June 24, 1991: St. Louis Blues Begin An Age Of Doom

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 18: Brendan Shanahan #19 of the St. Louis Blues skates agains Doug Gilmour #93 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during NHL game action on February 18, 1995 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 18: Brendan Shanahan #19 of the St. Louis Blues skates agains Doug Gilmour #93 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during NHL game action on February 18, 1995 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images) /

July 25, 1991 should have been a day of joy for St. Louis Blues fans, and for a short time it was. However, it triggered events that set the franchise back.

On July 25, 1991, the St. Louis Blues signed Brendan Shanahan to an offer sheet worth a total of $5 million. That was not $5 million per season, but over four years, meaning he would earn $1.25 million per season.

It seems like pocket change compared to what players of Shanahan’s ability are given today. At the time, the league was not happy that the Blues were driving the price up on free agents.

Thus, there was little push back from any of the other NHL members when Lou Lamoriello went for the throat.

St. Louis had put themselves in a bind when they signed Scott Stevens the previous offseason. He, like Shanahan, was a restricted free agent, but instead of matching the offer, the Washington Capitals took two first-round picks as compensation from the Blues.

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This meant they had no prime picks to offer as compensation for Shanahan. So, Lamoriello decided Stevens was the only compensation he would settle for.

St. Louis offered a combo of Curtis Joseph and Rod Brind’Amour. The New Jersey Devils were having none of it and, eventually, the arbitrating judge Edward Houston ordered the Blues to give up Stevens as the compensation.

In today’s terms, it would be like the Blues picking up Leon Draisaitl, but being forced to surrender Alex Pietrangelo in return. Yes, you get a prime scoring threat, but you lose one of the better defenders in the league.

In hindsight, it was even worse at the time. Stevens went on to win three Stanley Cups in New Jersey and became a Hall of Fame player. You could already see that when he was in St. Louis and he wanted to stay. Proof of that was when the Blues had a chance to re-sign Stevens as a free agent in 1994.

Stevens signed an offer sheet with the Blues worth $17 million over four seasons. Unfortunately for the Bluenote, the Devils matched it.

They later accused the Blues of contacting Stevens before the official free agency period and, after a lengthy investigation, the Blues had to pay New Jersey $1.5 million and give up two first-round draft picks. Lamoriello wanted five first rounders.

If you look at this transaction in a vacuum, you could see it glass half full or half empty. On the positive side, the Blues acquired Shanahan, who would go on to be a preeminent goal scorer and one of the more popular members of the team ever. Shanahan would later be traded, but while the deal stunk at the time, the Blues acquired Chris Pronger who would go on to a Hall of Fame career himself.

However, on the negative side, it is hard not to imagine the Blues having one of the best defensive defensemen of all time on their team for his entire career. Joseph had a fine career in St. Louis and was one of the favorites of many fans. Even so, the Blues might have found another goalie that could have performed just as well and had the tough as nails defender.

This one acquisition also set off a chain reaction of ill-conceived moved, even if not directly. The Blues got hosed on another arbitration case not long after. They signed Petr Nedved, who was in a contract dispute with Vancouver, in 1994. The Blues surrendered Craig Janney as compensation and then traded Jeff Brown, Brett Hedican and Nathan Lafayette to get Janney back.

We all love Shanahan and Janney was a first-line center, but just imagine having Stevens, Brown and even Hedican all in their primes. St. Louis would have had a blue line that rivaled Detroit during those mid-to-late 1990’s.

Maybe you don’t pick up Chris Pronger without Shanahan to deal. Or maybe, if Mike Keenan is still in charge, he finds fault with some other forward and still picks up Pronger. If, and that’s a big if, that still happened, then you have Pronger and Stevens, and perhaps MacInnis all together. I think the Blues knock off Detroit and maybe even Colorado in 1996 if they have that trio.

Of course, not all of this is the league’s fault. If Ron Caron could have calmed down for five minutes, maybe he would not have repeatedly jumped the gun on these deals and cost the Blues so much in compensation.

Then again, Caron just had to make the big splash. I’ll still never understand trading Geoff Courtnall, Robert Dirk, Sergio Momesso and Cliff Ronning for Garth Butcher and Dan Quinn. Even as a young child, I remember asking my dad why you would trade so many guys for just two.

That’s another story though. All Blues fans loved Shanahan while he was here, there is little doubt of that.

Personally, I’d take Stevens over Shanahan any day. Combine that loss with the turmoil that Shanahan caused behind the scenes and it might have been more beneficial for the Blues to stay out of it from the start.

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Unfortunately, they made the signing on July 25, 1991 and the NHL punished them for it. 29 years later, we can look back with more ease now that the franchise has won a Stanley Cup.

It’s hard not to wonder if Stevens could have helped the Blues to multiple wins instead of New Jersey though.