Gretzky Trade Is Only The Beginning For Blues
The easy part is done. Trading for Wayne Gretzky was a no-brainer for Mike Keenan, coach and general manager of the St. Louis Blues. Had Keenan let Gretzky slip away to the New York Rangers or Vancouver, the Blues would have had little chance this season of winning their first Stanley Cup.
"Our expectations and the expectations of our fans have increased dramatically," Keenan said last week.
Whether Gretzky can really make a difference - opinions around the NHL are divided - remains to be seen. With Gretzky, who was acquired Tuesday from Los Angeles for three players and two draft picks, at least the Blues will be interesting.
But Keenan still has two chores to complete in the Gretzky saga, and they won't be accomplished as easily - or as cheaply.
First, Keenan must decide which other players to add to his team. Gretzky, 35, holds 61 NHL records and owns four Stanley Cup rings, but even the Great One needs the right combination of teammates to get past Detroit, Colorado and Chicago in the Western Conference and reach the Cup finals.
The trading deadline is March 20, and Keenan has said his biggest need is depth. He has Gretzky, who scored his 16th goal of the season in his St. Louis debut Thursday in Vancouver, and winger Brett Hull, who had 34 goals through Friday. After that, only Geoff Courtnall had at least 20 goals, and only four other Blues were in double figures in goals.
Of course, Keenan has never shied from cleaning house. Only four players - Hull, Al MacInnis, Murray Baron and Basil McRae - are left from the team Keenan inherited in July 1994.
Second on Keenan's to-do list is to sign Gretzky, who can become a free agent after the season, to a new contract. That process was expected to begin the moment the trade was completed, but it might be just as complicated as finding the right balance on the ice.
Gretzky is believed to be seeking a three-year deal worth $21 million.
"We haven't even discussed the term yet - two, three, four years, I'm not sure," Gretzky's agent, Michael Barnett, said last week.
The Blues were sure of one thing: Gretzky will not slip away to another club.
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