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What If? Week: What if Ron Caron doesn’t trade for Garth Butcher?

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Butcher was a valuable member of the Blues, but at what cost?

St. Louis Blues v Toronto Maple Leafs

The 1990s were a time in Blues history where notable players got shipped around with alarming regularity. Rod Brind’Amour, Adam Oates, Curtis Joseph, and Brendan Shanahan were all dealt at some point, either under Ron Caron’s tenure or under Mike Keenan’s.

Caron, though, was also responsible for bringing those players to St. Louis as GM from 1983-1992, and most notably he dealt Rob Ramage and goaltender Rick Wamsley to Calgary for Steve Bozek and some guy named Brett Hull. Any GM is going to have a mixed bag track record, even the good ones, and in 1991 Caron mixed his bag up.

During a solid season in 1990-1991 where the Blues were en route to finishing with 105 points, the Blues went looking for a trade to presumably add some grit and stay at home defense for a deep playoff run. On March 5th, Caron dealt Cliff Ronning, Geoff Courtnall, Sergio Momesso and Robert Dirk to the Vancouver Canucks for Garth Butcher and Dan Quinn.

As a reward, team got bumped from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the eventual Western Conference champion Minnesota North Stars. Quinn gave the team four power play goals to finish the campaign but was gone by September of the next season, packaged in another poor trade with Brind’Amour for for Murray Baron and Ron Sutter. Garth Butcher spent two and a half-ish years with the Blues, even briefly captaining the team and serving as Jeff Brown’s replacement in the 1993 All Star Game. His high water mark came in 1992-1993, where he had five goals and 15 assists.

Had the Blues not decimated their team scoring with the trade (Canucks fans still say thank you, BTW), they easily could’ve advanced past the North Stars in the 1991 playoffs. They also easily could’ve had future successes. Geoff Courtnall was the big blow, having 27 goals and 30 assists to the day of the trade with Vancouver. Trading Cliff Ronning wasn’t much better - he had 14 goals and 18 assists. Even Sergio Momesso, a former top liner from the previous year who finished 1989-1990 with 24 goals and 32 assists for 56 points, was a loss. Essentially, the Blues dealt away their entire second line right before the Stanley Cup playoffs for a defensive defenseman and a guy who never fit in.

The Canucks, who benefited greatly from Caron’s miscalculation, made it to the 1994 Stanley Cup final. By the 1994 playoffs, the only players remaining from the deal or any trades made with members of that deal was Murray Barron and defensive upgrade Steve Duchesne, for whom Butcher was traded to the Nordiques.

The Blues did not make it far into the 1994 postseason, getting knocked out by the freshly relocated Dallas Stars in the first round. Their roster, featuring Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Peter Stastny, Duchesne, Kevin Miller and Craig Janney easily could’ve gone deep into the playoffs, but the team had to rebuild for three years after the loss of their entire second line, a line that benefited the Vancouver Canucks for many seasons.

It’s hard to say if the deal is the reason why the Blues didn’t do as well as Vancouver did three years later, but the seasons between the trade and the Canucks’ Cup run were middling at best, The Blues didn’t finish higher than third in the division until 1995.

It is easy to look at the Canucks as evidence that the Blues screwed the pooch with this deal, and with hindsight being what it is, it’s hard pressed to find someone who disagrees with that assessment. Had the Blues not dealt a solid second line away for their typical blue-collar siren, the defensive defenseman, it’s not much of a jump to assume that deeper playoff runs - and even a trip to the Cup final - would’ve been the Blues future instead of Vancouver’s.