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PHT Time Machine: When Blues skipped NHL draft

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Throughout the summer we will be taking a look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at the 1983 NHL draft … which was skipped entirely by the St. Louis Blues. 

In terms of the talent that was picked the 1983 NHL draft was your typical run-of-the-mill draft class.

A couple of Hall of Famers at the top (Steve Yzerman, Pat LaFontaine, and Cam Neely all went in the top-10; Dominik Hasek was a late-round steal), some really good front-line talent sprinkled throughout, and a few busts mixed in.

It was neither an historically great class, nor was it an historically bad class.

It just … kind of happened.

That does not mean it was not noteworthy for other reasons.

For one, the Minnesota North Stars made history by making Brian Lawton the first American-born player to be selected No. 1 overall. To this day he is still the only high school player with that honor.

Teams took a lot of late-round gambles on Soviet superstars, including the New Jersey Devils who selected Slava Fetisov, Alexander Chernykh, and Alexei Kasatonov.

Vladislav Tretiak (Montreal Canadiens) and Sergei Makarov (Calgary Flames) were also selected in this class.

And then there was perhaps the most notable — and bizarre — development in which one NHL team completely sat out the draft, making zero selections. It was the first and only time that has ever happened.

That team was the St. Louis Blues.

The Background

The Blues have been nothing if not consistent throughout their existence.

Always good enough to be somewhat relevant, but never truly great. In 51 seasons the franchise has missed the postseason just nine times. In their first three years in the league they played in the Stanley Cup Final and were the most successful of the NHL’s expansion teams to enter the league in 1967.

As the league continued to expand, however, the Blues started to slip a little and went from being a successful expansion team to just another mid-level, run-of-the-mill franchise that was mostly making the playoffs because of the league’s format where almost every team got a ticket to the dance. Between 1971 and 1983, for example, the Blues qualified for the playoffs nine times in 12 years, but managed a winning record in just two of those seasons.

It was during that 1983 season when things started to look bleak for the franchise’s long-term outlook in St. Louis.

In the middle of the season Ralston Purina, the team’s ownership group since 1977, released a statement saying it was looking to get out of the hockey business and was in the process of looking for a local buyer to keep the team in St. Louis but that no one had stepped forward.

As such, the group warned that if an agreement could be reached with an ownership group from Canada the team would be relocated to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a development that the NHL was vehemently opposed to (Yes, even before Gary Bettman the NHL was not willing to move teams from an American market to a small market Canadian town).

What followed was a seven-month saga that left the future of the Blues hanging in limbo as the city mounted a charge to keep the team in St. Louis. League president John Ziegler practically begged Ralston Purina to find a local buyer. Investors from Canada tried to purchase and relocate the team to Saskatoon, and Ralston Purina simply tried to find somebody — anybody — that would take the team off of its hands after admitting it had lost more than $1.5 million per season since purchasing the club.

Finally, in May, the NHL officially voted 15-3 against the sale and relocation of the Blues to Saskatoon (St. Louis, Montreal, and Calgary were the only three teams to vote in favor it) which sent the entire situation into chaos.

One week later Ralston Purina filed a $60 million lawsuit against the NHL arguing that the league violated antitrust laws. A week after that Ralston Purina announced that it had tendered the franchise to the NHL “to operate, to sell, or otherwise dispose of, in whatever manner the league desires.”

During this time Ralston Purina had completely shut down the Blues’ offices and dismissed almost all of the staff, including team president and general manager Emile Francis (who was also opposed to relocating to Saskatoon), letting him out of his contract so he could become the team president and general manager of the Hartford Whalers.

While all of this was happening, there was still actual hockey business to tend to, specifically the entry draft on June 8.

The Draft

As part of ownerships anger with the NHL over the rejected sale of the team, Ralston Purina informed the league the Blues would be boycotting the draft and sent zero representation to Montreal for the event.

Their draft table was empty and the team made zero selections, forfeiting all of them.

