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The Other Side Of The 20th Anniversary Of The Brendan Shanahan-Scott Stevens Trade

On July 25th, 1991, the Blues acquired Brendan Shanahan for star defenseman Scott Stevens. This wasn't a deal that all parties agreed upon. Why is this trade one of the the most contentious in Blues history?

Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski looked at the Brendan Shanahan trade today from the perspective of a Devils fan. It's a contentious topic even this far after the fact, with Blues fans still upset at the NHL's decision and Devils fans still thankful for Scott Stevens.

Obviously, a New Jersey Devils fan like Wyshynski will have a slightly different point of view regarding this trade than a Blues fan. The Devils got Scott Stevens, who was a blue-liner of the highest caliber (Wysh points out that the Blues improved by ten wins the season after they acquired Stevens from the Washington Capitals). Stevens had three years left on a four year deal with the Blues, while Brendan Shanahan was a restricted free agent this time twenty years ago.

Stevens didn't come cheap - the Blues sent five first rounders back to the Caps for him in a deal that would be unheard of and loudly decried today.GM Ron Caron, despite what Stevens brought to the team, apparently didn't think that it was enough. Maybe he was of the school of thought that you need a solid forward to win a Cup, and that defense isn't as important as scoring. Maybe he just generally didn't have a clue what you needed to win the Stanley Cup. Whatever the reason, he wanted Brendan Shanahan. He offered Shanny a four year, five million contract, which Shanahan obviously jumped at.

As an RFA, though, the Blues had to send compensation. The Devils wanted Adam Oates or Scott Stevens; the Blues offered up Curtis Joseph and Rod Brind'Amour. Admittedly, losing the man who dished Brett Hull a good number of his 86 goals in 1990-1991, and a player who had 90 assists that season would have been tough for the team to swallow. Rod Brind'Amour was considered one of the Blues big up and comers. He was their 9th overall pick (1st round) in the 1988 draft and a franchise building block. Curtis Joseph was signed after his freshman season at the University of Wisconsin and was considered a goalie for the future.

It was not a poor or unfair compensation for Brendan Shanahan by any means. Shanahan just finished a season in which he scored 29 goals and 37 assists. However, the Devils wanted something more from the Blues - they wanted their star defenseman. They submitted a proposal to the arbitrator of a deal of Brendan Shanahan for Scott Stevens.

And Judge Edward Houston approved it.

Stevens disapproved of it. As Wysh points out, his initial reaction was "I want to talk to my lawyer." Stevens refused to report to the Devils' camp after his participation in the Canada Cup, and threatened to sit out the whole season until he was returned to St. Louis. Count Scott Stevens as one in a long line of players who wanted to stay put in Missouri.

The Blues and their fans suspected that this was the NHL's version of punishment regarding their contract with Stevens.

Was Brendan Shanahan a good get for the Blues? Obviously so. His record with St. Louis - 154 goals in just four seasons - was outstanding. He was a beloved member of the Blues by fans, so much so that seeing Shanny jerseys at Scottrade is a common occurrence. Unfortunately, though, a bit of a scandal with Mrs. Craig Janney necessitated a solution, and General Manager and coach Mike Keenan decided to ship out Shanahan to Hartford for young defenseman Chris Pronger.

Looking at the cycle of Stevens to Shanahan to Pronger, you can see that the Blues might not've been the worse for wear. Both Stevens and Pronger were big bodies on the blue line - guys you didn't mess with and guys who were more than capable of leading teams to championships (as they both did after they left St. Louis, of course). So, why the simmering fury of Blues fans even today?

The trade was seen as the NHL interfering in the business dealings of two teams that were more than capable of figuring this out for themselves. The fact that the league could step in and decide compensation for an offer sheet arbitrarily - at their own pleasure - was a nasty precedence for the league to set. The Blues did something that was perfectly legal by the NHL by-laws, but was still something that the league disapproved of, so the NHL had a judge do their vengeance work for them - vengeance that the league themselves could not levy.

No team's fans appreciate their team being punished for something perfectly legal. That's why, despite the love shown to Shanahan while he was with the Blues - and despite the sympathy for the tears that were shed when Keenan traded him away - if you mention Scott Stevens to a Blues fan you're going to get a very unhappy conversation started.

Finally, as reader Chris Wassel pointed out, the story didn't end with the deal. In 1994 the Blues tried to get Scott Stevens back by sending an offer sheet his way. The Devils matched the offer sheet, but general manager Lou Lamoriello believed that tampering was going on in the situation. Lou demanded an investigation, and in 1999 (an absurd four years after the fact) the NHL rewarded the Devils with a "settlement that awarded the Devils a record cash payment of more than $1.4 million from the Blues and their choice of one of the Blues' first-round picks in the next five years of the entry draft. New Jersey will also gain the ability to swap first-round picks once during that time period, with the Blues able to defer the claim one time."

Seven years after the original deal that the Blues signed Stevens to, they were getting slapped again. Many fans believed this to be evidence of a special "relationship" between Lamoriello and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in that what Lamoriello wants, Lamoriello gets. Just look at Ilya Kovalchuk.