After the 1998 Rams season, I walked into City Limits bar or Brothers bar or whatever its name was then. It’s a strip mall bar in Wildwood. Cindy Schuenke was tending bar, and we started talking about the Rams’ dismal season. She said they were hopeless, but I disagreed. “They are four players away,” I said. “A quarterback, a running back, an offensive lineman, and a defensive end.”
Later in the year, but before the season, the Rams acquired Trent Green (and Kurt Warner) at QB, Marshall Faulk at RB, Adam Timmermann at offensive guard, and Grant Wistrom moved up to start at defensive end. The Rams won the Super Bowl.
I won a hundred dollar bet that the Rams would win at least 12 games.
Losers Lose, Winners Win
This fabulous quote from one of my writing heroes came from a friend. I’d never read it before.
One of the most basic factors in sports is that winning becomes a habit, and losing is the same way. When failure starts to feel normal in your life or your work or even your darkest vices, you won’t have to go looking for trouble, because trouble will find you. Count on it.
–Hunter S. Thompson, Doctor of Gonzo Journalism
The St. Louis Blues stand around waiting for trouble to find them.
And it does.
I went to my first hockey game in 1969, but I listened to games in 1968. Yes, I’m old. In 1968, I fell asleep many a night just after the intro the Blues game on KMOX. (“STP: it’s the Racer’s Edge!” “And by Falstaff: the choicest product of the brewer’s art.” “St. Louis Blues hockey.” It all runs together now.)
Hockey was the first organized sport I played. That’s weird for a kid from St. Louis born in 1963 to blue collar parents, but it’s true. Hockey came first. And the Blues stood at the top of my hockey pyramid. It’s all Blues in my house.
The Blues are celebrating their 50th anniversary, but they’ve never celebrated a Stanley Cup. Some people call the Blues the Cubs of hockey, but that’s not right. The Cubs won the World Series before anyone alive was born. But they won. The Blues never did.
Somewhere I have a Pepsi bottle from 1972 that commemorates the Blues six years in the NHL, six years in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But that’s a Pepsi bottle, not a Cup.
Losing Infects the Blues
At some point, familiarity with losing settled in. Going one round deeper felt like a win. That’s loser thinking.
People who say you have work up to a championship miss something. The Sharks, who totally outplayed the Blues, didn’t make the playoffs last year. They’ll probably win the Cup this year. And the series wasn’t even close. The Blues’ fastest skater and hardest worker was about even with the Sharks’ slowest skater and laziest player. In five of six games, the Blues looked like Juniors thrown into a game with NHLers. I’ve watched a lot of hockey. And I played a few years, too. This series wasn’t as close as the score makes it look.
In 1999, Rams coach Dick Vermeil decided to treat the pre-season like the playoffs. He explained that the team needed to get familiar with winning, so he played to win in the pre-season. That resulted in Tren Green’s knee injury, but also resulted in winning. And winning spawns winners. And Kurt Warner had some magic that Trent Green didn’t. The Rams won the Super Bowl that season and returned to the Super Bowl two years later. Like the Sharks, the Rams went from worst to first. They built up to nothing. They took it.
For the Blues to win, we need to part ways with some beloved players who’ve absorbed the losing. We need to bring in some winners. This current Blues roster boasts just one Stanley Cup winner, Troy Brouwer. The head coach won a Cup at Dallas. The fron office houses Brett Hull and Martin Brodeur who’ve won cups. Maybe I’m missing someone, but that’s about it. (Did you notice that Brouwer was about the only guy who showed up for the Conference Finals?)
Four Players Away
The Blues are four players away from a Cup. (Remember that number.) But those four players will be Cup repeaters. The team needs winners–people who have won and have no desire, no patience, for losing. That means we have to say goodbye to some old friends.
David Backes is a great captain of a losing team. He plays with heart and grit, but he loses. He has to go.
Kevin Shattenkirk has great skill and scores a lot of points. But he’s lazy. Terribly lazy. He makes lazy mental decisions and doesn’t knock himself out to keep the puck out of his own net–or in the offensive zone. He has to go.
Ken Hitchcock is a great coach who understands that systems beat goals (objectives) every day. But he’s allowed his team to play 30 minutes of good hockey and 30 minutes of rotten hockey for years. With more talent and more winners, I think Hitch is the guy, but I’m not sure he can put this team over the top. He has to go.
Doug Armstrong has made some brilliant moves as general manager. He’s made some terrible moves, too. Like Bouwmeester’s contract. Number 19 is a sixth defenseman at best, but we pay him like a Hall of Famer. Bouwmeester has to go, even if the Blues have to pick up 3/4 of his contract. And Armstrong needs a boss who will mitigate Doug’s weaknesses while promoting his strengths.
That opens three holes for Stanley Cup winners. Blues brass will have to find a hole for the fourth replacement. But the Blues need to start 2016-2017 with 5 Cup winners on the bench. Winning spawns winners, and winners spawn winning.
The Blues are four players away, but the Blues need winners, not positions. Winners win.
Want to know why Trump is winning? He’s a winner.