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Dear St. Louis: Let the Boys Play

(Photo Credit: Phil Boyce / Associated Press)

Dear St. Louis,

I have a confession to make: I’m guilty of high expectations for my Blues this year, possibly too high. Which is why I’m writing this today: I have to stop demanding what others can’t give… or, if they can, it’s not going to be anytime soon, and might not be up to the standards I set, because my standards are wrong.

My opinion will not be popular. It will not be pleasant to swallow. It will not go over well with some readers. However, I feel it’s valid enough to point out that the expectations of fans in St. Louis need to be tempered a little in this new season.
(If you feel like this article is not for you, I advise you… TURN BACK NOW. EXIT OUT. It won’t hurt my feelings, promise. Read the rest at your own risk.)

For 51 years, this city deserves a Stanley Cup. For 51 years, we have seen almost every team surpass us. You watch former players on the Blues win in other cities. You hope, just to watch the dominos fall in the opposite direction.

Then… miracle. Shiny, new, faces appear that signal a change. A native born son comes home. A career player from the hardest media market signs a deal here. A third tour of duty from the same person. A blockbuster trade to reignite someone’s passion for the game. A goalkeeper trying to find redemption from a disappointing year. New blood from the third best farm team in the NHL arrive to stake their claim. The city starts buzzing. The energy crackles. The expectations run high.

Even mine. I’m guilty. Which is why I say, please St. Louis… stop. Cease and desist. Never stop hoping, never stop having faith in our players, but please… lower the bar of expectations down enough for our guys to meet them. Stop expecting perfection because you are expecting the impossible.

Going into this season, everything looks like a massive improvement on paper. Because we expect them to play to their caliber individually, or have notions of what their potential is theoretically, we envision how our boys will play, and how the season is going to go. “We’re going to go 82-0! And take the Central! And win the Cup!”
(…FYI, 82-0 has never, in the history of the NHL, ever happened. Ever. And nothing went our way in Games 1 and 2, which will be chalked up to learning curves and progression into a better team. But… I digress.)

Does anyone understand how much pressure these guys have to put up with? To know that every stride they take on their skates, they have to be perfect, have to be in sync at all times, have to make the absolute best decision every turn, every shot, every save? That’s stressful. It’s demanding. It’s constantly present. If someone is counting on you, it’s not a pleasant feeling to feel like you’re letting him or her down by not meeting those expectations. You miss a shot, you can’t crack a goaltender, you can’t block shots, you take too many penalties… All that, alone, is enough to make anyone scream at themselves individually. From a city expecting them to be perfect? It has to be nerve-wrecking. It has to feel like you’re living in a pressure cooker.

So, St. Louis… RELAX. Games 1 and 2 are done. Take the good (we had 2 powerplay goals! And Maroon and O’Reilly are gelling! And Tarasenko had two goals! And Butler scored! Parayko and Dunn scored! We got a point!) with the bad (we lost to two division rivals). Remember, there’s plenty of hockey left in the season. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Can Vova score 50 goals? Yes. Can we expect him to do so this year? How about an alternative: how about expecting Vova to score goals, without a number attached? Instead of asking Parayko to block 70 shots this year, how about he just blocks shots? How about Allen playing better, instead of expecting head-spinning, Brodeur ninja skills that will steal every game and leave the opposing goalie in the dust?

How about just… letting them play? What happens, happens, and try to stay positive, supporting the team? Win or lose, looking like a boss or epically failing… how about cutting them some slack and letting them play? Let the lines figure themselves out. Let the defense learn from their mistakes. Let Allen be Allen and let him get his rhythm (the dude only played one and a half preseason games, and came off an injury)? Let the powerplay start clicking without our input on how it should be run?

How about letting the guys put their own pressure on themselves, and not us putting it on them too? After all, any problem between the pipes, or the blue lines, or the benches, or the confines of the room, start between the ears. The guys don’t need us adding to the noise: they have to deal with the noise inside their heads on how they should play. From my perspective, when someone is trying to be perfect, knowing that there is someone else counting on him or her to be that way, or a large majority counting on him or her to be that way, it doesn’t matter how professional he or she is: he or she is constantly thinking of that. And if it’s always on that person’s mind, it’s hard not to fall prey to any mistakes that would make others think differently. Someone always overcompensates. He or she tries to make the shiny, over-the-top attempts to impress, to prove that he or she is not going to screw up. But guess what? That means screwing up, guaranteed. Someone always makes stupid mistakes and overthinks. That person doesn’t have fun, loosen up, relax, and trust his or her skates, stick, or instincts of where linemates are. It creates a disaster scenario that no one wants. It’s lose-lose.

So, St. Louis… let the boys play. Don’t expect specific results: expect something good will come out of the game from them, win or lose, and whatever that non-descript good thing that happens to be, draw something positive from it. Expect the guys to be human, and they will make mistakes. Expect them to play as best as they can, and if they’re having an off day, know that they wanted to play better. Something got in the way of that, and they’ll do their best to bring their A-game in the next game. Don’t expect a Stanley Cup: expect them to stride towards one, and if they stumble and fall now, they’ll do their best to pick themselves up and go at it again.

Expect the unexpected, and prepare for a wild ride. This season will not be easy… but it will be a thrill ride. Buckle up, and let’s go Blues!

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