The disappointment was still resonating throughout the locker room on Tuesday during locker cleanout, but when all was said and done for the Blues, it was a feeling of accomplishment for a team that was touted to go through a transition period.
The Blues were eliminated from the Western Conference Second Round by the Nashville Predators in six games. But after all was said and done — from losing several key veteran free agents last summer, to making a coaching change mid-season with Mike Yeo replacing the fired Ken Hitchcock, to trading away a key player in Kevin Shattenkirk on Feb. 27 near the NHL Trade Deadline — the Blues feel they're closer to returning to what brought them the Western Conference Final in 2016 or even competing for a Stanley Cup.
"It's sort of the underdog mentality a little bit," Blues goalie Jake Allen said. "A lot of people probably counted us out maybe potentially making the playoffs, maybe squeaking in, but I think even with the struggles we had mid-season, we proved we almost caught second place in our division and we're still there. We still have a lot of great pieces that have been here for a while and weh ave new players that are up-and-coming. A lot of us are still pretty young. We've still got a lot of more years left in us."
The Blues lost home-ice advantage to the Predators in Game 1 and could never get it back, going 0-3 at Bridgestone Arena, including a 3-1 loss in Game 6, ultimately ending their season.
Nonetheless, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong didn't have the same disappointing feelings he had after the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons when the Blues were eliminated in the first round with lofty expectations.
"Our goal never changed to win a Stanley Cup, but I've sat here in front of you guys a few times feeling we left a lot of things on the table that we didn't clean up," Armstrong said. "I thought this year we were competitive with Nashville; they were with us. Someone had to win and lose that series. Obviously, we were good enough to win the series, but it's not like I felt we under-performed where in the past I felt like we hadn't met our own potential. I thought this year, this team, if they didn't max out, they were close and I think it shows you how close the NHL is because I think Nashville has a chance to win the Cup. I think we're in a good spot. I feel much more at ease knowing that these guys are guys I think we can win with in the future."
When Yeo took over for Hitchcock, the Blues were 24-21-5, in ninth place in the conference and in danger of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs altogether, but managed to finish the season strong (22-8-2) and claim third place in the Central Division. Now, Yeo — who was supposed to take over as coach for the 2017-18 season anyway — has a leg up on what he wants to accomplish moving forward.
The Blues finished 46-29-7 (99 points) and are one of four teams (Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York Rangers) to qualify for the playoffs six straight seasons.
"Obviously we're having this meeting today and we didn't accomplish our goal," Yeo said. "I feel that there are a lot of things in place here. This is a group that's as competitive that I've ever coached before.
"I can say that I'm very excited about working with this group going forward. I feel like we took some steps, certainly in the last two months of the season. I'm encouraged and optimistic about what we can bring. ... We believe that we have a group that obviously we can build with and we can build it internally with our young players and we can build internally with the competition of those young players. We all have to come back and find a way to be better."
The Blues will head into the offseason with more knowns this year than unknowns. Only veteran left wing Scottie Upshall is an unrestricted free agent, so they feel they have a pulse on what the lineup will look like.
Assistant GM Martin Brodeur, who came out of the front office to serve as interim goalie coach to help resurrect Allen's season on Feb. 1, will return to his pist as assistant GM and the team will hire a new goalie coach.
The Blues have a bona fide No. 1 goalie in Allen, their core is young and on the rise and the feeling is better days are ahead for a franchise in search of its first Stanley Cup.
"I feel it because there's more confidence in this locker room," Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko said. "The most difference for me I think is when Mike took over and then now and the end of the season, when you win the game, it's like you feel like you're supposed to win. It's not supposed to be like surprise for you. So I think that's one thing that changed the last couple years. We start believing in each other more and the winning comes like predictable thing for us. With this emotions, I think we can make our goal happen."
By LOU KORAC "One-hundred percent.