No one was happy in St. Louis when the highly touted Blues made a hasty exit from the 2014 NHL playoffs.
The Blues built a 2-0 series edge against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference quarterfinals only to surrender that lead to their hated division rival in a stunning six-game set.
That bitter defeat will be a sore subject when training camp begins next month, no doubt, but according to former Blues star Keith Tkachuk, it may serve as quite the learning experience as well.
“I think everyone in the organization was disappointed, fans clearly were, when we were up two games to none [and lost],” Tkachuk told ESPN.com in a recent phone interview. "The young guys, I think it will be beneficial to them to be a little aggravated, to see them knocked off by Chicago, which is a good rivalry here in town.
“I think you’ll see a lot of angry guys, pissed-off guys [in camp].”
Those young guys are the key to the Blues’ future and remain a bright spot for a team that has gone into recent postseasons as one of the elite squads out West and then run into some of the most fearsome opponents.
Tkachuk, who recorded 1,065 points in 1,201 NHL games and spent nine seasons with the Blues, sees defenseman Alex Pietrangelo thriving this season with another year of experience under his belt. And he views Jake Allen as a strong competitor who will push Brian Elliott for the starting goaltending job.
Tkachuk says the 24-year-old Allen has done things “the proper way,” paying his dues and rising up the ranks steadily after years in junior hockey and the American Hockey League. He also has good size, keen stickhandling skills and a growing sense of confidence. Tkachuk thinks his development, and the Blues’ stability in net, will benefit from that.
“This is the perfect situation. Elliott is a little bit later [into his career] and Allen who needs more NHL seasoning,” said Tkachuk. “If you have Elliott, who is a great pro, and they push each other in practice, Elliott’s working habits in practice will have a big-time influence in Allen. Whoever’s playing well is going to play.”
That’s not to say that Tkachuk did not support the Blues’ bold move to trade for Ryan Miller in February last season. It was a bold decision from management, namely general manager Doug Armstrong, that indicated the club was ready to go all-in on the 2014 postseason.
But the acquisition did not go as planned. Miller posted a pedestrian 10-8-1 record with a 2.47 goals-against average and .903 save percentage for St. Louis, and the Blues chose not to re-sign the longtime Buffalo Sabres netminder, who subsequently signed a free-agent deal with the Vancouver Canucks in July.
“It was definitely worth a shot,” said Tkachuk, who spends the majority of his time traveling to watch his two teenage sons play hockey and coaching his youngest in midget minor. “Last year, there were a lot of question marks with Jaroslav Halak, so [the Blues] made the move and I’d have done the same thing. It didn’t work, but it’s not all on him. As a team, sometimes you need a change. Jake Allen, as well as he did in Chicago, deserves to be here.”
“It brings some much-needed offensive help, not just 5-on-5 but on the power play, which is huge,” Tkachuk said.
Heck, in a Central Division that keeps raising the caliber of competition, the Blues had no choice but to ante up.
“It’s a challenge every night,” Tkachuk said. "You’ve got the two-headed monster in [Patrick Kane] and [Jonathan] Toews, who really played well [in the playoffs]. You know Colorado is going to have another good year, especially adding [Jarome] Iginla. Dallas has gotten better with [trade acquisition Jason] Spezza.
“I think Stastny was a huge move shown by management and ownership that we want to take it to the next level, but it’s definitely a tough division. We have to close out teams when we have them.”