The St. Louis Blues have made plenty of big trades in their franchise history. However, one that was supposed to put them over the edge actually pushed them the other direction.
The St. Louis Blues have made plenty of big deals during their 50-plus years of existence. They might not have the longevity of other franchises, but they have not shied away from the occasional blockbuster deal.
Of course, deals that brought the franchise changing Brett Hull to town are near the top. There is also the late-February deal that brought Wayne Gretzky to the Gateway City, and also shows how much the trade deadline moves around.
However, there was one particular trade that happened on March 5, 1991. That trade was made with a plan to put the Blues over the top. Instead, they gutted the team and might have ruined a chance at a long playoff run.
Right in the heart of Ron Caron’s tenure as Blues GM, the team was cruising their way to the top of the league in 1990-91. Brett Hull led the league in goals with 86, the Blues had the dynamic duo of Hull and Oates (both of whom had over 100 points) and ended up in second place in the NHL. The only bad thing was the first place team was the Chicago Blackhawks, who of course were and are in the Blues’ division.
Still, the Blues finished the season with 105 points. For whatever reason, the team was not quite satisfied with the group that had gotten them a 40-20-10 record to that point.
So, Caron traded Cliff Ronning, Geoff Courtnall, Sergio Momesso and Robert Dirk for Garth Butcher and Dan Quinn. As with every trade, you would get different reactions, but The Hockey News, a national publication, declared the Blues the winner of the deal.
March 5 1991
St Louis Blues trade Geoff Courtnall, Robert Dirk, Sergio Momesso & Cliff Ronning for Dan Quinn & Garth Butcher.@TheHockeyNews declared Blues winner of trade.@SergioMomesso36 was on w/ @andystrickland & talked about trade.https://t.co/lQcb9WdisL
— STL Blues History (@STLBlueshistory) March 5, 2020
Most of that assessment had to be based on the fact Vancouver was a full 40 points behind the Blues. When one team receives four players and another two, it seems the only logical way to think of the Blues as the “winner”.
St. Louis was clear with their goals. They wanted to add some toughness for the playoffs, which Butcher definitely provided.
They wanted to boost their power play too. Quinn was able to do that, scoring four power play goals in 14 regular season game to finish that regular season.
However, what Caron did not realize was the disruption this would cause in the locker room. The Blues already had 90 points at that season and you were removing four players, three of whom were key pieces of that puzzle.
While Quinn seemed like a good piece, having scored 18 goals and 49 points to that point, the Blues were giving up on Courtnall. The winger was still in his prime at 28 and had 27 goals and 57 points when he was traded.
Momesso had 10 goals and 28 points and was as gritty as anyone. He had 131 penalty minutes, which was second most among Blues forwards.
Perhaps the Blues were thinking Ronning was injury prone at that point. Still, even having missed some games in the 90-91 season, he had 14 goals and 32 points in 48 games with the Blues.
No offense to Quinn, but Butcher had to be the key piece in this deal. The offense did not gain enough with Quinn alone to make it worth it unless they saw Butcher as a key to helping their defense in a quest for the Cup.
In the end, it just did not happen. Too much was changed from a team that was cruising.
Quinn had a decent playoffs, scoring four goals and 11 points in 13 games. Two goals came on the power play and one was a game winner.
Butcher went on to become a fan favorite and pitched in with two goals and three points in the playoffs. That’s not bad for a defensive defenseman.
The Blues even had a seven game win streak to end the regular season, after tying one and losing two right after the trade. Still, there was just too much upheaval.
The Blues barely snuck by the Detroit Red Wings in seven games. Then they got upset by Jon Casey and the Minnesota North Stars, who made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final despite only having 68 regular season points.
Some of this can be blamed on the Blues just being the Blues. However, we will never know if things might have gone differently if Caron had just trusted the guys in the locker room, which was something he was never that great at since he always loved making trades.
The kicker is that Butcher was ultimately all the Blues got. He stayed in St. Louis for two and a half seasons after the trade and was even briefly the team captain.
Quinn was gone after that spring. Prior to the next season, the Blues traded him and Rod Brind’Amour for Ron Sutter and Murray Baron. Brind’Amour was a young player at the time, but that’s another matter on what they might have missed with him.
Ultimately, even if Quinn stayed, he was never the same. He only had two seasons even close to a full year and never scored more than 45 points again.
On the flip side, Courtnall, Ronning and Momesso would all be key players for a Vancouver team that made the final in 1994 and then knocked the Blues out in the first round the following year.
Courtnall would return to the Blues eventually, but they missed out on two 70-plus point seasons and Courtnall had nine goals and 19 points in the Canucks run to the Cup Final. Ronning really came around in Vancouver too, never scoring fewer than 60 points in a non-lockout season.
Between the two of them, the Blues missed out on nine goals. That was nine goals in six games too, which might have been even more if they were around for the 13 games the Blues played in those playoffs.
Momesso’s goal totals went down after leaving St. Louis. He was still a solid point producer and an agitator playing in a mostly third-line type of role. Apparently the trade still touches a nerve with the uncle of current Blues defenseman Marco Scandella.
Sergio Momesso says he’s still “pissed” and angry over 1991 deadline trade that sent him and three other #stlblues to the #Canucks. Also great analysis on his nephew Marco Scandella https://t.co/8XO3WwlcON
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) February 29, 2020
Who knows how that season or the following ones might have turned out. Nobody can say with any certainty that Courtnall would have had the same seasons with the Blues he had in Vancouver.
Maybe Ronning doesn’t become a 60-80 point scorer with the Blues the way he did with the Canucks. Who can say?
However, what we do know is that this had to disrupt the team chemistry. Butcher would go on to become one of Hull’s best friends and he and Quinn clearly did not not fit in, but that big a change is going to have an impact.
Losing three players that are capable of scoring and trying to replace them with one guy put a lot of pressure on Hull and Oates in the playoffs. Butcher was a decent addition, but the Blues continued to let their goaltender be peppered with almost 300 shots in 13 games and Vincent Riendeau allowed 35 goals.
The Hockey News might have declared the Blues the winner, but it is hard to see them as the winner in the long term. The Blues lost an entire line’s worth of forwards just prior to the playoffs. That is a heck of a change.
It is all in the past, but so much of this team’s past is cluttered with rather large what if’s. This one has to go down as one of the bigger what if’s.