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Red Wings at Blues Not-a-GameDay Thread: When Bernie became a Wing

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Yeah, this is awkward.

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Detroit Red Wings v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images

It’s not something any of us like to see: former beloved members of the St. Louis Blues going to hated rivals. Now, of course, we live in dread of someone going to Chicago, but not too long ago the Red Wings were in the Central Division, and very, very hated.

Many former Blues have played for the Wings, and it was uncomfortable. The two best examples of this are Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan, both of whom won the Cup with the Red Wings.

Sometimes it’s easy to get so hung up on Hull and Shanny that it’s easy to forget that Bernie Federko wound up ending his career with Detroit. In this excerpt from Bernie’s book, he recounts how it all went down.

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I had the option year left on my contract and I always said that I would only play as long as I knew I could still play and contribute. I really felt that I could because after starting the previous year at left wing I had had a respectable second half after moving back to center, and I led the team in scoring in the playoffs with 12 points in the 10 games. So I felt that I had proved I could still play, and I felt like I had done my job as captain—being there for the guys. But as I had told everybody throughout my career, I only wanted to play for the Blues.

It was really important to me to play my entire career with the team that drafted me, and as I pointed out earlier, I’d taken less money to try and do that. I didn’t even have an agent negotiate my last contract because there was no sense in having one when the team knew that I wanted to stay in St. Louis. But looking back, that was probably a bad idea. It’s too volatile of a business and though I had been in the organization 13 years, I never once felt secure that I was going to be a Blue for the rest of my life because I’d seen too many of the guys I had become close with over the years forced to leave. But I had that option year left and I wanted to stay, and since no one ever played out their option, I went in and asked the team to give me one more guaranteed year and an option—two years total—and then I’d retire. I had just turned 33 and back then, you were old at 35.

I had my end-of-the-year evaluation meeting with Brian and basically we talked about nothing, and then I went upstairs to see Ron. I told him that I wanted to get my contract done before I went home for the summer, and since he knew that I didn’t use an agent, he assured me that wouldn’t be a problem. That was a Monday morning and he told me to come back on Friday morning and we’d get it done. I agreed that Friday morning was fine, but told him that I had a charity golf tournament Friday afternoon, so we’d have to finish it pretty quickly. He assured me that if I came in at 9:00 am, we’d have plenty of time to get it done. So Friday morning I was at the Arena at 9:00 am, sat down in Ron’s office, and before I could even settle into my chair he told me that their hockey operations staff had conducted meetings during the past week and that as an organization they had decided that I no longer fit in the team’s plans.

I looked at him in disbelief.

He told me they were going to trade me. Then he told me that he would like me to give them four or five teams that I would like to go to and come back here on Monday and we’d discuss what we were going to do.

It was like someone had shot me. I was like, “Really?”

He said, “Yeah.”

I got up and he said, “Have a great weekend!”

I walked out of there saying, “Are you fucking kidding me?

Have a great weekend?”

This meeting only took five minutes, so it was over by 9:05 am, and the golf tournament didn’t start until noon, so I couldn’t go straight to the course like I’d planned. This was before cell phones, so I went home to tell Bernadette the news. I walked in the house and she was very surprised to see me and asked what I was doing back home. I said, “You’re not going to believe this.”

I told her the whole story and I’m sure that I was crying. I told her there was no way they didn’t know where they were trading me. They knew. I didn’t have a no-trade clause—they were saying that as a courtesy—but there was no way they wanted me to give them a list of five teams that I’d approve a trade to. How in the hell would I know anyway where I wanted to get traded to? I didn’t want to get traded. In hindsight, I should have immediately called my old agent, Art Kaminsky. To this day when I think about it, I still can’t believe I was such an idiot and did not call Art. But on the drive home, I knew there had to be more to this and I’d figured out that the Blues must’ve already had a deal in place. I told Bernadette that it had to be Detroit. I knew Jacques Demers too well and it had to be Detroit.

Believe it or not, I actually went to the golf tournament that day. I’ll never forget because I got interviewed by one of the local TV stations and the first comment was, “Bernie, you’re the true Blue. It’s so nice that St. Louis is home and it’s going to be your home for the rest of your career….” If the reporter had only known what I had just found out. I don’t know why I played dumb. The only reason I can think of now is that if I didn’t say anything about the trade, maybe the Blues might change their minds.

It was a miserable weekend. You might have thought that Brian would have come down the street to at least talk to me, but hell no. On Monday, I went back to the Arena, and sure enough, without ever asking for that list of four or five teams I’d accept a trade to, Ron informed me that indeed a deal was done. But he said that they couldn’t tell me who it was until I agreed to and signed a new contract.

In hindsight, I should have stayed composed and dragged things out, but I was so pissed off that I couldn’t wait to get this over with and get the hell out of that office. I called my longtime friend and money manager, Tom Wright, and asked him to help me get this contract done as soon as possible. Remember, I had a lot of weird things in my contract because my last deal had been with Harry Ornest. There were flights and cars and carpet, and all that stuff that had been bartered now had to be given a financial value so that we could come up with a salary for my new contract. I was not going to take less than I was making with all the “perks,” so we had to translate those items into dollars. What was it all worth? We figured it as best we could, and whatever it came out to, we added that to my base salary and that’s what my new team would have to pay me.

During those conversations, Jack Quinn was such an asshole. Actually, he always was. Ron was trying to be nice and professional about it, but Jack was Jack. He was bickering about everything and there was no pity about anything. In all my years of hockey, I have never encountered any one person with less class than Jack Quinn.

The nickname we gave him was “Honest Jack” because he was so dishonest. Whenever you shook his hand, it was so clammy that you knew that whatever he was saying was not genuine. Everything he told you was a lie, especially anything to do with money.

Even if you did get a bonus check from him, it took forever to get it, and the reason was because it was in his drawer the whole time and he was waiting as long as he could before he had to give it to you. I have never met a man who was so chintzy. We always talked about how hard it was playing under the purse strings of Harry Ornest, but everything had to run through Jack, so maybe it was him after all. But this time it was even worse because he was sticking it to me and loving it, and what I couldn’t understand was why Jack was even concerned about the contract—the Blues weren’t even going to be paying it.

We finally figured out how much all the extra stuff was worth and put it on paper, and we agreed to a one-year guaranteed deal with a one-year option, just like I wanted from the Blues. Jack said those were the only terms that the team trading for me would agree to. In hindsight, I should have asked for more years, even if I didn’t want more years, just to be hard-nosed in negotiations. But I was so bitter that I said, “Let’s just get this done and get me the fuck out of here.” We looked over the contract and signed it. To me, there was no surprise as to where I was going—I was smart enough to figure that out on my own—and when they confirmed that it was Detroit, I learned that I was being traded to the Red Wings along with Tony McKegney for Adam Oates and Paul MacLean.

This excerpt from Bernie Federko: My Blues Note by Bernie Federko with Jeremy Rutherford is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or www.triumphbooks.com/BernieFederko.