Friday, June 6, 2014

Tom Stillman: "We had expectations to do more"

Blues owner disappointed with season finish, vows 
management will continue to make necessary on-ice improvements

ST. LOUIS -- His emotions have been alleviated somewhat, but that's only because attentions were immediately turned to the 2014-15 season.

But for Blues owner Tom Stillman, not being able to fulfill high expectations for his hockey club was disappointing for 2013-14 but Stillman (on the job for 25 months) continues to strive with his management team -- led by general manager Doug Armstrong -- to retool the Blues (who finished 52-23-7 this past season) and make them a championship caliber team again.

"It's not as fresh a wound as it was (then)," Stillman said of the loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. "We had expectations to do more and we didn't meet them. We're hard at work in figuring out what we can do to do better next year.
Blues owner Tom Stillman speaks to the audience at the unveiling
of the St. Louis Blues 14 Fund Field of Dreams at Mathews-Dickey
Boys' and Girls' Club.

"I do feel like we're knocking on the door. Every one of those games (against Chicago) could have gone either way. That doesn't mean we're satisfied. We've got to figure out ways to get better. A lot of that has to do with getting better internally and our guys learning from it. Doug and his people, their full-time job is figuring out how we can get better. Believe me, they're always working on that."

The Blues will make personnel changes to the current roster, and the wheels were already set in motion with Armstrong committing to Brian Elliott (three-year, $7.5 million extension) and Jake Allen as the team's goaltending tandem for next season and allowing Ryan Miller, who was brought in at a hefty price via trade, to walk as a free agent. 

Veterans Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow, Steve Ott and Carlo Colaiacovo are all unrestricted free agents and most, if not all, will likely not be retained. The Blues also must come to terms with restricted free agents Patrik Berglund, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka, along with a number of UFA/RFA players in their American Hockey League team in Chicago. 

But rest assured, Armstrong and Co. will be busy surveying the free agent market, as well as opting to go with the trade route if necessary to revamp the roster.

Some of the top free agents that will hit the market July 1 include center Paul Stastny, wingers Marian Gaborik, Thomas Vanek, Jarome Iginla, Ales Hemsky, Matt Moulson, Jussi Jokinen and Michael Cammalleri as well as defenseman Matt Niskanen (a list of UFA's: Also, it has been made reported that the Ottawa Senators are willing to trade captain Jason Spezza, a center coming off a 23-goal, 66-point season in 75 games who has one year remaining on his contract at a $7 million cap hit but $4 million in salary. The Blues are said to have shown interest in the 30-year-old.

With the salary cap going up 10 percent to $71 million next season, time will tell whether the Blues will increase their cap or lower it.

Also, assistant coaches Gary Agnew and Corey Hirsch (goaltending) have been replaced by Kirk Muller (former head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes) and Jim Corsi (former goalie coach of the Buffalo Sabres the past 16 seasons). 

"I do like the direction we're going," Stillman said. "We're on a very good track and we're going to keep working on it. Sure, we've run into difficulties, but nothing is unexpected. I didn't just expect a straight line or straight up and everything goes perfectly. That's just not the way business or life or sports work. You work on things and you get some improvements and you meet an obstacle and you figure out how we're going to get past that. You work and then you get past that one and there's another one. That's just life. We figured there would be ups and downs and then you hope you get there."

With the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings battling it out for the Stanley Cup, the Blues and their fans truly believed they'd be the ones still playing. 

"Yeah, it's still tough with the games still going and we're into the finals," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "That was what our plan was, to be playing here. I definitely talked to a few of the guys, guys are still bitter about the way we went out but we're looking forward to next year as well.

"You don't go over the 'what ifs.' You have to turn the page, but you have to learn from your mistakes. Everybody had exit meetings with Doug Armstrong and 'Hitch.' We talked about things ... each person individually and as a team, what to do to get better. That's what we focus on. Right now, it's off-season, conditioning and your lifting and then we'll worry about training camp."

But with another early playoff exit, the Blues' Cup drought stands at 47 years and this time around, there was plenty of fan resentment, and the Blues have some public relations work to do in that regard.

"We definitely feel that (we're one of the top teams)," Jackman said. "We had success against some of those teams, but then we also had our struggles. We're right there. There's definitely some learning that we have to do, but the excuses are getting tiresome and now we just have to prove that we are that team.

"I think most of the guys took a couple weeks off and got right back into the gym. I know there's still a handful of guys here in St. Louis making that trek to the Mills just to get the workouts in."

Stillman is as much a fan as he is an owner. He understands fans' frustration and is committed to giving them the product they deserve.

"I guess my reaction to that is I don't think they want to hear the message in words," Stillman said. "I can say any number of things, but I think they need to see what we're doing is putting our heads down and work hard. We're going to work around (obstacles) and we're going to get better. We're not going to pout, we're not going to stop, we're going to keep working on it until we get there. 

"I hope they know that if they're feeling bad after a loss, I'm definitely there with them. At the same time, I'm really hopeful. I'm happy with the way we're going. We're going to get there. Nobody thought it was going to be smooth or easy. It's the toughest league in the world."

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