Risk Factors: St. Louis Blues edition

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From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

St. Louis Blues

1. Ken Hitchcock…not the easiest guy to play for

And there are already whispers that some of the Blues players have grown tired of his approach.

No doubt, Hitchcock is a widely respected hockey mind. He coached Dallas to a Stanley Cup in 1999, and he was on Mike Babcock’s gold medal-winning Team Canada staff in Sochi.

But here’s something else to consider: In his last five trips to the NHL postseason as a head coach, he’s won just a single series. Two teams during that stretch, Philadelphia and Columbus, felt the need to fire him mid-season.

“The playoffs tell you everything as a coach,” Hitchcock said in April. “They tell you everything about yourself, they tell you everything about your players, they tell you everything about how close you are … what you need to do better, what you’ve done well … they tell you everything.”

Which is interesting, because that comment came right after St. Louis had been eliminated for the second straight year in the first round of the playoffs. First it was to Los Angeles. The second letdown, against geographical rival Chicago, really hurt. Especially considering the Blues had held 2-0 leads in both series, only to drop four straight on their way out.

In May, Hitchcock was granted a one-year contract extension — not exactly an overwhelming vote of confidence from management — to remain head coach. A couple of months later, the Blues signed Paul Stastny, arguably the best player available in free agency.

Bottom line: there may not be a team in the league that needs to make a deep playoff run more than St. Louis. Which means there may not be a coach that’s under more pressure than Hitchcock.

“My job is to find more from the group that I’m given,” he said. “So you find ways and you try to create an atmosphere to even get more from your team.”

The risk there? Hitchcock pushes too hard and the players tune him out.

Think there’s no basis to that? Then we’ll leave you with an old quote from Derian Hatcher, from way back in 2002 when Hitchcock was fired by the Stars:

“He had the same message from Day 1. Maybe guys had heard it over and over again and it got to be a little too much.”

 2. Brian Elliott may not be up to the job

True, you could say that about any goalie. Even guys who’ve been up to the job in the past can become vulnerable; that’s just the nature of the position.

Still, there are different degrees of risk that GMs can assume when it comes to their goaltenders, and Doug Armstrong is assuming a pretty big risk with his.

The fact is, Elliott is a 29-year-old who’s spent most of his NHL life as a back-up. His .911 career save percentage is fine. Just…fine. As in, nothing special whatsoever. And if Elliott can’t get it done, the Blues’ backup is Jake Allen, a 24-year-old with just 13 NHL starts to his name.

“Brian wanted a chance to compete for the No. 1 job,” Armstrong said during the offseason. “He has that now.”

And so, once again, Blues fans are left to cross their fingers and hope for the best from their goaltender. Despite the franchise’s tortured history telling them to expect otherwise.

 3. To win the Stanley Cup, “good” isn’t good enough

You need to be great. Which begs the question — do the Blues have any truly “great” players?

A St. Louis player hasn’t won a major award since Chris Pronger took the Hart and Norris in 2000. And based on recent history, there’s a distinct correlation between players that win major awards and players that win Cups.

Sidney Crosby (two Harts) has a ring. So does Evgeni Malkin (one Hart).

Jonathan Toews (one Selke) has a ring. So does Patrice Bergeron (one Selke) and Pavel Datsyuk (three Selkes).

Duncan Keith (two Norris Trophies) has a ring. So does Zdeno Chara (one Norris).

It’s not a perfect correlation. The Kings haven’t won any major individual awards lately, and they’ve got two Cups in the last three years. But not many would argue that Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar aren’t great players.

Now, to be fair, David Backes finished fourth in the 2013-14 Selke voting and Alex Pietrangelo finished fifth in the Norris race.

Then again, doesn’t that sort of prove the point? The Blues have been good. But not great.