Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
Where were you on Wednesday, May 25, 2016? You may not exactly remember that day, yet surely you will remember that night, when the San Jose Sharks eliminated the St. Louis Blues from the playoffs. A decisive 5-2 victory over the Blues enabled los Tiburones to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since their birth in 1990.
Originally the team located in California’s Silicon Valley was to be named the Blades. Over 5,000 entries were submitted to name the new NHL franchise, and Blades was the winner. However, Gordon and George Gund III, owners of the new NHL team, were afraid of a name potentially associated with weapons or violence, so they went with the runner-up Sharks, or Tiburones in Spanish. San Jose began play during the 1991-92 season, finishing out of playoff contention with a 17-58-5 record. The following season was worse as the hapless, toothless Sharks won only 11 (of 84) games. In fact, they would not finish with a record over .500 until the 1999-2000 season, the one in which San Jose eliminated the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Blues (114 points, best in team history) in seven games in the opening round of the playoffs.
A year later St. Louis would even the postseason score with an opening-round slap- down of the Sharks in six games. In 2004 San Jose would win the opening round once again, eliminating the Blues in five games. The Note would even up the playoff series with a five-game opening-round victory over the Sharks in 2012. And then the postseason meeting of these NHL rivals last season saw San Jose go ahead in rivalry, taking three of five total series, winning 15 games and losing 14. However, these playoff games were so close that the Blues actually scored one more goal than los Tiburones, 74 to 73, in the 29 contests. One game went to overtime (in 2001) and one to double overtime (in 2012). Bonus points to anyone who can recall who scored the Blues’ overtime goal and the Sharks’ double overtime goal.
St. Louis and San Jose have completed seven trades since the Sharks began NHL play, most of them minor in detail and impact. The first deal was in March 1995 when the Blues, in need of defensive help, acquired defenseman Jeff Norton and a third-round amateur draft pick for center Craig Janney and cash. A five-year veteran of the Boston Bruins, Janney had come west to St. Louis for Adam Oates in 1992 and scored a lot of points (48 goals and 185 assists) over four seasons wearing the Bluenote. Janney played well for the rest of the ‘95 season and the next in California but was traded by the Sharks in March 1996 to Winnipeg for center Darren Turcotte and a second-round draft choice. Norton played two unremarkable seasons for the Blues before being sent to Edmonton for defensemen Igor Kravchuk and Ken Sutton.
Four minor deals were completed between 1995 and 2002. CentersTodd Elik (13 games) and Turcotte (62 games) and defenseman Todd Gill (39 games) came to St. Louis, while forwards Kevin Miller (89 games), Stephane Matteau (five seasons), Joe Murphy (86 games) and defenseman Rich Pilon all went to San Jose. Instead of reporting to the Sharks, Pilon retired.
Desperate for scoring help, San Jose acquired 36-year-old Bill Guerin from the Blues on February 27, 2007. Forwards Ville Nieminen and Jay Barriball went to St. Louis, but never panned out for the home team. However, the 2007 first-round draft choice included in the deal with San Jose turned out to be David Perron, selected 26th overall. Guerin played only 16 games in a teal jersey, scoring eight goals, before being sent to the New York Islanders after the season for a draft pick.
The last trade between the Blues and Sharks took place in June 2007 at the Entry Draft. The teams swapped first-round picks, with San Jose choosing center Logan Couture ninth over all and St. Louis taking center Lars Eller 13th overall. The Note also picked up a second-round pick, winger Aaron Palushaj, and used a third-round selection from the Sharks on burly winger Ian Schultz. After two seasons in Peoria, Eller played only seven games for St. Louis in 2009 and was subsequently shipped to Montreal in June 2010 along with Schultz for goaltender Jaro Halak. Palushaj never played a game for the Blues and was traded to Montreal in March 2010 for Matt D’Agostino. In the meantime, Couture is a 27-year-old All-Star (in 2011-12) for San Jose, totaling 157 goals and 331 points in 446 NHL games over eight seasons.
An interesting aside concerns the strange coincidence that when Couture was born in Guelph, Ontario, the delivery-room nurse at the hospital was Bernadette Devorski, the mother of NHL referee Paul Devorski and NHL linesman Greg Devorski.
And I won’t keep anyone in suspense about the bonus-points questions. Defenseman Bryce Salvador took a pass from Pierre Turgeon to give the Blues an overtime victory in 2001, while Martin Havlat scored the double-overtime-winning-goal in 2012 for the Sharks.
Yet another weird happenstance occurred in November 2015 when St. Louis signed Havlat to a one-year deal, which immediately paid off when the former Devil scored the game-winning goal against New Jersey in his Blues debut. However, after one more game, Havlat retired, citing personal reasons.
It can only be hoped the Blues will recall last season’s playoff exit and seek a measure of revenge tonight by playing hard and tough with few mistakes or mental errors, especially any more penalties for shooting the puck over the glass or too many men on the ice.