St. Louis is no longer singing the blues.
Well, perhaps the hockey fans still haven’t gotten over the shock of being ignonimously swept out of the playoffs by the lower-seeded Los Angeles Kings, but today brings a new era to the St. Louis Blues hockey club and their fans.
Tom Stillman and his group of investors are now the proud owners of the team, after Stillman had served as minority partner (since 2007) under previous regime leader Dave Checketts.
What does Stillman get for his money? A young, energetic team with massive fan appeal…and a history of failure. The Blues have evolved from the old days, when they’d bring in mercenaries at the end of their careers like Grant Fuhr and Wayne Gretzky only to repeatedly fall short, and now have at least figured out that the way to win is from within via draft and development, but it’s a long process.
It’s made even longer when you realize that St. Louis is a baseball town first. And second. And even third. And that for a stretch when the Blues were struggling, the Rams were one of the most exciting teams in the league – something no one has ever said about the Blues.
Ah, but the times are changing.
Despite not having any player score more than 54 points this year (by way of comparison, league-leader Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh more than doubled that by himself, with 109 points, and Tampa’s Steven Stamkos scored 60 goals), and despite having two defensemen in their top four scorers, the Blues rode a wave of youthful exuberance and spectacular goaltending to 109 points this year – just two short of claiming the President’s Trophy.
And with young up-and-comers like C David Backes, RW T.J. Oshie, D Alex Pietrangelo, C Patrick Bergland, and G Brian Elliott, the hopes are high that Stillman – the eighth owner in the history of the franchise – can make the right decisions to help finally lead the team to the Stanley Cup.
But it won’t be easy. The Blues are one of the most financially restricted franchises in the NHL, if not in all of professional sports. They are among the bottom of the NHL in revenue generation. And previous ownership made some horrendous financial decisions which the Blues are still working their way out of.
However, the stars may be aligned for Stillman, CEO of Summit Distributing, a local beer distributorship. This is the first local ownership group to have control of the Blues since the Kiel Center Partners, from 1991-99. That alone gives him instant credibility. Beyond that, though, is the fact that he has assembled a veritable St. Louis Business Hall of Fame ownership group to help offset the reported $130 million franchise fee.
Included with Stillman are former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo (also Stillman’s father-in-law); Steve Maritz, CEO of Maritz Inc.; Donn Lux, CEO of Luxco; and the Taylor family, owners of St. Louis-based Enterprise Holdings (the rental car agency).
That group with intensely local ties is sure to stir up even more enthusiasm for the team, And coming on the heels of their 109-point season, with three players selected in the top 46 of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and with a plethora of Award-finalists returning (Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, fewest goals allowed; Backes, finalist for the Frank Selke Trophy as the league’s top two-way player; first-year coach Ken Hitchcock is a finalist for the Jack Adams coaching award; and Doug Armstrong is a contender for GM of the year), pretty soon they may be singing a different tune in St. Louis.