Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues saw the Los Angeles Kings emerge from the insanely competitive Western Conference and capture their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, while the Blues are still looking for their first in franchise history.
"There's part of me that really admires the way LA played, and what they did to win, and then there's another part that tells me, 'Man, we're not that far away.' But it's tough sledding just to get a chance to get there,” Hitchcock told STLToday.com. “If you look at some of the most well-run hockey clubs in the NHL, there's quite a few in the West that give themselves a chance to win every night. The thing you're looking for is a legitimate chance, and then the rest is up to the coaches and players.”
The Blues averaged 2.33 goals per game in six playoff games last season against Chicago. So the Blues added one significant offensive player in free agency: Center Paul Stastny, who signed a 4-year, $28-million contract with St. Louis after spending his career with Colorado. But Hitchcock is quick not to put the spotlight on the Big Name free agent, instead spreading the attention to the team’s other pickups as well.
"It was really good news for us as coaches. But it was a combination of (Joakim) Lindstrom, (Jori) Lehtera and Paul. These are three point-producing players who really enhance our hockey club. All three are capable of playing top-six roles,” he said.
“Paul is a real good fit for us with the way he plays and the way we play. Lehtera is a real good fit, and we feel like Lindstrom has really improved his game. He has a number of good friends on the hockey club and he's going to be given a real chance to play in the top nine and see where it goes. It gives us the competitive depth to keep up with what's going on in the West."
Lindstrom is getting a fourth whack at the piñata, having played for Skellefteå AIK in Sweden for the last three seasons after failing to catch on with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche.
The Blues’ offensive talent has been upgraded. Now, Hitchcock says, it’s a matter of finding that intangible thing that elevates a team to championship status.
“I think it comes down to a combination of a certain level of talent and then a whole bunch of resolve to get you to that level,” he said.