The Blues' summer blue-line blues

Updated: June 10, 2013, 12:23 PM ET
By Craig Custance

Typically, when a season ends, lockers are cleaned out, and in the next 48 hours, players participate in exit meetings with coaches and management to dissect the season and talk about the steps needed to get better.

The Blues did it differently this year.

St. Louis was a team with Stanley Cup aspirations that didn't get out of the first round, slugging it out with the reigning champs in a first-round series that could have been the Western Conference finals.

Ken Hitchcock wanted every player challenged mentally and physically moving forward, and a quick 15-minute meeting while the disappointment of being eliminated still dominated the emotions wasn't the way he wanted to go about doing it.

So the players took a week off and were told to give some thought about what needed to change for the Blues to grow from a good team to a great team. Then they reconvened for more in-depth meetings.

"Our players were really disappointed losing to L.A.," Hitchcock said. "Angry would be an accurate word. So our players were already doing soul-searching. There was a sense of cooperation I haven't felt for a long time as a coach. When you lose and play well and you still lose -- you have to really look hard. This is that series loss that forced us to look really, really hard and find critical things that needed to change in each individual."

Some of the change was physical. Some of it psychological. Some of it meant changing a summer routine that must now include skill development.

"All kinds of different challenges," Hitchcock said. "Our view was every player had to get 10 to 20 percent better. That's the challenge."

The challenge isn't just on the players' side. General manager Doug Armstrong has his work cut out in coming contract negotiations this summer, especially on defense.