This guy they call a head coach pretty much ruined the greatest group to ever play on the St. Louis Blues
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Sports fans love to reminisce over the days where it all went wrong: the wasted draft pick, the tragic trade or the defecting hero. These may not be, by definition, the worst roster moves ever made, but they were the ones that affected us on a personal level. These are the events that caused -- and still cause -- us to sit on our bar stools and lament the cruel twists of life.
CNNSI.com asked St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Dave Luecking to name the top five Blues heartbreakers of all time. "You could probably do a top 10 list on the Blues," he said. Starting with the dictator-like reign of Mike Keenan, Luecking also pointed to the departure of Brett Hull; a pair of trades with Vancouver that paid off for the Canucks; the loss of Scott Stevens to New Jersey; and the sudden departure of Doug Gilmour.
July 17, 1994, to
Dec. 19, 1996 The Mike Keenan Era
The revolving door that was Mike Keenan's 2 1/2-year tenure as head coach and general manager in St. Louis could be looked at as one giant transaction. Nary a day went by that Keenan wasn't exiling or acquiring somebody ... and in many cases acquiring and exiling the same somebody within weeks.
Let's preface these four group-entry transactions by noting that among the players Keenan brought to St. Louis were Chris Pronger, Pierre Turgeon and Pavol Demitra. Unfortunately for Keenan, his ability to judge talent was horribly outdone by his inability to judge human emotion.
The Mike Keenan Era
1995 St. Louis trades LW Brendan Shanahan
to Hartford for D Chris Pronger
Brendan Shanahan went on to win two Cups with Central Division-rival Detroit. Glenn Cratty/Allsport
It's hard to make a case against a trade that nets an eventual league MVP and Norris Trophy winner, but when this one went down, the St. Louis faithful nearly jumped off the Arch.
Keenan had spent most of his first season trying to exile Brett Hull, but in the offseason he dumped Shanahan instead. Aside from being one of the game's premier power forwards, he also was a stalwart in the community. Except for Brett Hull, he could have been the most popular player on the team.
Pronger, then a fragile-egoed, underachieving 25-year-old, bore the brunt of the fans' wrath. After getting routed by Philadelphia at home on Feb. 3, 1996, Pronger was booed off the ice. Now, of course, Pronger is the Blues' captain and media guide cover boy ... and he credits Keenan.
Shanahan Waves Bye to Place 'I Was Wanted'
St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- June 29, 1995
By Dave Luecking
With tears in his eyes, Brendan Shanahan said goodbye to St. Louis on Friday afternoon.
He met the media at his spacious home in Ladue, which has a for-sale sign in front. He tried to ease the tension by plugging his house, saying "It'll be sad to leave ... this five-bedroom, 4 1/2-bath brick tudor."
But try as he might, the laughter couldn't hide the pain of joining the "Blues' alumni," and the "ex-Blues scoring leaders," as he called them. His voice cracked at times. He kept a wash cloth close at hand "in case I get hot," but it was really there in case the tears became too obvious.
Four years invested in a city where he envisioned living "for the rest of my life" were snatched away in what Shanahan said was a 10-second phone call with Mike Keenan.
The Mike Keenan Era
1995 St. Louis trades G Curtis Joseph and RW Mike Grier to Edmonton for 1st-round picks in 1996 and 1997
Most people thought Curtis Joseph was the goalie of the future in St. Louis. Al Bello/Allsport
CuJo was clearly an up-and-coming star, having increased his win total in each of his first five seasons. He also was extremely popular with the fans and to this day remains one of the nicest guys in the game. That wasn't enough for Keenan.
When Keenan signed Grant Fuhr in the summer of '95, Joseph knew his days were numbered. After starting the '95-96 season with Las Vegas of the International League, Joseph would be sent along with prospect Mike Grier to the Oilers for virutally nothing. The picks St. Louis got for Joseph and Grier were their picks that they had previously relinquished to Edmonton when Keenan signed Shayne Corson.
