St. Louis Blues: What If Mike Keenan Had Signed With Detroit Instead

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 3: Head coach Mike Keenan of the St. Louis Blues watches the play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during NHL game action on December 3, 1996 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 3: Head coach Mike Keenan of the St. Louis Blues watches the play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during NHL game action on December 3, 1996 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Blues history had some wild changes with Mike Keenan in charge. Interestingly, it almost did not happen.

Being the Halloween season, what better time than now to discuss one of the scariest coaches in team history?
Almost immediately upon signing a deal with the St. Louis Blues, Mike Keenan became somewhat of a divisive figure in the Gateway City.

When the Blues brought him in, he still had the luster of literally just winning the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers at least. Keenan leveraged his new found fame and conned the Blues into making him not only their coach, but the general manager as well.

This was something Keenan had long desired. There were rumors he tried to get Neil Smith fired, but whether those are substantiated or not, the two had a strained relationship one way or the other.

Basically, it just boiled down to Keenan wanting to be in charge. He wanted the players he wanted and did not want to go through an intermediary to get that.

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It’s scary to think about what might have happened to the Rangers if he was fully in charge. It’s likely that Brian Leetch would have been out of New York long before he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs at the very end of his career.

Blues fans know all about Keenan’s temperament as a GM. In hindsight, with Keenan in full power, it’s hard to imagine how Brett Hull outlasted him. I guess we cannot say he did not know talent, he just rarely got along with the talent.

Keenan made several high-profile moves, some of which worked and others that nobody understood. Nobody understood trading Brendan Shanahan for Chris Pronger, but that worked out in the long term. Nobody really got why the Blues traded Curtis Joseph away. They got Marty Reasoner with the draft pick and swapped the other pick as part of the Wayne Gretzky deal, but that was never the intended outcome when CuJo was sent packing.

Don’t even get Blues fans started on the Gretzky deal. Gretzky should have retired with the Blues, but Keenan got in the way of all that with his stubborn ways.

Keenan also packed the locker room with his own guys. While we all learned to love them, it’s doubtful names like Adam Creighton, Brian Noonan, Craig MacTavish, Doug Lidster, Esa Tikkanen, Glenn Anderson or Stephane Matteau would end up in St. Louis if not for Keenan.

Basically, anyone who played under Keenan in Chicago or New York, that was available, was brought in, regardless of age. But, what do you expect from the guy that basically demanded the Rangers trade a young Tony Amonte for Matteau and Noonan?

So, what’s the point of all this rehash? Well, apparently, all that insanity might have been avoided if not for cold feet by one of the Blues’ biggest rivals.

According to an interview with former Rangers GM Neil Smith, Keenan was close to signing with the Detroit Red Wings. Smith said the Red Wings backed out of negotiations, and then the Blues jumped in and poached him.

This seems insane since Scotty Bowman was already in Detroit and they had just finished a 100 point season, topped the division and only lost a squeaker series to San Jose. However, the Chicago Tribune had a piece back in 1994, that backed up Smith’s claim.

Can you imagine how this would have impacted the Blues to not have Keenan? Can you imagine how it would have changed the fortune of the Red Wings?

Keenan rarely made an outright bad deal, but his trades and signings were often of a self-serving nature. He didn’t want to coach up the guys he would inherit, so he brought in guys he knew would tolerate his system.

Maybe Shanahan stays with the Blues, though there were outside issues that impacted that beyond Keenan. That means Chris Pronger never comes to St. Louis, but you keep a prolific goal scorer on your team and away from Detroit in the long term.

We complain about Gretzky being run off by Keenan, but does any other GM have the guts to go after him in the first place. That’s a complete unknown.

The bigger impact might be on Detroit. Instead of being a perennial thorn in the Blues side, maybe they never get over that hump.

Steve Yzerman would have been untouchable like Leetch or Mark Messier, but what about Sergei Federov? I could see him being shipped out to acquire one of Keenan’s boys even after scoring 120 points. The guy didn’t really care what Hull offered afterall.

Kris Draper and Keith Primeau turned out to be good players, but maybe Keenan doesn’t have the patience to let them grow. Maybe Keenan doesn’t pull out of the Red Wings what Bowman did.

It’s not as though coaching alone won all those Stanley Cups with Detroit, but you cannot deny Bowman’s success. He won in St. Louis and got them to the Final.

He Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh and Detroit. Keenan won in New York, but given the volatile nature of it all, that was likely one and done even if he stayed.

As a Blues fan that had to suffer through all those years with Detroit being just a bit better, I’d like to have seen if Keenan would have damaged them the way he did the Blues. Keenan was a good enough coach to make St. Louis better, but the moves he made were not in the long-term benefit of the Blues.

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Hindsight is always 20/20 in these situations. Good gravy, how things would have changed for those two franchises if the Red Wings actually brought Keenan in before the Blues picked him up.