Is Lockout History Repeating for the St. Louis Blues?

Sep 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm
So the NHL has apparently failed to learn its lesson. In a big, big way. 

See, the National Hockey League has this problem, wherein all the owners say they're not making any money, while the players all go, "Nuh-uh!" and everybody just keeps yelling at the other to quit being such a bunch of greedy crybaby whiny douchebags. All of it has culminated in a lockout (currently entering Day 5), the second the league has gone through in the past decade. 

Now, I'm not going to say too much about which side is at fault here. The owners have a right to make a profit, and I think there's a very real chance several of the teams around the league are failing to do so. I can see their point. The problem is, it's the owners who drove the salaries up again this time, failing to realize they were painting themselves right back into the same corner they had to lock their way out of back in 2004 with big, bloated, frankly stupid contracts. So I have a hard time pointing the blame finger in any other direction, to be honest. 

Regardless, my real concern (aside from the very real possibility a second lockout could pretty much finish killing off my second -- maybe third -- favorite sport), is less about what the owners or the league are going to do as a whole, and more about what this lockout business could potentially do to the momentum it appeared our St. Louis Blues were gathering last season. 

I'm sure we all remember what happened to the Blues the last time the NHL couldn't get its house in order and decided to just not exist for a season. When the league came back, the owner of the Blues, one Mr. Bill Laurie, sold off half the talent the team had, turning what was a championship caliber squad in 2002-2003 into a complete laughing stock. What was most frustrating of all was that the selloff wasn't really necessary; Laurie got rid of his most attractive assets in an attempt to simultaneously cheapen and expedite the deal, but really only ended up making the property less attractive overall and dooming St. Louis hockey fans to several truly awful seasons. And that, children, is why none of us will ever, ever forgive Bill Laurie. 

It's tough not to see a few parallels this time around. The Blues have brand new owners this time around, rather than an entrenched entity, which might make the situation even more tenuous. Whereas Laurie should have been in a position to weather the storm, the new ownership group may not have that same luxury. After all, you don't often purchase a property with plans of it laying fallow for an extended period of time immediately upon receipt. It's not a great business model, shockingly enough. 

What is most worrisome, though, is the potential impact this lockout could have on the Blues players themselves. I've always wondered what would have become of Barret Jackman's career if not for the lockout; he won the Calder Trophy (you know, the NHL's Rookie of the Year award), the season before the lockout, but has never been the same player since. 

He's been respectable, yes, and sometimes better than that (the season just past in particular was a strong one for Jackman), but never has he repeated the dynamic play of his rookie campaign. Did the lockout contribute to Jackman's arrested development? Impossible to ever really say, I suppose, but I can't imagine missing an entire year right in the middle of the developmental curve can be all that good for any player. Instead of the lockdown defenseman I think most of us expected following his rookie year, we've gotten, well, Barret Jackman. Which isn't to say that's a bad thing. Only that you have to wonder if things might have turned out differently, you know? 

Now I worry not about one particular player being hindered by an extended period of time being missed, but rather the entire team.  The Blues last year were one of the youngest teams in the league, and certainly one of the most exciting. T.J. Oshie took a huge step forward. Alex Pietrangelo turned into one of the best defensemen in the league. Only Chris Stewart really continued to underachieve (honorable mention to Patrik Berglund about two out of every five games), and I really thought this year might be the season Stewart blows up. 

Just think of it, Blues fans: a whole team of Barret Jackmans. An entire team full of promise, interrupted right in the middle of blossoming into something truly special. The idea is...unsettling, to say the least. 

You have a talented player like Vladimir Tarasenko, who could very well be a big, big part of the answer to the Blues' offensive needs. What is the Tank going to do with no NHL hockey? If he goes back to the KHL this season, does that affect where he'll end up long term? Or what about Jaden Schwartz, the elusive rookie winger who came up late last season and showed off a remarkable Andy McDonald impression? He could certainly go back and play in Peoria; the AHL isn't going to shut down even if the NHL does. But he doesn't need more time in the minors. He needs to play against the best the NHL has to offer and hone his skills further. 

I don't think the NHL could possibly be stupid enough to shut down a second time this year. I really don't. Then again, I never thought they would let things get to this point, either, so I might not be the best opinion to ask on this subject. The last time a lockout came around, it threw the Blues into complete turmoil and doomed the franchise to along, extraordinarily painful rebuilding process. The team was finally beginning to show signs of a return to the ranks of the elite in the NHL this past season after Ken Hitchcock brought his own personal brand of winning to the franchise. I think we all need to cross our fingers, say a prayer, or do that clap-to-bring-Tinkerbell-back-to-life thing really, really hard and hope what looked like a remarkably promising Blues team isn't again derailed by the league just shutting down.