The Great One doesn’t often speak candidly about behind the scenes affairs, especially his brief time with the St. Louis Blues. He’s very much a speak softly but carry a big stick kind of person.
So, when he does come out and say things, it has weight. That’s why it hit hard when he made public comments about the end of his tenure in the Gateway City.
Most Blues fans knew that Gretzky was leaning towards staying in St. Louis. Those same fans know that, for whatever reason, a contract was pulled off the table and Gretzky went on to the New York Rangers after that.
However, Hockey Beast stirred up those old and painful memories. They released a quote from Gretzky regarding the whole thing.
It should be noted that the SI.com link just goes to their general web page. This quote may be from an old article and just resurfacing, but it still stings to see The Great One’s own words.
Gretzky’s quote confirmed what most of us knew. He was going to stay and, likely, retire with the St. Louis Blues.
Instead, Mike Keenan drove him away. That set off a chain reaction that wasn’t cured for almost a decade.
What we, or at least I, was unaware of was the fact that Jack Quinn was the one to take the offer off the table. With Keenan, you can at least chalk it up to a lack of awareness of reality and pure vanity, but you would think Quinn would have known better.
For those unaware, Quinn was the team president from 1983 to 1996. He was a steadying force with the team that had three different owners while he was at the helm.
Quinn didn’t often meddle, as long as the finances worked. He typically let his general managers, Ron Caron and Keenan, handle the hockey side. That’s what makes his involvement in the Gretzky fiasco strange.
Of course, the timing of his departure also pours salt in this wound. Quinn left in 1996, which is clearly the same year that Gretzky came and went.
It is likely that Keenan still had a strong hand in all this. He probably used some sort of strong-arm tactic to convince Quinn to make that call.
However, it is the job of a good president to calm everything down and not make rash decisions. The way things transpired is just not how you take care of business.
Who, in their right mind, decides to renege on a negotiated contract after one playoff game? Gretzky didn’t light the world on fire, but he had 8 goals and 21 points in 18 regular season games with the Blues and added two goals and 16 points in 13 playoff games.
Do we just ignore all those other games? Why such focus on Game 2 against the Detroit Red Wings?
The Blues lost that game 8-3, so that’s embarrassing. Gretzky was a minus-4 with one assist, meaning he was on the ice for four goals against. You don’t pick up Gretzky for defense though.
If that one-game performance was worthy of trashing the game’s biggest name, why did Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis not suffer similar fates? The team’s two best defenders were minus-3 and minus-1 respectively.
Why let one bad night for the team change everything? Gretzky ended up scoring the game winning goal to tie the series two games later. He had a goal and assist in the Game 5 win.
While an argument can be made that Gretzky’s lackadaisical play that cost them in Game 7 was due to his frustration with the situation, I argue the opposite. If things truly devolved after Game 2, I’m shocked he still put up two goals and five points for a team he knew he had no future with. That’s still pretty solid professionalism.
The whole situation continues to be a sour note on what has normally been a pretty upstanding franchise. You need look no further than the fact that Gretzky continues to be involved on occasion with the Blues now that nobody involved in that is still around.
When you ponder the situation for a moment, it really was a franchise altering decision. You wonder what might have been had the Blues kept Gretzky instead of Keenan.
Keenan only lasted until December of the following season anyway. Brett Hull was gone in the summer of 1998, somewhat due to a strained relationship from the Keenan era.
Gretzky played until 1999. How many things change if he stays with the Blues?
Maybe Hull never leaves and he retires with the Blues as well. Maybe the team surrounds them with enough talent that the Stanley Cup comes to St. Louis before 2019. At the very least, maybe Hull never goes to Dallas or Detroit.
Do the Stars and Red Wings win those Cups without Hull? How do the Blues look with a constant duo of Gretzky and Hull?
Everything with the Blues is always a what if, it seems. As great as Hull was, he seemed like he only ever got a couple seasons with an elite center.
Gretzky was clearly near the end of his career, playing only three more seasons. However, he only made the playoffs with the Rangers once.
If he retired with the Blues, he makes the playoffs every year. Gretzky could have had at least two seasons under Joel Quenneville too.
It’s impossible to say how things would have gone for the Blues with the Great One here for a few more years. Maybe it doesn’t change much.
As a fan at the time, I would’ve liked those 57 goals and 249 points with the Blueshirts to come with the Blues instead. It would have been nice to be the team Gretzky hung up the skates with instead of being a footnote, or trivia question answer.
Why Quin, or Keenan, ever made that awful decision is beyond me. I would still disagree with it, but if the contract was altered after the entirety of the playoffs occurred, you can make that argument. You don’t disrespect any player, much less one of the game’s best in the middle of a playoff series.
Yet again, it’s one of the reasons nobody in St. Louis has a good thing to say about the Keenan era. The only good thing he ever did was acquire Chris Pronger and, given how things were at the time, you wonder if it really took Brendan Shanahan to do it.