Thursday March 17th, 2011

St. Louis is a baseball-mad city, but the Blues are a hot ticket. (Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

The news that the St. Louis Blues are for sale continues a season of disappointment for the team and its fans. Many had expected the Blues would be in the thick of the playoff race this season, but injuries and some underachievement did them in. Give them credit, however, for recognizing the need for change when they traded both their captain, Eric Brewer, and the guy who was considered to be the foundation of their youth movement, Erik Johnson, at the trade deadline in order to revamp their club and reset for the future.

The Blues are a special organization in many ways, part of the NHL's first big expansion and the first of the new teams to be something of a dynasty. An extraordinary connection between the city and the team was forged during those early years and in what was then a non-traditional hockey market despite many ups and downs -- including a bankruptcy and an aborted sale by one-time owner Rolston-Purina that would have moved the club to Saskatoon. This franchise has endured both on and off the ice, and the connection with its fans remains strong. The Blues fill their arena every night and rank eighth in attendance among NHL teams. In a city known for its crazy passion for baseball's Cardinals, the embrace of the Blues has always been heartening.

As Jeremy Rutherford reported in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Managing Partner Dave Checketts could not reach an agreement with TowerBrook Capital Partners, which controls 70 percent of the Blues, on a purchase price for TCP's shares. "Last May, TCP announced that it would be divesting its equity in the team," Rutherford wrote. "Then in December, Checketts announced that TCP would stay involved with a lower stake. But in the end, Checketts' new investor group did not want to meet the price that TCP wanted for the majority of its shares."

Checketts, former president of Madison Square Garden, bought the Blues for $150 million in 2006 and brought popular Rangers TV announcer John Davidson in to be team president. After claiming to have lost money during the first three years that he controlled the team, Checketts said Wednesday that the Blues are no longer bleeding cash, and that the city is a viable NHL market. Forbes magazine pegs the franchise's value at $165 million.

"This is a franchise that in my opinion has been run very responsibly considering the size of the market and the challenges it presents,"  Checketts told Rutherford. "I've been around a lot of teams over the last 25 years and never met more passionate fans. Boy, have they treated me well. I have no complaints. I've had a great five years. I want to put it in the hands of people who will protect it and care about it and be passionate about it. And if I can find someone, they're going to have a lot of fun because I think we've done a lot of the hard work. Not all of it, but a lot of the hard work, and this franchise is on a very good path."

Checketts is working on a contract extension for Davidson and hopes the new owners will want to keep him and the current management team in place. Of course, that would be the new owners' decision.

Jeff Gordon of The Post-Dispatch has a good analysis of what the new owners will get, calling it "a MUCH better situation than the mess Checketts and Co. walked into back in 2006."  He goes on to analyze the club's young talent base, lean payroll, strong hockey department and a rejuvenated fan base.

The organization also deserves credit for honoring the franchise's past, and in ceremonies on March 7, four former Blues who all wore the number 7, were saluted prior to a game against Columbus. When you listen to the speeches by the four -- Red Berenson, Garry Unger, Joe Mullen and Keith Tkachuk -- you sense a genuine affection between the players and the St. Louis area. That's not artificial sweetness. It's the real deal.

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There's more video of the Number 7 Night and a good story here on the team's website.

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