Blue No Longer
During his rookie season with St. Louis, in 1977, Bernie Federko and a few teammates were doling out autographed sticks to some fans when Blue coach and general manager Emile Francis happened on the scene. With the franchise strapped for cash and on the cusp of an ownership change, an angry Francis demanded that Federko and his mates take back the sticks. "So we played with those sticks," recalls Federko, who retired in 1990 and who is now a part owner of the St. Louis Vipers of Roller Hockey International. "We did a lot of things to save money in those days, like wearing passed-down hockey underwear and taking three-stop flights from St. Louis to Montreal. But things have changed a bit, eh?"
Indeed. The 1995 Blues are the league's nouveaux riches: self-assured, ambitious and maddeningly excessive. The franchise's exorbitant spending the past couple of years—the team's payroll has increased from $3.5 million in 1990 to roughly $24 million this season—has finally put the Blues in position to contend for hockey's Holy Grail. Says Blue president Jack Quinn, "I don't think anybody can question our commitment to bring a Stanley Cup to St. Louis now."
After a tumultuous '93-94 season, during which the Blues spent and traded with abandon but were swept by the Stars in the opening round of the playoffs, St. Louis's management took several drastic measures to change the situation. The boldest stroke, of course, was the hiring of Mike Keenan as the team's coach and general manager. Keenan, who bolted from his contract with the Rangers after New York won its first Cup in 54 years last spring, agreed to a five-year, $7.5 million deal with the Blues on July 17.
Keenan, a control freak, now has what he covets most—total authority to remake the team. While such veterans as defensemen Al MacInnis and Doug Lidster and forwards Esa Tikkanen and Guy Carbonneau have added the grit and Cup experience that were missing last year, Keenan promises a further shake-up. "I am prepared to say that I don't think we are a Stanley Cup team at this time," says Keenan. "You can expect more changes."
At week's end the Blues were off to a 3-2-0 start, and Keenan had already shown that he is willing to shuffle his lineup. Craig Janney, the team's top playmaker, who will earn $1.8 million this season, did not dress for either the Blues' 3-1 win over the Kings in its first game in the gaudy $135 million Kiel Center last Thursday or their 3-1 loss to the Canucks on Saturday. "With our payroll, he's the most likely to go," says one Blue source.
One player who appears to be staying is the free-spirited right wing Brett Hull, who had asked to be traded last summer and who, it was assumed, would be granted his wish after the hiring of the hard-driving Keenan. Hull, however, has gotten off to a strong start, scoring four goals while actually playing some two-way hockey. "I don't plan on going anywhere," says Hull, who scored 57 goals last season. "Who'd be crazy enough to want to leave a team that's in our position to win a Cup?"
Fire on Ice, Too
On his return from the lockout three weeks ago, 19-year-old Islander rookie Brett Lindros was walking into the north entrance of Nassau Coliseum before a team practice when he was stopped by one of the building's security guards.
"Who are you?" growled the guard.