A look at the St. Louis Blues’ All-Decade team for the 1980s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season. A complete list is available here.
Team: St. Louis Blues (1980-81 to 1989-90)
344-344-112, .500 WIN PCT, 2,975 GF vs. 2,992 GA, -17 Diff, 10/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
St. Louis was the very definition of average during the 1980s: their record was exactly .500, their goal differential was almost even, and their win percentage of 50.0% put them 10th out of 21 teams. Fortunately, because they played in the Norris division for most of the 1980s, they always finished ahead of at least one of Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto (back then, the only team to miss the playoffs from the Norris was the team that finished last out of five teams). The Blues started out the decade with a bang, recording 45 wins and 107 points. They then slumped, losing 40-41 games per season over the next three years, but still making the playoffs each time. They then finished the decade with six seasons in the 76-86 point range; never terrible, never terrific. Decidedly average. They made the playoffs every year, and typically reaped the benefits of playing weak division rivals; the Blues advanced to the second round seven times in ten seasons, even making it to the Conference Finals in 1986 (where they lost to the Calgary Flames). The Blues were decidedly a defensive team. Their offense was actually fairly pitiful compared to most franchises; they scored an average of 3.72 goals per game, which ranked 16th in the league. Their defense sounds bad (allowing 3.74 goals against per game), but that actually ranked them 8th. The resulting goal differential of -17 placed 10th in the league. That was the most frustrating thing about the Blues; they never reached a high enough level to truly satisfy their fans, but they also never punished their fans by being truly terrible (which in turn meant they never drafted high enough to get any franchise players). Which left them decidedly average during the 1980s.
Left Wing: Brian Sutter (518 GP, 226-236-462, -18, 1,260 PIM, 24 GWG)
Brian Sutter always seems to be one of those players who was strongly identified with the St. Louis Blues. Although he was never an elite-level talent, he was a hard-nosed winger who always showed up ready to compete, and had very good offensive skills. In the first five years of the 1980s, he scored at least 32 goals and 69 points every season. Injuries slowed him down over the next two seasons though; he played a half-season in ’85-86 and then just 14 games in ’86-87. He retired after a final season in ’87-88 that saw him record 15 goals and 37 points. But in his prime, he was a force to be reckoned with. He had double-digit powerplay goals five straight seasons, and fired 181-204 shots on goal each season during that time. He also had a healthy 24 game-winning goals, accounting for 11% of his total. His toughness is evidenced by three straight seasons of 230+ PIM, and he had three other seasons of 100+.
Centre: Bernie Federko (671 GP, 252-568-820, -71, 383 PIM, 31 GWG)
One of the most popular players in Blues’ history, he was virtually a lock for strong offensive production. In nine seasons with the Blues, he scored at 20+ each season; he scored a high of 41 goals in ’83-84, and had four others of 30+. He hit the 100-point mark four times, and had three others in the 84-92 point range. His +/- wasn’t great, and he was only positive twice in nine seasons, indicating that his defensive game was severely lacking. That being said, he did drive the powerplay, scoring 9+ PPG in eight of his nine seasons during the 1980s. He also had 31 game-winning goals, 12% of his total. While many fans would have liked to see him end his career in St. Louis instead of in Detroit, the Blues did manage to get Adam Oates in return from the Red Wings, so it worked out quite well for the Blues.
Right Wing: Brett Hull (171 GP, 119-92-211, -14, 61 PIM, 18 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Joe Mullen
Brett Hull played in two full seasons during the 1980s, which followed a 13-game (14-point) stint in ’87-88 after being acquired from Calgary. So he JUST made it into consideration here, otherwise it would have gone to Joe Mullen. Mullen spent parts of five seasons with the Blues, although only two of them were full seasons. A lock for point-per-game production, he had two 40-goal seasons, finishing with 85 and 92 points respectively. He had 151 goals and 335 points in 301 games. But Brett hit heights few players in NHL history ever have. In ’88-89, Calgary won the Stanley Cup with Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley (the players they acquired for Hull) making major contributions.
Hull helped make sure his first full season in St. Louis delivered though, scoring 41 goals (on 305 shots) and 84 points. 16 goals came on the powerplay, which was impressive. But his -17 wasn’t great. However, he made up for it the following year, improving to 72 goals (on 385 shots) and 113 points. 27 of his goals were on the powerplay, and 12 of his goals were game winners. In his first 2+ seasons, 15% of Hull’s goals were GWG. And the scary thing was that he was just getting warmed up.
Defense: Paul Cavallini (193 GP, 16-66-82, +70, 320 PIM, 0 GWG)
Cavallini was a key defensive contributor for the Blues as the Brett Hull era began. Cavallini’s point totals improved steadily (from 11 to 24 to 47), as did his +/- rating (+7 to +25 to +38). He wasn’t afraid of physical play, getting 86 PIM in 48 games during ’87-88, and then 100+ each of the next two seasons. He was a solid defensive defenseman who knew his role and performed it admirably.
Defense: Rob Ramage (441 GP, 67-229-296, -41, 898 PIM, 11 GWG)
Ramage (whose first name was apparently George, who knew?) was always a quality defenseman, but never broke through to “star” status in the NHL. His defensive game was below-average in St. Louis, as evidenced by his negative rating in five of his six seasons. But he posted double-digit goal totals four times, and twice hit the 60-point mark. He never scored fewer than 7 goals or 38 points in six seasons with the Blues, and he was a tough player who posted 100+ PIM six straight seasons. He also helped run the powerplay, posting 5-9 PPG in five of six years. He was also clutch, with 11 of his goals (16% of his total) counting as game winners.
Goalie: Mike Liut (283 GP, 119-110-43, 8 SO, 3.67 GAA, 0.880 PCT)
*NOTE: Save Percentage is only from ’82-83 to ’84-85
Honourable Mention to Rick Wamsley
Mike Liut was one of the best goalies in the league during the 1980s, and he spent the first half of the decade in St. Louis. In 1980-81, Liut was stellar with a 33-13-14 record and a 3.34 goals-against average. He was runner-up to Wayne Gretzky for the Hart trophy as the NHL’s MVP, he was a First-Team All-Star, and he won the Lester B. Pearson (which is voted on by the players, meaning his peers saw him as the league’s MVP that season). He was never able to match those heights over the next four seasons, but he still maintained a record at or just below .500, with a GAA between 3.45 and 4.06. He was durable (playing 58-64 games in the first four seasons of the decade) and fairly consistent (he won 25+ games three times), which is exactly what you want from your starting goaltender. Rick Wamsley had the unenviable task of following Liut. While he was competent, he never played more than 42 games in a season during a four-year stretch, and wasn’t able to reach the same heights (and accolades) that Liut did. His won-loss record started well (45-28-8 in his first two seasons), but stalled (30-31-7 in his final two seasons). Although Liut’s numbers were slightly worse overall (and he was .500 after that stellar ’80-81 season), Liut carried the team to the second round on several occasions, and gave the Blues the confidence to play a more offensive game. So Liut gets the nod ahead of Wamsley.