What impact did this have on the long-term outlook of the Blues? Well, even in hindsight that is difficult to assess because they did not even have a selection in the first two rounds.

The 1982-83 Blues were nothing special (news of the teams attempt to relocate almost certainly was a distraction) and despite making the playoffs were dispatched in the first-round by the Chicago Blackhawks. This result would have given the Blues the No. 6 overall pick in the draft. The catch here is that pick was traded a year earlier at the 1983 draft (along with their 1982 first-round pick) to the Colorado Rockies (before their relocation to New Jersey) in exchange for defenseman Rob Ramage.

Most of the top players in the draft were already off the board by the time that pick was on the clock (LaFontaine went third overall to the New York Islanders, Yzerman went fourth to the Detroit Red Wings, Tom Barrasso went fifth to the Buffalo Sabres) but it still could have been a significant pick as it was used to select forward John MacLean, who would go on to be one of the most productive players from the class with 413 goals and 842 total points. Both numbers fourth best among all players in the class.

Neely was also still on the board, having been selected three picks later by the Vancouver Canucks.

The Blues also had no second-round pick that year (No. 27 overall) after having traded it to the Montreal Canadiens in March of 1982 for Guy Lapointe. The Canadiens eventually used that selection on Sergei Momesso.

It was the next 10 picks that were all forfeited as the Blues had no representation at the draft to speak for them and make a selection.

What did they potentially miss on?

Here is a quick rundown of the best players taken after their pick in each round.

Round 3: Brian Bradley, Marc Bergevin
Round 4: Bob Essensa, Darren Puppa, Esa Tikkanen
Round 5: Gary Galley
Round 6: Kevin Stevens (selected with the sixth pick in the third round, that should have been the Blues on the clock), Dave Lowry, Rick Tocchet
Round 7: Vladislav Tretiak (never played in the NHL, still notable name)
Round 8: Tommy Albelin, Pelle Eklund
Round 9: Brian Noonan
Round 10: Dominik Hasek
Round 11: Uwe Krupp
Round 12: Sergei Makarov

Would the Blues have actually selected any of those players under normal circumstances? Who knows, but their absence at least opened the door for other teams to perhaps snag a different player than they otherwise would have and there were still some pretty good (and even borderline great) players on the board at those picks.

The aftermath

One day after the draft, the NHL filed a $78 million countersuit against Ralston Purina alleging that they “willfully, wantonly, and maliciously collapsed its hockey operation” in an effort to force the NHL to approve the sale of the team.

Meanwhile, Ralston Purina was planning to sell off players and other assets (including equipment) belonging to the team unless the league accepted their offer to “tender” the team to the league.

At that point Ralston Purina considered itself out of the NHL.

From the June 10, 1983 St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

 

A few weeks later the other 17 NHL teams filed another suit against the Blues for maliciously folding the franchise in a suit that pretty much matched the NHL’s.

Later that month Harry Ornest, a California based businessman, stepped up his efforts to put together a group to purchase the team and keep it in St. Louis and was making progress on reaching a deal.

Finally, in July, the NHL approved the sale of the team to Ornest provided he was able to meet certain conditions by the end of the month, including the purchase of or the securing a long-term lease for the team’s arena (The Checkerdome). All of that happened and on July 27 Ornest reached an agreement to buy the team’s arena  for $5 million, satisfying all of the league’s conditions. With that settled, the NHL granted his group the franchise putting an end to the entire mess and keeping the Blues in St. Louis.

It was perhaps one of the most bizarre and convoluted ownership sagas in the history of the league and in the process produced an NHL first: A team skipping out on the entire draft.

More PHT Time Machine: Remembering the Jaromir Jagr Trade Nobody Won

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Hedman, Vasilevskiy power Lightning; Nilsson’s night

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Three Stars

1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning: Hedman netted the winning goal with 56.8 seconds left to snap a 2-2 tie and give Tampa a 3-2 victory over the Penguins. The Swedish blue liner now has points in eight of the Lightning’s nine games this season.

