Branch of a Tree: Jordan Binnington
How one offer sheet led to a Stanley Cup 29 years later
St. Louis has had their fair share of monster trades. In recent memory, there was the trade that brought Ryan Miller to town, one that shipped Kevin Shattenkirk out, another that brought in Ryan O’Reilly, and one that sent Paul Stastny away. This branch has a number of blockbusters, but somehow doesn’t include any of the players mentioned above.
Given the ludicracy that was the Brad Marchand trade branch, this one should feel a little easier. Every trade involves the Blues, and yes, the title is also referring to their Cup triumph this past season (if you do the math, you can figure out when the first trade is).
But without further ado, strap yourself in, because we got a truck load of all stars, Hall of Famers, and wild and wacky antics over four gloriously facetious pages!! Now, let’s send this sucker all the way back to 1990.
The Origin Story
Picture it - highlights of the Gretzky-less Oilers raising the Cup skates across your TV screen before the infamous Lifecall commercial comes on and introduces “I’ve fallen and I can't get up” into the repertoire of struggling comedians everywhere. The news of the day was that First Lady Barbara Bush took a run at the Simpsons, calling it “the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen”.
Life was good (minus the First Gulf War), and the NHL would agree. They were in a very stable position, and were even looking to expand once again (and would in 1992 - to Ottawa and Tampa Bay). Then those pesky, Stanley Cup-less Blues ruined it. How you ask? They disturbed the balance.
The Washington Capitals were a trainwreck of a franchise at the outset, but after a couple years, they began to maintain a consistent level of competitiveness. One of the biggest reasons could be attributed to their stud 5th overall defenceman, future first-ballot Hall of Famer Scott Stevens. Eight years of relative success in the American capital were soon undone, as Stevens wanted a change of scenery. Enter the big, bad Blues.
Armed with Adam Oates, veteran Paul Maclean, rookie Rob Brind’Amour, and a 72 goal season from Brett Hull, the Blues were a legitimate contender. Stevens would put them over the edge. So they offered what was a MASSIVE contract.
A four-year deal worth $5.145 million - so just over a million a season. Massive I guess..
The NHL didn’t like this one bit. Players were NOT supposed to make that much, and they were worried that if many of these contracts started to pop up, then the NHLPA would ask for higher compensation across the board (they were right haha). But more on that later.
Stevens was not unrestricted - he was a Restricted Free Agent. But the rules back then were different - no mandatory draft pick compensation.
Instead, if the player accepted a contract from another team, the two teams would attempt to agree on fair compensation. If they could not agree, they would both submit their proposal for compensation to an arbitrator, who would choose between them.
Washington ended up getting two conditional first round picks from St. Louis. But the conditions were fruitful - if the Capitals did not have a pick in the top seven of the draft in either of the following two years, St. Louis would have to send the next three first rounders - totalling five first round picks.
And that happened.
SO .. the official deal wasn’t a trade at all, but a transfer of assets. St. Louis received Scott Stevens, and the Capitals received five first round picks (only one of which turned out to be anything - Sergei Gonchar).
BUT, as we must always ask, what happened with Scott Stevens after?
If shenaniganry isn’t in the dictionary, let me offer Websters a definition. This transaction. Below.
Stevens loved his season in St. Louis. The team bowed out in the second round, but were looking primed to only ascend from there. He was the captain already, so he bought a house. A player buying a house is the tell-tale sign they aren’t going to be sticking around for much longer. Mostly because the hockey gods don’t ever want players to be all that comfortable.
The New Jersey Devils had a sweet young power forward entering Restricted Free Agency, and were intent on keeping him. But teams around the league knew that the Devils GM was quite the stickler when it came to contract offers. Of course he was, he was Lou Lamoriello. And of course he wanted to keep the player, it was Brendan Shanahan.
Teams were circling. But St. Louis was doubted to be one. They had just signed an RFA (Stevens) to an unprecedented deal, which was already causing ripple effects. They also had the immensely paid Hull, and a young stud goaltender to worry about signing in the near future (Curtis Joseph).
