? The blues “relieved” Andy Murray back in January 2010 when I was writing for Inside Hockey magazine. I broke the news for MSN. From the first presser, Davidson summed up the mistakes Murray made quite clearly.

“If a kid is not practicing hard or making redundant mistakes over and over again, then maybe he deserves to sit on his butt,” he said. “But if a kid’s making mistake out of passion or out of try and has worked his butt off at practice, stick him back on the ice and let him play.”

So here we are, almost two years later, with Davis Payne being “relieved” for a similar reason – the lack of young player development. Does anyone else find it odd that two good coaches could not help the development of this team over four years?

As I’ve said before, “Coach” is another term for “Scapegoat.” Sure, he creates the lines and earns the respect and trust of his players, however he isn’t the one out there missing practice or shooting goals in his own net.

Do I agree that we needed a change? Of course. This team is built to win, however they just can’t get it together. Do I think Payne is 100 percent to blame? Not at all. Accountability has hurt this team since the lock-out, and until that changes, the Blues won’t.

I do believe that Hitchcock will be a nice switch, however his coaching style is quite similar to Andy Murray, and while that will benefit our new veteran leadership, I’m not sure how the young guys will take it. In a perfect world, they will adapt well and quickly. With a five-game home stand, there is no better time for Hitchcock to take the rains and go. Let’s just hope the team is behind him, 100 percent.