2. Anders Nilsson, Ottawa Senators: Nilsson helped extend the Red Wings’ losing streak to six games with a 34-save night during a 5-2 win. Anthony Duclair scored twice, Chris Tierney had a goal and an assist, and Thomas Chabot handed out a pair of helpers as Ottawa ended a four-game slide. The win was Nilsson’s first of the season

3. Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins: Jarry had a career night in the loss to Tampa making a career high 45 saves, including 22 in the second period.

Highlights of the Night

Andrei Vasilevskiy made this save at the buzzer to preserve the Lightning win following a long review:

• The Lightning honored 46 of the 70 living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor during a pre-game ceremony Wednesday night.

• It’s been a while, but always watch where Jean-Gabriel Pageau is on the ice when the Senators are shorthanded:

Factoids

• With his assist Wednesday night, Sidney Crosby is now in 40th place on the NHL’s all-time points list (450-780—1,230 in 954 GP), passing Norm Ullman (490-739—1,229 in 1,410 GP).

Scores
Senators 5, Red Wings 2
Lightning 3, Penguins 2

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Vasilevskiy’s last-second save helps Lightning top Penguins

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Andrei Vasilevskiy saved his best for the final seconds.

Kris Letang raised his left fist believing he notched the game-tying goal, but Vasilevskiy got just enough to propel Tampa Bay to a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday.

Victor Hedman scored a go-ahead power-play goal with less than a minute remaining in the final period when his slap shot whizzed past Tristan Jarry as Tampa captured its fifth win of the season.

Alex Killorn and Cedric Paquette each recorded his first goal of the season as the Bolts won for the third time in the previous four games.

Brandon Tanev and Sidney Crosby scored as Pittsburgh dropped its third consecutive game. Jarry made 45 saves in his third start of the season.

Here are a few quick observations from Tampa Bay’s 3-2 win against Pittsburgh:

Penguins take one too many penalties

The Lightning are as dangerous as any team in the NHL and the Penguins learned a hard lesson in the final minutes of play on Wednesday.

Jake Guentzel tried to eliminate a potential odd-man rush opportunity but was whistled for hooking Anthony Cirelli at 17:55 of the third period.

Having just killed off Zach Aston-Reese’s stick throwing penalty less than a minute earlier, the Penguins were playing with fire and eventually got burned.

The Lightning struggled to establish possession in the offensive zone for the first half of the man-advantage but a slick backhanded-touch pass from Tyler Johnson allowed Tampa to set up.

With multiple options to cover, the Penguins focused on Steven Stamkos at the left circle, which allowed Hedman to hammer a one-timer from the point.

The Lightning have not looked like the well-oiled machine that they were last season, but are showing signs of returning to the powerhouse they are expected to be.

[RELATED: Lightning honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipients]

Tanev shows upside

The Penguins signed Brandon Tanev to a six-year contract this offseason with hopes the gritty forward has far more offensive potential than he has shown in the first few years of his NHL career.

The 27-year-old tallied a nifty backhander in the second period of play to even the score at 1-1. After collecting his own rebound, and circling the net, Tanev took advantage of a small opening above the glove of Vasilevskiy.

Depth has become one of the most important ingredients needed to ensure a successful playoff run. While most NHL teams fill these roles with one-year contracts or cheap deadline acquisitions, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford went a different route this past offseason.

NOTE:

Sidney Crosby picked up his 1,230th NHL point, moving him past Norm Ullman for 40th in NHL history.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Lightning honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipients

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On Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning honored recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor during a pre-game ceremony.

Tampa Bay is currently hosting the 2019 Medal of Honor Convention and had the Lightning invited 46 of the 70 living recipients to attend a special event including a ceremonial puck drop with Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby.

