Bernie: Eighteen Years Later, The Blues Get Their Reward For Judge Houston’s Hideous Ruling

In today’s episode of Weird Blues History, let’s take a look at an infamous and controversial personnel sequence involving three future Hall of Famers. A long and winding and infuriating sequence that began with Brendan Shanahan and Scott Stevens … and ended with …

JORDAN BINNINGTON?

Huh?

Exactly.

1. The Blues signed dashing young power forward Brendan Shanahan as a free agent July 25, 1991.

Blues fans were thrilled. A young, tough scorer, entering his prime? Shanny and scoring machine Brett Hull on the same team? Hockey heaven, baby!

2. This from the Sept. 4, 1991 edition of the New York Times: “Arbitrator Judge Edward Houston sent shock waves through the hockey world yesterday by awarding Scott Stevens to the Devils as compensation from St. Louis for the loss of Brendan Shanahan, who had signed with the Blues as a free agent.”

Blues fans were apoplectic. Judge Houston instantly became one of the most notorious villains in STL sports history — at least until Stan Kroenke emerged as the all-time truly despicable traitor and back-stabber.

The Blues knew they’d have to give up something plenty good to compensate New Jersey under the old NHL free-agent system. But Stevens? Really? This was obvious payback from the NHL which wanted to discourage free-agent raids of big-time players. Plus the league believed the Blues had tampered with Shanny and/or his agent before the official opening of the free-agent shopping mart.

Burn. Burn. Burn.

3. July 27, 1995: GM/Coach Mike Keenan traded Shanahan to Hartford for a young, maturing (or immature?) defenseman named for Chris Pronger.

Blues fans were … confused … then angry… then convulsing in tantrums. Which made sense at the time — until Pronger grew up and evolved into a Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest-ever Blues.

4. Responding to an order given by Blues owner Bill Laurie — who was selling the team and demanding a massive payroll cut — GM Larry Pleau traded Pronger to Edmonton. 

The fire-sale trade went down on Aug 2,  2005. Pronger and his contract were moved to the Oilers for  three defensemen: Eric Brewer, Doug Lynch and Jeff Woywitka.

No, the Blues didn’t get enough for Pronger, but that’s because of Laurie, who stupidly destroyed much of his GM’s leverage by dictating the trade. Every other GM in the league knew that Pleau had no choice but to move Pronger … and Pleau had to sell low.

The beleaguered Brewer was OK; he played nearly six seasons and logged 332 regular-season games for the Blues during a (mostly) grim stage for the franchise. The Blues also made an avoidable mistake by naming Brewer team captain. Brewer was miscast in the role, and that “C” made him a bigger target of fed-up fans. That “C” became the symbol of immense frustration within the fan base at the time.

5. February 18, 2011: The Blues traded the unpopular Brewer to Tampa Bay.

In return the Blues received a  long-forgotten defenseman “prospect” named Brock Beukeboom who never appeared in an NHL game.

The Lightning also included a third-round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, No. 88 overall.

The Blues didn’t have a first-round selection that year but got busy in the second round by drafting forward Ty Rattie (No. 32 overall), forward Dmitrij Jaskin (No. 41) and defenseman Joel Edmundson (No. 46.)

I won’t mention that Tampa Bay drafted a Russian forward, Nikita Kucherov with the 58th overall selection.

When the 88th overall slot came around, the Blues drafted an 18-year-old goaltender out of Owen Sound, Ontario.

His name?

Jordan Binnington.

This team wouldn’t be on the verge of making the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970 without their cryogenic goaltender. Binnington has been remarkable during the Blues’ 18-game playoff journey, already having established a franchise record for most wins (11) in a postseason.

Binner the Winner is the goaltender the Blues have wanted, needed and waited for. And now he’s here. Thanks to … Eric Brewer? And Chris Pronger and Brendan Shanahan and Scott Stevens and Judge Houston and Bill Laurie and Larry Pleau and … well … this is such a mind-blowing chapter of Blues history that may be leading to something historic, something special, something spectacular.

It’s been a long time coming, but at least the Blues have something grand and real to show for a fascinating — and bewildering and maddening — chain of events that were set in motion back in the summer of 1991.

Imagine that: good luck for the Blues, who know all about bad juju.

These days, they just have a bad-ass goaltender who is leading them to the promised land.

It’s crazy.

Thanks for reading…

–Bernie