Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"We're not kids anymore"

Blues management, players understand the future has arrived

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- For those that haven't seen the Blues' commercial gearing up for the 2010-11 season, words spoken from David Backes couldn't have been more concise: "We're not kids anymore."

Even though Backes -- one of those players touted as "kids" for the past five years or so -- pokes fun at teammates David Perron for his white skates and T.J. Oshie for his locks of hair in the skit, he could not have been more to the point. The Blues are not kids anymore.

Even though the growth of a franchise that has only one playoff appearance in the post-lockout era, the Blues understand that it's not time for these players they have been nurturing must become their own men.

It was quite evident as Blues President John Davidson, general manager Doug Armstrong and head coach Davis Payne met with the media Tuesday at the team's practice facility inside St. Louis Mills to discuss the 2010-11 season.

"We expect there to be growth still to be had there. But we expect the values not to be nearly as low (and) not to be nearly as long," said Armstrong, who begins his first season as GM since taking over for Larry Pleau July 1. "We expect them to be able to recognize when their game is going in one direction and turn it quicker. They're going to have bad games; they're human beings. They're going to have bad shifts, they're going to have stretches of bad play, but now we expect them to be able to get over it quicker. We expect the internal leadership to hold them accountable to get out of it quicker."

That means players like Oshie, Backes, Perron, Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund, Erik Johnson and Roman Polak to name a few must continue that ascension that some feel like has been a slower-than-expected progression after the Blues missed the playoffs a year after making the Field of 16.

Blues brass has made it clear that while they expect those players to make that leap forward, there will be bumps in the road and nobody is impeccable. It's a question how quickly those players recover from the head-on challenges.

"We know there's going to be ebbs and flows to the season, but we expect them to be mature enough now to recognize it quicker, to get out of it quicker and most importantly, to hold a guy beside them accountable to get out of it quicker and to help him get out of it quicker," Armstrong said. "That's the sign of the team that we want to have here. They play for each other, they play for the guy beside them. They're not playing for anyone else except the guy beside them in the room. Once they're held accountable to each other, and once they don't want to let the guy beside them down, that's when you have a team."

With a pair of season veterans (Keith Tkachuk, who retired and Paul Kariya, whose career -- post-concussion syndrome -- is in limbo) not present to lean on for leadership and support, the onus is on a crop of players to lift this franchise and offer the support the Blues have come to expect when those players were brought in here.

"What the commercial is saying and what we're saying is that the apprenticeship is mostly done," Armstrong said. "Now go play. ... They understand what's expected of them. Now, it's time to get the job done. But we're not stupid here. We're going to let these guys grow. The burger went from simmer, now it's on medium and for some guys, it's gone from medium to hot."

Davidson, who came in here in 2006 and begins his fifth season orchestrating the team's day-to-day operations, is known to fans for his place in a past commercial saying, "Come grow with us." While he won't shy away from the growing aspect, he's also aware there comes a time when boys become men.

"There should be a big change in the maturing factor of these younger players," Davidson said. "... The cultural change here is important to understand too.

"There's always evolution when you have sports. People come to your team as a young player and mature, they become older players and they go out into their next lives. We've had that happen to some people here who were really good people, who were good for us, but the cultural change is happening now. It's someone else's team. That's what's going to be very interesting to watch with this club this year. ... Our team is somewhat the same with players, but they should be much better players, physically stronger, mentally understand (the game). I sense something here, I really do."

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