The Medal of Honor was created in 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln. It is the nation’s highest, and rarest, military decoration. The medal is bestowed by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.” Fewer than 3,500 individuals have received the medal, half of which have been posthumously. There are currently only 70 living recipients, one of the lowest numbers in history.

The esteemed group featured nine honorees from the War on Terrorism, 34 from the Vietnam War, two from the Korean War and one from World War II.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Learn more about John Carlson’s league-leading start

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As talented as Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson is, it’s still pretty mind-blowing that he’s leading all NHL scorers – not just fellow blueliners – with 20 points in 11 games.

It’s a pretty comfortable lead, too, at least considering how early we still are in the 2019-20 season. David Pastrnak and Connor McDavid are tied for second place with 17 points, making Carlson’s five goals and 15 assists that much more impressive.

This post aims to dig a little deeper on this red-hot start.

Before we delve into the esoteric, let’s take a moment to ruminate on just how special this start really is. A factoid like this helps it sink in a bit:

[Tuesday’s Buzzer has a lot of other Carlson factoids.]

Luck and skill

Carlson’s five goals come on 23 shots on goal, which translates to a 21.7 shooting percentage. That would be too high of a shooting percentage for most non-Mario Lemieux forwards to maintain, let alone a defenseman. Carlson’s career shooting percentage is 6.1, although he’s been higher the past two seasons (7 percent in 2018-19, and 6.3 in 2017-18).

Even Carlson was laughing at some of his luck lately, including after an empty-netter, one of his two goals from Tuesday’s 5-3 Caps win against the Flames:

With 15 of his 20 points being assists, his very high 18.5 on-ice shooting percentage is just as relevant. Carlson’s career average is 10.1, so you’d expect fewer goals to come from Carlson’s passes going forward.

Still, one cannot ignore that Carlson’s shown plenty of scoring ability over the years. Carlson scored 15 goals and 68 points in 2017-18 and 13 goals and 70 points in 2018-19, so he’s obviously been able to fill up the scoresheet as his role has become more and more prominent with Washington. He finished just short of being a Norris Trophy finalist in 2018-19, as he finished fourth in voting.

If healthy, Carlson seems like a strong candidate to win his first Norris if he plays the rest of the season at “only” a 70-ish point pace. That’s especially true since he’s improved as an all-around player with better possession stats since 2017-18.

Gunslinger

So, yeah, Carlson will cool down … but there are elements of his game, and the system around him, that could help him be a dangerous defensive scorer for an extended period of time.

For one thing, he’s not afraid to shoot. Carlson’s 445 SOG in 173 games since 2017-18 ranks eighth among NHL defensemen.

Not only might that result in goals, but also the sort of rebounds and chaos that can help generate assists. As J.J. Regan notes for NBC Sports Washington, the Capitals have been more focused on shot volume from defensemen under Todd Reirden, and it only makes sense that such a mentality would benefit a gifted scorer like Carlson.

“We’re switching more to shooting the puck whenever you have a chance or a lane,” Jonas Siegenthaler said. “A couple years ago, you were always looking for the next play or a green shot.”

Fast starts

Chalk it up to being fresher earlier in the season, the Capitals typically being comfortably placed atop the standings late in seasons, or some combination of such factors, but either way, Carlson’s career split stats indicate that he’s generally been a strong starter.

His best months tend to be in October, November, and December. If you believe that “recency bias” creeps into awards voting, than it’s something to think about for Carlson’s Norris push if he once again winds down a bit toward the end of the season.

***

Carlson’s 20 points stand as a considerable lead among NHL defensemen, as Nashville’s Ryan Ellis is a distant second with 12. For all we know, Carlson might break the Capitals’ single-season points record for a defenseman, which Larry Murphy set with 81 in 1986-87.

Even if Carlson slows down close to that 70-point range (or gets injured), it’s been really impressive to watch, to the point that sometimes you watch his numbers go up and start laughing to yourself just like Carlson after his empty-net goal.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.