The St. Louis Blues approached the 1967 expansion draft with an eye to becoming a perfect match for Lynn Patrick’s successful 50s Bruins clubs–a physical team that intimidated the opposition, that made them afraid to share the ice.
FRANK ST. MARSEILLE
St. Louis did not buy an AHL franchise but did populate their depth chart with players during the period before 1967’s fall training camp. The best story is this one, about Frank St. Marseille.
- Two years earlier, Lynn Patrick had been managing the old Los Angeles Blades (WHL pro league) when he received a letter from St. Marseille’s brother, a singer in town. The letter extolled the skills of Frank, who was playing for Port Huron of the IHL. Frank’s brother urged Patrick to give him a tryout. Frank would pay his own expenses to Los Angeles and stay with his brother. Patrick never bothered replying, but then found himself noticing Frank’s name at the top of the list of IHL scorers. When Patrick was hired to put the Blues together. he decided he should have a look at this playmaking right wing. Bowman scouted him and pronounced him the Gordie Howe of the IHL. -from Scotty Bowman, A Life in Hockey by Douglas Hunter.
The rest, as they say, is history. Among the new clubs, St. Louis didn’t accomplish much outside the expansion draft in terms of adding depth for their first season. The club relied on the names acquired, some low level purchases and several high profile trades to stock their roster. I’ll mention it here and follow up later, but the club also performed poorly at the amateur draft table and that began a long period of laggardly results.
The key to having an intimidating hockey team is making sure the goalie can stop the puck. In the case of the Blues, they targeted Chicago great Glenn Hall as their #1 goaltender. Hall was famous for retiring each summer and ‘painting the barn’ until a good contract came through, and the Blues were willing to pay him good money to stop pucks in St. Louis. The club also drafted Don Caley from the Detroit system. Hall would play 140 more (quality) NHL games, Caley’s NHL career consisted of 30 minutes (and 3GA) with the Blues in 67-68.
The best example I can give you of the St. Louis approach at expansion comes from a situation that happened in another NHL training camp, fall 1967. Oakland had drafted Charlie Hodge as their starting goalie but the veteran was holding out. Oakland’s ‘goaltending consultant’ that fall was the retired Jacques Plante, who began getting notice for outstanding play in Seals camp. The New York Rangers complained to the NHL, because Plante was technically still their property (despite being retired). Plante packed up and left Oakland’s camp and there was no mention of the story from that day onward–until the next summer–when the Blues selected him in the Intra-League draft from the Rangers.
Plante would go on to play several years at a high level in the NHL, and the St Louis Blues management group–Lynn Patrick, Scotty Bowman and Cliff Fletcher–brought him back to life and received terrific goaltending without paying for the asset.
- Jimmy Roberts (788)
- Noel Picard (319)
- Al Arbour (231)
- Rod Seiling (844)
- Ron Schock (781)
- Terry Crisp (533)
- Don McKenney (39)
- Wayne Rivers (26)
- Bill Hay (0)
- Darryl Edestrand (455)
- Norm Beaudin (25)
- Larry Keenan (231)
- Ron Stewart (389)
- Fred Hucul (43)
- John Brenneman (61)
- Gerry Melnyk (73)
- Gary Veneruzzo (7)
- Max Mestinsek (0)
4,845 NHL games–on par with Philadelphia–and some fine NHL players. I’d rank Roberts, Seiling and Schock as the best but a guy like Terry Crisp was a useful player too. Al Arbour didn’t play a long time after expansion, but he was a good one.
Maybe that’s the key–from 1967 fall through 1970 spring the Blues did an outstanding job of identifying useful NHL players. And they made some great, great trades.
Early in the 67-68 season, the Blues were struggling to score goals. Their imposing physical style was working and their goaltending airtight (Hall and Canadian Olympic goalie Seth Martin were money) but they couldn’t put the puck in the net.
Patrick traded veteran winger Ron Stewart (a terrific penalty killer) and Ron Attwell to the Rangers for two players. Red Berenson would become the best player in the western conference, an impact player who had an incredible run in St. Louis and Barclay Plager, who would become the heart and soul of the Blues blueline for years.
The Blues basically stayed ahead of the competition by making good trades from expansion through about 1970. After that, all those old soldiers were done and St. Louis–a team that made the final in 1968, 1969 and 1970–would hit bottom about 1974.
St. Louis was not a successful franchise when the universal draft arrived in 1969. They scored well in 1968 with Curt Bennett from Brown University (NCAA), but from ’69-’75 St. Louis either traded their first round pick or drafted lesser players with their picks. In 1976 they scored with Bernie Federko and that draft (which also included Mike Liut and Brian Sutter) began a new era for St. Louis hockey: the era of draft and development.
Finally, a word about coaching. The first coach in Blues history was Lynn Patrick, but he gave up the job to Scotty Bowman (photo) about the time of the Red Berenson trade. Bowman became the winningest coach in the history of the game. The fellow who replaced him as coach in St. Louis? Al Arbour.
St. Louis has never won the Stanley, but their story has a rich history. That story began with the expansion draft and dominance of the new ‘western’ division 1968-70.
Up next: the expansion city that endured a step down in quality in order to join the NHL.