St. Louis Blues: How Two GM’s Brought Down The Blues

Ruined is not a word you should throw around lightly when talking about how someone’s performance affected an organization. However, though the two men could not have been more different, there were two that brought the Blues down

The St. Louis Blues have had some interesting guys in charge of the team over the years. Whether it is odd owners, interesting team presidents or crazy general managers, there have been a host of characters.

However, something dawned on me while putting together a piece about the best players for the Blues in the 90’s. It occured to me that, while on-ice performance had plenty to do with it, the team’s downfall for some of their failure can be boiled down to two men.

Two men, through their trades, deals (or lack thereof) and general meddling, managed to derail potential championship contenders. Interestingly enough, their tenures with the team came back to back. That is merely coincidental, but intriguing nonetheless.

The two men are Mike Keenan and Ron Caron – in no particular order. As people and ambassadors for the organization, they could not have been more different. However, in their own strange way of trying to help the team, they accidentally cost the franchise so much.

We’ll start with the easy one. Anyone who is over a certain age remembers the Iron Mike Era. It was supposed to be the end of the drought since Keenan had ended it with the New York Rangers.

The problem was that nobody really doubted Keenan’s ability as a coach. He proved that he could get a lot out of teams from behind the bench. However, in hindsight, there was no way the team should ever have given him any type of roster control. He became – if he was not already – an egomaniac and sent several of the best players ever packing.

Keenan started by bringing in his old cronies. While some of them ended up being decent contributors, he was too stuck on bringing in players he had coached in Chicago or New York. The main problem was that their glory days were back in Chicago or New York.

As exciting as the addition was at the time, Esa Tikkanen was a shell of his former self. Craig MacTavish was past his prime and though he had a good season or two, Adam Creighton was Adam Creighton.

Then, there was the departure of so many stars. You can point to the fact that the Blues got Grant Fuhr and Chris Pronger as positives, and they are. However, at the time, the idea of trading away Curtis Joseph and Brendan Shanahan was pure madness.

We found out later that Shanahan’s relationship with the team was strained by an affair with a teammate’s wife, but Craig Janney was already traded. We can judge Shanahan as a man, but as a player at the time, there was no reason to deal him other than locker room issues.

There was never a good reason for the Joseph deal. The Blues got nothing from it and there was never a good explanation to it, other than Keenan was disappointed in Joseph’s playoff performance.

Rumors poured out after his dismissal, and some even while he was there. One story is that Dale Howerchuk’s grandmother was dying and had one final chance to see him play while the Blues were in Buffalo. Keenan, according to the story, scratched Howerchuk out of some odd spite.

Then, his most egregious offense was the biggest. We need look no further than the sage pictured in the story link. Keenan, single-handedly, drove the greatest player in the game away from the Blues.

Keenan seemed like a genius by acquiring Wayne Gretzky for what amounted to a box of rocks, no offense to the players given up. Gretzky joined an offensively stagnant team and showed how good he was by being the team’s ninth best scorer and playing in only 18 games.

Gretzky had an underwhelming playoffs by his standards, but he put up 16 points in 13 games. Maybe it was the turnover that led to the game winning goal for Detroit. Maybe it was someone getting more publicity than him. Who knows.

The bottom line is Keenan pulled a standing contract extension offer off the table with the game’s best player. This, coupled with a disdain of the man and his tactics anyway, made Gretzky immediately say there was no way he’d come back to the Blues as long as Keenan was there.

The team chose the coach over the player, since he had only been there two seasons and had a large buyout clause. It proved a bad decision, as Gretzky kept his promise and left for New York.

Keenan further damaged the team but doing everything he could to irritate Brett Hull. Hull was a notorious loud mouth anyway, but with a foil like Keenan, he went over the edge. He would publicly, though through the side of his mouth, question Keenan and the two seemed to trade jabs through the media.

Eventually, it became a him or me scenario again and Hull won out. Still, the damage had been done between Hull and the Blues and his overzealousness became too much a habit. The Blues let him go to Dallas and he immediately won a championship.

Maybe the Blues do not win a Cup, but I’d like their chances if they changed history. Maybe Hull never has to leave if Keenan is shown the door and Gretzky stays to finish his career. Maybe the Blues miss out on Pronger, but a trio of Hull, Gretzky and Shanahan is hard to pass up. We’ll never know.

On the flip side, Keenan became generally loathed in the fan community. He was trying his best, but just had the wrong ideas and was too full of himself.

St. Louis Blues

1990-91: St. Louis Blues general manager Ron Caron at St. Louis Arena in St. Louis, Missouri. Mandatory Credit: ALLSPORT USA /Allsport

Conversely, even with all his faults, Ron Caron was still fondly remembered. Much of it had to do with his genuine love of the franchise.

GM’s always want to succeed and their teams to win. Caron had a true affection for the team and was as close to a fan as any executive could ever be.

His problem was that he could never stop tinkering. He took some of the most talented teams of his era and flushed them down the toilet because he could not let a trade deadline pass without making a deal.

Caron made some of the most head-scratching, bone-headed, foolish deals in history. In his mind, I am sure he thought he was improving the team. In reality, at best he ruined team chemistry and at worst, he just made the absolute wrong moves.

The worst was basically handing Vancouver the 1994 Western Conference. Prior to the deadline in 1991, Caron proceeded to trade Geoff Courtnall, Cliff Ronning, Sergio Momesso and Robert Dirk for Garth Butcher and Dan Quinn. No offense to Quinn, but Butcher was not worth all that.

Courtnall and Ronning were the second and third leading scorers on the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final for the Canucks. Momesso was no star, but still put up over 20 points with 14 goals. All of them were playoff performers as well.

Caron also traded away Adam Oates. He gets credit for bringing him to St. Louis, so he has to share blame for sending him away. Some say his hand was forced when Oates demanded to re-negotiate his contract, but there should have been a way to work that out.

Caron picked up Brendan Shanahan, but he cost the team Scott Stevens by contacting Shanahan early and getting caught for tampering. Something similar happened when the Blues got Petr Nedved and the Blues had to trade Jeff Brown and Brett Hedican to Vancouver to reacquire Craig Janney, thus bolstering Vancouver even more.

Caron traded away Rod Brind’Amour. Though his hand was forced by outside factors, Caron basically got nothing for Doug Gilmour either.

I will always respect the man for his passion for the Blues. Until his dying day, he supported the Blues and you have to like him for that.

However, despite having some of the biggest names in team history on his watch, there was always something going on to where the team could not win. Either he made a trade for the sake of it and upset the chemistry or something similar.

Again, all executives have scenarios where they could have done something differently and maybe the team would have been better off. However, there are just far too many what if’s under the watch of these two men.

Under these two the Blues lost out on names like Stevens, Shanahan, Oates, Courtnall, Brown, Brind’Amour, Joseph and Gretzky. They deserve credit for bringing in some big names, too, but it just does not outweigh the damage they did.

Unlike other franchises, they did not dismantle anything but their work might have been even more frustrating. Instead of building on the positives, they always managed to take a few bricks out just as they were finishing up a wall.

Keenan and Caron were two of the most interesting characters to ever step foot in the St. Louis Arena or Kiel Center. Even so, their failures might outdo all the others before or after them.