G11 Blues at Oilers

This is Garry Unger. He was the second bona fide “superstar” for the St. Louis Blues (the first was Red Berenson). Unger had a fine NHL career; although well short of a HOFer, Unger’s ability to score goals made him one of the NHL’s best players in the Western Division for most of his career.

Unger’s career took some time to take off, owing mostly to impatience and shortsightedness. He was sent along by two NHL clubs before finding a home in St. Louis. Unger is another example of what happens when you send away youth too soon: it often bites you in the ass for a decade.

Unger came up through the Leafs system (he’s forechecking Boston’s Fred Stanfield in this photo, goalie is Cheevers and D Dallas Smith is in front of Cheevers) and was dealt in the famous Frank Mahovlich trade. Toronto gave up the Big M, Peter Stemkowski (a big C),  Unger and the rights to D Carl Brewer and in return Imlach received Normie Ullman, Paul Henderson and some other things. My Dad (and much of English Canada) was digusted by Imlach’s dealing of Mahovlich, and I’ve always suspected a curse was placed on the team because of the Mahovlich chapters. Trading Unger wasn’t wise either. As his career rolled out, the skilled center would remind Leafs fans of just how much they gave up that day in 1968.

Detroit was an organization in transition when Unger arrived on the scene. With Gordie Howe’s career winding down and other veterans long in the tooth, youngsters like Unger represented the future in Motown. In 69-70, Unger just missed leading the entire league in goals (his 42 trailed Phil Esposito by one) and it looked like the young man from Calgary would have a long career in Detroit.

Detroit was going through a turmoil-filled season (I can’t begin to describe it, but someone tried here) when they sent Unger to St. Louis but it was beyond ill-advised. Unger would score over 400 goals in the NHL, most of them wearing the blue note.

When the Oilers entered the NHL, Glen Sather tried to acquire Unger (this would be 1979) but the pricetag was one of his fine young players. Determined not to make the same error Punch Imlach made with Unger, Sather passed on the opportunity for over a year until the price was less dear.

Unger didn’t last too long as an Oiler, not many of the veterans survived the speed that arrived in the league with the WHA expansion. Most Oiler fans would remember his as a bit player, a 4th liner and a guy who once took a costly penalty in a very important game.

Unger’s rights belonged to Toronto but they sent him away in a franchise altering deal. Detroit was in turmoil at the time of his arrival, so St. Louis enjoyed the heart of Unger’s career for being in the right place at the right time.

Edmonton acquired a player at the end of the line, but did not overpay for the privilege.

This morning, the Oilers have Ales Hemsky skating with the rest of the team. They also have Linus Omark skating with the group that won’t play tonight. No big deal, Oilers are on a winning streak and replacing anyone in the lineup would likely come from injury or suspension (hello, Mr. Sutton).

I’ve used Unger as the example in this cautionary tale, although he is perhaps not a good comparable to Unger. However, the Blues are in town and Unger is a famous Blue from the past.

So far this season, Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark have zero points, and Sam Gagner has only one. This is not the time to trade these men and the Oilers should insert Omark in the lineup at their earliest possible opportunity. A team like Boston–badly in need of offensive help and with limited cap room–might come calling for someone like Omark and pay 10 cents on the dollar to get him.

I think this will be a huge test for Steve Tambellini. What to do with an fine young offensive player like Linus Omark. We wait.

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