Mike Keenan Has Had Success in the NHL,
but Not Everyone Agrees with His Methods
The Boston Globe -- Oct. 29, 2000
By Kevin Paul Dupont
A source from St. Louis said that the Keenan-Joseph relationship was doomed from the moment they met. Keenan called Joseph into his office, according to the source, and said, "I don't care who the **** you are." All told, the meeting lasted about one minute. "Curtis Joseph," said the source. "Maybe the nicest human being you can meet, sensitive and kind -- and Keenan just clobbered him."
Tony Cissi, St. Louis, Mo.
"Mr. Keenan declared that Joseph was not a playoff-caliber goalie. This is far from the truth. In the years leading up to Joseph's departure, he set league records for most saves in a single season. He broke the record one year and then broke his own record again the next year. I remember games in which the Blues were outshot 60-20 and still won. That is unheard of. On top of all of this is the fact that Joseph was reasonably successful in the playoffs. The team lost in the first round and he was the sacrificial lamb. (Keenan could not stand players who were more popular than himself.)"
The Mike Keenan Era
1996 St. Louis acquires C Wayne Gretzky from L.A. for
F Craig Johnson, D Roman Vopat, F Patrice Tardif, and Nos. 1 and 5 picks
1996 C Wayne Gretzky signs free-agent contract
with the N.Y. Rangers
Wayne Gretzky's time in St. Louis was short and ... well, short. Glenn Cratty /Allsport
So typical of Keenan's misfortunes. He trades for the greatest hockey player history has ever known ... and it comes around to bite him on the can.
Within a month of acquiring Gretzky, Keenan traded for old Edmonton stars Glenn Anderson, Charlie Huddy and Craig MacTavish.
But Keenan so freaked out The Great One that he opted not to re-sign in the offseason and bolted to the Rangers after only 31 games, including a short trip to the second round of the playoffs. Huddy and Anderson also didn't return the next year and MacTavish played a limited role in 50 games.
St. Lousians couldn't believe that somehow Gretzky slipped through their fingers and Keenan remained ... although not for long; he was fired just short of the midpoint of the next season with the club still owing him some $6 million.
The Mike Keenan Era
1996 St. Louis signs RW Joe Murphy
The exuberant Joe Murphy. Glenn Cratty/Allsport
Another fiasco Keenan created was bringing in aging winger Joe Murphy, whose $9.8 million, three-year contract was a league-wide joke.
Murphy scored 24 goals in 102 games with St. Louis, and it took three months after Keenan was fired for the Blues to find a taker for Murphy.
They got defenseman Todd Gill from San Jose, but he was gone after only 39 games when Detroit claimed him on waivers.
1998 RW Brett Hull signs 3-year,
$17 million contract with Dallas
Brett Hull's wicked wrist shots and wicked smile were St. Louis staples for 10 years. Allsport
Easily the most popular and famous player in Blues history, Brett Hull lit up the faces of St. Louis fans from the minute he was acquired from Calgary. Over the next 10 seasons he became one of the most prolific scorers in history, including a magical three-year stretch during which he scored 228 goals.
Hull wanted a three-year, $15 million contract with a no-trade clause. The Blues offered only a limited no-trade clause. The Blues pulled the offer and Hull went to Dallas for virtually the same money -- but with the clause -- and won the Stanley Cup in 1999.
Some people place the blame on Hull's fallout in St. Louis with Keenan, who indeed drove a wedge between the player and team that ultimately lead to Hull's departure even after Keenan was gone.
Dallas Gets a Star in Hull,
while Blues Get 'De-fanged'
St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- July 4, 1998
By Tom Wheatley
So don't look for No. 16 to kick around anymore - here or in Dallas, where Pat Verbeek owns those numerals. Hull won't be hard to spot.
He'll be in the Dallas dressing room, taking every tough question from every reporter every day. He'll help Dallas build and fill a new rink. He'll sign free autographs for Dallas fans, sell products for Dallas sponsors and raise money for Dallas charities.
For a shot at the Stanley Cup, he'll earn less than he could have bled out of Chicago or another desperate loser.
