Even though St. Louis is in the throes of a hot and sticky summer, it's an important time on the hockey calendar. Over the weekend, the NHL held its annual entry draft and the Blues were busy drafting a small dynamo in Jaden Schwartz and trading last year's first round pick, David Rundblad, for an additional first rounder to take gifted Russian Vladimir Tarasenko. And now free agency starts Thursday.
The Blues were obviously busy with the draft, but they also made another trade of prospects which followed another move earlier this month when they swapped prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz for the rights to Montreal restricted free agent goaltender Jaroslav Halak, one of the heroes of this year's playoffs.
All the activity got us to thinking about the summer moves the franchise has made over the years. Historically, the team has made a number waves across the league when ice was more a concern in the lemonade than at the rink. In fact, the team has been so busy in the past that we couldn't put the Halak acquisition on the list, even though it was the most daring move the team has made since the current ownership group took over in the summer of 2006. For now, it's just an honorable mention. (We also didn't mention the summer the team almost moved to Saskatchewan because it doesn't actually qualify as a move -- but it was close)
5. Blues trade for Al MacInnis -- July 4, 1994. This was one in a string of high-profile moves that saw elite players come and go from the team when the Blues sent Phil Housley and some picks for the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner. They acquired arguably the biggest shot in the league, a future Norris Trophy winner and a future Hall of Famer. More importantly, he would be a mentor for a young defenseman that the Blues would acquire one summer later. MacInnis remains with the team as a vice president for hockey operations and a strong fixture in amateur hockey circles. It is a shame his career ended because of injury and not by his decision. He came to St. Louis when Brett Hull was still on the team, saw Wayne Gretzky come and go and welcomed Doug and Keith Tkachuk. He was one of the few constants for the franchise for a little more than 10 years.
4. Blues sign free agent Brendan Shanahan -- July 25, 1991. In the early 1990s, before the players were locked out by NHL owners, signing free agents was unheard of (until the Blues did it a season before, but we'll get to that.) A player at his peak just didn't move unless his teams made a trade, especially a talented power forward with just four seasons under his belt.
But that's what happened to Brendan Shanahan. He hit 30 and 29 goals the two seasons before signing with the Blues. He would go on to score 50 goals in a season twice for St. Louis. He was a star in the city and across the league. Then he ended up in a love affair with linemate Craig Janney's wife (she and Shanahan would eventually marry) and he was traded in July 1995. But we'll get to that too. Him winning the Stanley Cup in Detroit was a horrible, horrible thing.
3. Blues sign free agent Scott Stevens -- July 13, 1990. In eight seasons in Washington, Scott Stevens scored 98 goals and had more than 400 points. At the time, he held franchise records for most goals and points by a defenseman and most penalty minutes in team history. But when the Blues signed him to a lucrative offer sheet, he jumped at the opportunity, costing the Blues five No. 1 draft picks. He was immediately named team captain and was sixth on the team in points. The Blues finished second overall in the league standings, right behind the Blackhawks, and seemed poised to make a deep playoff run ... until the upstart North Stars ended that dream in the second round.
And then that summer the Blues signed Shanahan, and Stevens was awarded to the New Jersey Devils as compensation (because they didn't have first round picks to give up.) It was crushing that he was a Blue for just one season, not even 365 days. And the fact that the two players never appeared on the ice as teammates is a travesty perpetuated by league ownership that didn't want to see escalating contracts or mass player movement at the players' prerogative.
2. Blues Trade for Chris Pronger -- July 27, 1995. Shanahan was set to cement his reputation as a future Hall of Famer in St. Louis ... until the Janney thing happened, and coach/general manager Mike Keenan decided a team leader didn't do that. So Keenan sent Shanahan to Hartford for hulking the young defenseman Pronger, a former No. 2 overall pick who was labeled as an immature player -- at age 20. Pronger would become team captain and earn the Norris Trophy as top defenseman the same year he won the Hart Trophy as league MVP. He won a gold medal for team Canada at the Olympics and will be a shoo-in as a Hall of Famer whenever he retires. He was the face of the franchise after Hull was allowed to leave via free agency. The pairing of Pronger and MacInnis on the power play will go down as one of the most lethal combinations at the blue line in league history. But in the end, Pronger would be just another star player who didn't finish his career in St. Louis for out of the ordinary circumstances.
1. Blues trade for Eric Brewer -- Aug. 3, 2005. The reason this transaction tops the list is because of its lasting impact, and what this trade signified for the franchise. Its echoes still reverberate today. This happened as the league was coming out of a year-long lockout that cost an entire season. Owner Bill Laurie had the team up for sale, and Pronger was making a lot of money. Laurie reportedly instructed general manager Larry Pleau to trade Pronger, thinking that the team was easier to sell without such a large contract on the books.
He was traded to Edmonton for Eric Brewer and prospects Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch. It was similar to trading a $1 bill for a 50-cent piece and two quarters -- you could argue the total value was the same, but none of the components could ever be as valuable on their own. Pronger went on to win a Stanley Cup and appear in two other Finals, and he remains one of the most high profile and intimidating players in the entire league. Brewer is in the final year of his contract and has been a disappointment/whipping boy since his first few games in St. Louis. Woywitka is in Dallas after he was allowed to walk before last season and Lynch, well, he's never going to make the NHL. What has followed has been one of the longest rebuilding projects in team history.
What's ironic is the quote from Pleau at the time of the deal: "Eric Brewer has been a premier defenseman in the National Hockey League for the past several seasons and we are very excited about the talents he brings to the Blues. We are also adding two skilled younger defensemen who are clearly up-and-coming players at this level. We're looking forward to having all three of these players in our lineup together one day in the future." Sorry, Larry, it never happened.
Agree? Disagree? Tell us in the comments.