Sunday, April 05, 2009

History Lesson Part II (Our team could be your life)

Funny, when the Leafs go a on a run and beat a bunch of also rans the company line in papers and across the airwaves is, “This team cant’ even lose right.”

The Leafs beat a contender or two and the same big juicy brains tell us the other team just didn’t show up or had an off night.

When the Leafs get bombed in back to back games (I turned off last night’s match at 4-0; no sour grapes here but how was there no goaltender interference call prior to Higgins goal?) it’s a sign of 40 years of systemic failure, short sighted quick fixes that never worked and the senility of Cliff Fletcher.

At least this season will be over soon and all eyes will turn to the draft, which reminds me of one of my all-time favourite NHL draft stories.

In the summer of 1983, the St. Louis Blues had been sold to a Saskatoon investor just weeks before the draft, but the move was vetoed by the NHL Board of Governors. Due to the late timing of the veto, the Blues were without an owner, GM, and coach. They were represented by an empty table at the 1983 NHL entry draft (remarkably, the table was smart enough not to take three Belleville Bulls in the early rounds of the draft). As it was reported in an old Leafs program:

Throughout each round of last summer’s entry draft at the Montreal Forum, NHL executive Vice-President Brian O’Neill would turn to his right, face a large table with a St. Louis Blues logo in the middle and ask 10 empty chairs if they’d like to select a player. Unfortunately, furniture does not communicate very well and O’Neill was forced to continue on with the next order of claim.
I posted that blurb over at uber-Leafs site Pension Plan Puppets a week ago and was urged to send an email to the guys at St. Louis Blues Game Time to see if they could provide more backstory or some additional details. Perhaps JFJ got an early start as a GM and had traded away every St. Louis pick in the draft?

It turns out they were just about to post a detailed entry all about the Blues and the 1983 Entry Draft. They were kind enough to send me an advance copy (bloggers write in advance and scheduled postings?!?)

Written by Jeff Fahrenkrog, here's a taste of what was going on with the Blues in 1983 and why they had no picks at the entry draft.

On January 12, 1983, Ralston Purina Company (RPC) told a stunned St. Louis community that it had received a purchase offer to buy the Blues from a Saskatoon based company known as Batoni-Hunter Enterprises, Ltd. Batoni’s President, Bill Hunter, was one of the founders of the World Hockey Association in 1972, and an owner of the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers before they joined the NHL in 1979...the Blues players first became aware of a possible move on December 7, 1982, on a road trip in Edmonton. There, representatives from the Saskatchewan Board of Trade were circulating detailed pamphlets entitled, “Saskatchewan in the NHL.”

That must have been one cold tractor drive from Saskatoon to Edmonton back in December 1982. I'd love to get my hands on one of those brochures...

On May 18, by a 15-3 vote, the NHL Board rejected Ralston’s sale to Hunter’s group. Among other things, the NHL felt such a small Canadian outpost had no chance of being self-sustaining or financially viable. This decision effectively ended Coliseum Holding’s bid for the Blues and the club’s transfer to Saskatoon. It also insured three months of chaos...Ralston inflamed the situation even further on Jun. 3, with its announcement that “it had no intention of remaining in the hockey business and no intention of operating the team next year.” Accordingly, they were “tendering” the Blues to the NHL “to operate, sell or otherwise dispose of in whatever manner the league desires.” Once the league decided what to do, RPC stated that it expected the NHL “to remit any proceeds from a dissolution or sale to the company. If the league decided to operate the team, Ralston expected to receive fair value for the franchise.”

Huge lawsuits, strange profits, and amazingly a full roster of Blues players emerged from the chaos.

It's a great story and even though it’s a beautiful Sunday out there, I’d recommend heading over to St. Louis Blues Game Time later today to read the full version. It’s always nice to know that one team out there once had a draft situation that was worse than those that led to Luongo, Kurvers, Raycroft…

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