But St. Louis said TO HELL WITH THEM ALL WERE WINNING A CUP. So they signed Shanahan to a mammoth deal - four years for around five million in total. Again… massive…
New Jersey and Lamiorello were livid, and the NHL was again pretty annoyed with the Blues for giving players money they had earned. So when the two sides could not agree on fair compensation - an NHL arbitrator had to step in.
So here’s the situation: One team just lost their best young forward, and they are led by the guy that basically runs the NHL and is almost single handedly keeping player prices down. The team that stole the player has been reckless in paying players what their worth, and this isn’t their first offense. I wonder what side the NHL will pick??
Obviously they chose the New Jersey compensation. And Scott Stevens was that compensation. The Blues were emphatic - he was their captain. Stevens was even angrier - he had JUST BOUGHT A HOUSE GOD DAMMIT.
(For the record, St. Louis offered a 21-year old Brind’Amour and 24-year old CuJo along with two picks… pretty good offer in my opinion)
The Blues had to accept it and move on. But Stevens didn’t have to. Intent on remaining in St. Louis, the defencemen did not show up to the Devils’ training camp in 1991. This isn’t important to the tree anymore, but it's funny that he was really mad and ended up winning three Cups with the Devils. Hindsight is 20/20.
ANYWAY, what did the Blues do with Shanahan?
How many massive names can we squeeze in here
Four years later, for some reason or another Shanahan was on the move again.
At this point, I figured the Blues’ brass figured that they ought to save some money (nevermind that later that season they would trade for Wayne Gretzky). So they did away with Shanahan, and instead picked up a young prospect who had barely made a name for himself in the big league.
Shahan was shipped to the Hartford Whalers in a one for one deal. Chris Pronger came back the other way.
ANOTHER future Hall of Famer. I still don't know why St. Louis did this deal, with Shanahan having produced multiple 50 goal seasons doning blue and yellow. But it definitely worked out for them, and was integral to winning the 2019 Stanley Cup.
But as is the trend with this article… what did the Blues do with Pronger?
Heading to our Home and Native Land
Pronger lasted a decade in St. Louis, and won a bunch of hardware during his tenure with the team, including an MVP award in 2000. That made (and still makes) him one of two defenceman to win the Hart since 1970 - joining Bobby Orr in that prestige.
That wasn’t enough to keep the Blues from being garbage at hockey. After many years of contention, the natural cycle of an NHL team was coming down hard on the Blues, and they figured it was about time they shipped off their highest valued player. With a former MVP on the market, Edmonton came a-knockin’.
In 2005, the month before a new season (with the brand new salary cap) would start, St. Louis sent Pronger to the Albertan capital in exchange for career AHLer Doug Lynch, journeyman Jeff Woywitka, and top four defenceman Eric Brewer.
Lopsided trade for sure. Edmonton and Pronger would go on to lose in the Stanley Cup final
in Game 7, to Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes (boom, full circle, kind of).
The first two players in the trade were pretty bad. But Brewer had legitimate value as a second pairing shut down defenceman. Usually scoring around 30 points, he was the ideal type of player to have on a playoff roster.
So naturally, the awful Blues kept him throughout their rebuilding years.
But.. as we must always ask… what did they eventually do with Brewer?
“Do I look nervous?”
The subheading here is referring to the player tied to this trade branch.
Yup. Somehow, someway, the Blues trading (sorry, exchanging assets because it wasn't technically a trade) five first round picks for Scott Stevens back in 1990 led to the Blues acquiring Stanley Cup winning goaltender Jordan Binnington. So let me end the suspense.
In 2011, the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired Brewer from the Blues in exchange for Brock Beukaboom (awesome name) and a 2011 3rd round pick. That pick would become Jordan Binnington, and thereby giving me the green light to post the unblurred flowchart.
That isn’t to say Tampa misstep. Brewer helped the Lightning to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals (in a classic 1-0 loss to the Bruins). And not every 3rd round pick can be a star.
That being said, isn’t it kind of nice that the pick belonged to the always-making-the-right-moves Lightning? I think so.
Anyway, there you have it! By my count, St. Louis directly flipped three Hall of Famers, involved six bonafide all stars and 29 years later, the Blues did infact win a Cup thanks to the Stevens acquisition. It went all according to plan.
Special thanks to http://www.nhltradetracker.com/home, who has the full database of NHL trades to help keep this story straight.