?Executives of other NHL clubs are hopping mad at St. Louis president Jack Quinn and general manager Ron Caron for once again discombobulating the NHL's salary structure. In the summer of 1990 the Blues re-signed Brett Hull to a then-staggering four-year, $7.1 million deal. A month later Quinn and Caron signed restricted-free-agent defenseman Scott Stevens of the Washington Capitals to a four-year, $5.1 million contract that also sent shock waves around the league. (Ironically, in September '91, shortly after the Blues signed Shanahan, then a restricted free agent of the New Jersey Devils, an arbitrator awarded the Devils Stevens, who had quickly become the heart and soul of the Blues.) Those signings helped spark an escalation of NHL salaries that continues unabated. Further contributing to the escalation, last summer the Blues signed Los Angeles King restricted-free-agent Marty McSorley, who is best known for punching out opponents, to a five-year, $10 million deal. St. Louis lost out on McSorley when the Kings matched the offer.
St. Louis's signing of the 6'3", 190-pound Nedved, who in the estimation of one general manager is worth "approximately half" his new contract, particularly outraged NHL rivals because the Blues agreed to pay Nedved $900,000 retroactively for this season, in effect rewarding him for holding out. "We've sent that message the last couple of years—'Don't play, but don't worry about it, because you'll get paid in the end,' " said Bob Gainey, the Dallas Stars' coach and general manager. "It's like the animal in the cage that pushes the button and gets food. If it keeps getting food, it's going to keep pushing the button."
The Blues hope they pushed the right button by bringing in Nedved, a finesse player who last season, his third in the NHL, had 38 goals and 33 assists. His arrival was supposed to brace the Blues, who were 33-26-9 at week's end, for a playoff run. Instead, it created new unease on a team that had already seen its share of turmoil.
On Jan. 23 a trio of popular St. Louis muckers, defenseman Garth Butcher and forwards Bob Bassen and Ron Sutter, were shipped to the Quebec Nordiques for Steve Duchesne, a flashy, puck-rushing defenseman. Many St. Louis players were furious. Even coach Bob Berry disapproved of the trade, which stripped the team of much of its grit. While the Blues got softer, their Central Division foes were beefing up: Dallas, a possible first-round playoff opponent of the Blues, has added bullyboys Jim McKenzie and Gord Donnelly. The Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks are well stocked with brutes, too. The Blues are 10-8-3 since the trade, but how acutely they will miss that toughness during the playoffs remains a question.
And now, on top of that, the Blues have to try to put another unsettling episode behind them. Even if Nedved plays well for them, even if Janney doesn't try to upset the whole deal, it hasn't helped the atmosphere on the team that for 11 days St. Louis players were casting tense, sidelong glances at one another and wondering who might be moving to Vancouver.
Until Nicolau made his ruling, gallows humor prevailed. "The beauty of it," said Hull, is that if a teammate insults you, "you just say, 'Well, that's all right, because you're not going to be around much longer anyway.' "
Hull, the team's captain, was playing golf the day Nedved arrived in St. Louis, so Shanahan drew chauffeur duty. Rather than take Nedved directly from the airport to his hotel. Shanahan drove to his own house in the affluent suburb of Ladue and gave his new teammate a tour. "It just so happened the place was immaculate," recalls Shanahan. "The shades were up, and the toilet seats were down." If he was the one who ended up being awarded to Vancouver, Shanahan told his guest, Nedved needn't bother with a real estate agent.
Janney, meanwhile, was lying low, nursing his strained right knee, which forced him to miss eight games through Sunday and gave the Canucks their most potent ammunition at the arbitration hearing. The Canucks argued that the 26-year-old Janney was damaged goods. But Jerome Gilden, the Blues' team orthopedist, assured the arbitrator that Janney, who had 106 points for St. Louis in '92-93 and 71 this season, was on his way to a complete recovery.
Before the game against the Islanders, Janney brushed past a reporter and ducked into the St. Louis dressing room. Fifteen minutes later the team's equipment manager poked his head out of the door to announce that Janney wouldn't be talking to anyone. "He's not in a real good mood," said the equipment man.
Was the tension beginning to fray nerves in the dressing room? Kelly Chase, a fourth-line winger for the Blues, answered gruffly, "Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle?"