By Rob Rains

The story which emerged as the most important of the year in St. Louis sports in 2017 was the result of a disappointing season by the Cardinals – prompting the team to trade four prospects to the Miami Marlins earlier this month for slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna.

For the sixth consecutive year, STLSportsPage has spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve counting down the top seven stories of the year in St. Louis sports, and for the first time in three years, the top story did not involve the St. Louis Rams moving back to Los Angeles.

The top story in 2015 was the lingering rumors that the team would be moving, and then in January of 2016, the news became official. This year, however, the top story is one which actually contains more promise for the Cardinals in 2018.

After pursing Ozuna’s teammate, Giancarlo Stanton, for several weeks only to have him exercise a no-trade clause in his contract to reject a deal to the Cardinals, the team moved on to Ozuna, who hit .312 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs last season. To acquire the 27-year-old Ozuna, the Cardinals traded two of their top 10 prospects, pitcher Sandy Alcantara and outfielder Magneuris Sierra, a top 15 prospect in pitcher Zac Gallen and another minor-league pitcher, Daniel Castano.

In Ozuna’s first comments about the trade to the St. Louis media, he said one of his goals next years was to give Cardinals’ fans “a reason to smile.”

Here is the link to our story with his comments in a conference call:

Here are the stories on our list which were revealed earlier this week:

Number 2 – Blues fire coach Ken Hitchcock

The Blues fired Hitchcock on Feb. 1 and promoted Mike Yeo, who had already been hired to take over when Hitchcock retired, which was scheduled for the end of the season.

The Blues had a 24-21-5 record when Hitchcock was fired by Doug Armstrong, the Blues’ general manager and one of Hitchcock’s best friends. It was not a move Armstrong wanted to make but one he felt was necessary to send a jolt through his team, which had lost five of its previous six games.

The move worked, as the Blues finished the season with a 22-8-2 record under Yeo and defeated Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs before losing to Nashville in six games in the second round.

Here is the link to the story we posted about the coaching change:

Number 3 – Cardinals shake up their coaching staff

The changes began during the season when third-base coach Chris Maloney lost his job and continued after the Cardinals failed to make the playoffs, when it was announced that the contracts of pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and bullpen coach Blaise Ilsley would not be renewed. Later, bench coach David Bell left to accept a front-office job with the San Francisco Giants.

Replacing those coaches in 2018 will be Mike Maddux, hired as the pitching coach; Bryan Eversgerd, taking over as the bullpen coach; Jose Oquendo, returning as the third-base coach after a nearly two-year absence, and former Cardinal All-Star Willie McGee, who will not have a specific coaching assignment.

Mike Shildt, who took over for Maloney as the third-base coach, moves to the bench coach position.

Here are the links to our stories from throughout the year on all of the changes:

Number 4 – Cardinals miss playoffs for second consecutive season

This was the first time the Cardinals failed to qualify for the playoffs for two years in a row since 2007-2008 and only the second time since 1999.

It was the continuation of a downward trend which has seen the Cardinals’ win total decline in each of the past three seasons.

Here is the story we published after the season about the 10 biggest questions the Cardinals would need to answer this winter:

Other than making some changes to the coaching staff and trading for Ozuna, most of the questions remain unanswered.

Here is the story from the final game of the season, a 6-1 loss to the Brewers, which left the Cardinals with an 83-79 record and a third-place finish in the NL Central, nine games behind the Cubs.

Number 5 – Blues beat Blackhawks in Winter Classic game at Busch Stadium

Two third-period goals from Vladimir Tarasenko led the Blues to a 4-1 victory over the Blackhawks in the Jan. 2 game, which drew a crowd of more than 46,000 fans to Busch Stadium. The event was deemed an overwhelming success, the first time in franchise history the Blues had played in an outdoor game.

Here is our story from that game:

Number 6 – Cardinals lose Alex Reyes for season after elbow surgery

Just as the Cardinals were reporting to spring training in February, they learned that Alex Reyes, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, had suffered an injury to his elbow which required Tommy John surgery and would force him to miss the 2017 season. It was an injury that had a direct impact on the Cardinals’ fortunes during the season.

As soon as Reyes arrived in Jupiter, Fla., he told the Cardinals’ medical officials that something was wrong with his elbow, an injury he suffered during an off-season workout in January. The Cardinals had expected Reyes to begin the season in the team’s bullpen but anticipated him moving into the starting rotation at some point during the year.

Here is the story we published in February when the extent of Reyes’ injury was revealed:

Reyes spent the season in St. Louis, working out and rehabbing his elbow and was able to resume throwing before the end of September. The Cardinals expect him to be ready for the start of spring training, but likely will use him out of the bullpen early in the season as a way to build up his arm strength and also control the number of innings he will pitch next season.

Number 7 – City voters reject financing proposal for new MLS stadium

The proposal would have allocated $60 million from a business use tax to help fund the 22,000-seat stadium, which would have been built downtown and likely would have led Major League Soccer to award an expansion franchise to the city.

Supporters of the proposal blamed the defeat on a higher than expected voter turnout. The measure lost by about 3,300 votes out of approximately 60,000 votes, the most in an April election in the city in decades, according to political officials. Voters in St. Louis County were not eligible to cast ballots on the proposal.

In November MLS announced four finalists for two expansion franchises, not including St. Louis, and the first of those franchises was awarded to Nashville earlier this month.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains