In 1996 St. Louis Blues fans were dealing with tough times. Not on the scoreboard, not in the standings, but within the organization. After a blockbuster trade by Mike Keenan, the Blues were unable to keep the legend that is Wayne Gretzky. Supposedly, Gretzky had said he would have stayed in St. Louis if Mike Keenan would have promised not to trade Brett Hull, but Keenan would refuse to say that he would not trade Hull, so the Great One went to New York and the rest is history. After 31 games in the Blue Note, fans would never get to see Gretzky and Hull lift a cup, win a conference, or even just play on the same line again. It only got worse though, Keenan had traded away beloved players like Curtis Joseph and Brendan Shanahan, but that was not even his greatest downfall. Keenan was known as a coach you did not want to play for, as the guy who would not let All-Stars have input or be part of the leadership. Naturally, outspoken Brett Hull didn’t get along with him either, and it became very public in the fall of 1996 as the season started.
Keenan would soon get fired, causing mass celebrations of Blues fans around the city, state, and country. Although the Keenan years were filled with disappointments and loss, Blues fans did see a few good moves made. Although the Blues had lost Shanahan, they did gain a young, albeit unproven at the time, defensemen that would help lead the blue line with Al MacInnis in Chris Pronger, but the best move Keenan ever made would be done on November 27, 1996.
In the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, the St. Louis Blues drafted a young Swedish defenseman named Chris Olsson in the 11th round, 275th overall. At the time no one would have thought anything of this draft choice, but it may have been one of the Blues best in recent history. After 2 years in Sweden, Olsson came to the United States to play with the Worchester Ice Cats of the AHL and would eventually make his debut for the St. Louis Blues. In that 1995-96 season, Olsson played just 26 games and managed to get two goals and 8 assists on a solid Blues defensive core.
The next season, Olsson would play only 5 games in the Blue Note before being dealt to the Ottawa Senators for a payer also drafted in 1993, 227th overall, a player who in his first NHL game in 1993 would score his first NHL goal against Curtis Joseph and the St. Louis Blues. Who was this player, you ask, none other than Pavol Demitra.
Once the trade was final, the Blues sent Demitra to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the IHL. After 42 games with the Griffins, Demitra had managed to net 20 goals and 30 assists for 50 points. The Blues were so impressed that they called him up to the big club later in the year where he would only play 8 regular season games and 6 playoff games. Demitra’s first game with the Blues was uneventful. It was on March 17, 1996 in a 3-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. It was not until April 3, 1997 that Demitra would score for the Blues, but he managed to get 2 of them in a 5-5 tie with the New York Islanders. He finished the regular season with just 3 goals in 8 games, but the next few seasons would prove to be a little better for Demitra. In fact, over the next 7 seasons with the St. Louis Blues, Demitra would play in 494 games scoring 204 goals and 289 assists for 493 points, basically a point per game.
Olsson on the other hand, did not wind up begin worth the trade at all. In fact he is most well-known for the trade as the 1996-97 would be his last in the NHL, playing just 25 games and scoring only 2 goals and 3 assists.
So here we are, some 16 years later, Pavol Demitra having suffered a tragic end to his career last season, we look back on the trade. I for one don’t like to give Keenan credit for anything that he did in his time in St. Louis as he was enemy number one for Blues fans like myself, but Demitra was a great score. He put up solid numbers every year he was in St. Louis, winning a Lady Byng Memorial trophy, leading the team in scoring, and seemingly only getting better each season.
In 2002-03, Demitra would have his most productive season in the NHL. Having put up huge numbers in the past, exceeding the 70 point total 3 times including an 89 point season, having put up 100 points in the other 109 games played, Demitra scored a career high 93 points. It would be the only time in his career that he would score over 90 points in a season, and his last season to score over 70 points in the NHL. Demitra finished 6th in scoring with 36 goals and 57 assists in just 78 games. On November 29, 2002, Demitra managed a hat trick and season high four point game again the Calgary Flames in a massive 7-2 win. Although the Blues would not get far in the playoffs that season, it was a great year for fans watching Demitra do what Hull had done for so many years in the 90’s.
For a Blues fan, watching Demitra was something special. It was something that we will all remember for some time and no one should ever don his number 38 again. He ranks 5th in Blues all-time scoring and will always be a legend in our hearts. After the tragic plane crash last year, looking back on this trade means even more than it would have before. While there is little mistake that Demitra is one of the best Blues of all time, he will be remembered for more than a plane crash, more than his scoring records; he will be remembered as a friend to the city and the leader that he was on and off the ice. We miss you Demitra, and we wish the best to your family and friends.
In the future we can only hope that we can get another as great as you, hopefully through another greta trade. Maybe Armstrong will have something up his sleeve when the season starts, maybe we can get another great goal scorer, but we will never have another Demitra. As always, LET’S GO BLUES!