The Brett Hull Blues were chasing only Detroit and Colorado, because they owned Dallas. By sacrificing Steve Duchesne (who went to the LA Kings) and adding Francis, the Brett Hull Blues might have broken through.
Now the Blues are receding in Hull's rear-view mirror. And not just on the highway to Texas.
1991 St. Louis trades C Cliff Ronning, LW Geoff Courtnall, D Robert Dirk, LW Sergio Momesso
and a 5th-round pick to Vancouver for C Dan Quinn
and D Garth Butcher
1994 St. Louis signs C Petr Nedved from Vancouver
Two different deals ... exactly three years apart. And they propelled Vancouver to the Cup finals in 1994.
With the Blues in first place overall late in the 1990-91 season, GM Ron Caron traded four players for two at the trade deadline. The key player for the Blues was Butcher, whom they needed on defense. They took Quinn just to get Butcher, but traded way too much depth and were short a second scoring line when they lost to Minnesota in the second round.
OUCH! You mean the Blues got Mike Keenan, Esa Tikkanen and Doug Lidster, while the Rangers got Petr Nedved? Elsa Hasch/Allsport
Signing Vancouver's Petr Nedved as a free agent in March of 1994 led to a series of weird deals. First, there was an arbitration case on compensation in which the Canucks asked for Shanahan and the Blues offered Craig Janney.
The arbitrator awarded Janney, but Janney refused to report to Vancouver, and ultimately the Blues got Janney back for Jeff Brown, Bret Hedican and Nathan Lafayette.
Oh, and the Blues lost Nedved four months later when the NHL sent him to the Rangers for relics Esa Tikkanen and Doug Lidster ... as compensation for the Blues hiring Keenan.
Kyle Moore, St. Louis, Mo.
"Back in 1990-91 the Blues were unbeatable ... until they traded Cliff Ronning, Geoff Courtnall, Sergio Momesso, and Brett Hedican to the Canucks for Dan Quinn and Garth Butcher. I was raking leaves with a radio on when I heard about the trade, I was so upset that the rake ended up two houses down. I called local sport shows and complained only to be told that we got a great deal. Instead of watching the Blues win the Stanley cup, I got to watch one of the worst excuses for an NHL defenseman, Garth Butcher. The only man who could amass 200+ penalty minutes and never drop the gloves."
1991 The NHL awards D Scott Stevens to New Jersey
Captain Scott Stevens was awarded to New Jersey in a controversial arbitration case on the eve of the 1991-92 season as compensation for the Blues signing free agent Brendan Shanahan from New Jersey. This was just one year after the Blues had surrendered five No. 1 picks to Washington to sign Stevens as a free agent.
It was a major blow for a team with championship aspirations. Stevens has won two Cups with New Jersey; the Blues haven't been past the second round since 1986.
Scott Dettmer, Chesterfield, Mo.
"It is things like this which give the NHL the Garage League reputation."
1988 St. Louis trades C Doug Gilmour, RW Mark Hunter, LW Steve Bozek and D Michael Dark to Calgary for C Mike Bullard, RW Craig Coxe and F Tim Cokery
Gilmour was a steal for St. Louis with the 134th overall pick in 1982. Al Bello/Allsport
Gilmour had been implicated in civil suit for alleged sexual improprieties with a teenage babysitter (he was never charged), but the Blues sent him packing a week later.
Blues chairman Mike Shanahan later said that trading Gilmour "broke [GM] Ron Caron's heart," but that it had to be done to get Gilmour out from under intense public scrutiny and let the team get back to business. "The trade wasn't based on the normal circumstances to improve your team, and that bothered us most of all," Shanahan said. "We knew deep down that we weren't making a trade to improve our team."
The funny thing about Gilmour is that he is revered by fans, management and teammates. It's pretty stunning that he has worn six uniforms over his career, which began in St. Louis. He scored at least 21 goals in each of his five seasons (including 42 and 36 in his final two) with the Blues. What really hurt was how little the Blues got in return for Gilmour because of the circumstances.
Bullard was traded within two months, Coxe wasn't very good and Corkery never played an NHL game.