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DATE: JUNE 8, 1983

The fifth NHL Entry Draft made history because of something that didn't happen as well as for something that did.

For the first and only time in NHL history, an NHL franchise chose not to participate in the draft. The St. Louis Blues, who were in the middle of a dispute with the NHL over the pending sale of the team, chose not to send any representatives to Montreal. It was perhaps the most bizarre development in one of the most bizarre sagas in NHL history.

St. Louis' ownership crisis dated back to the middle of the 1982-83 season, when Ralston Purina Co., the team's owner since 1977, said it wanted to get out of the hockey business and sell the team to a group from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The Saskatoon group, known as Coliseum Holdings, Ltd., was run by former Edmonton Oilers WHA owner Bill Hunter. Coliseum Holdings was prepared to buy the Blues for $11.5 million -- a price that more than satisfied Ralston Purina.

The other NHL owners, however, were uncomfortable with the notion of a team leaving the United States for a much smaller Canadian market. In addition, St. Louis mayor Vincent C. Schoemel Jr. vowed that he would never let the Blues leave his city, and mounted a vigorous campaign to find local ownership. Knowing that the NHL would support any other bid to keep the team in St. Louis, Schoemel said he was working with a group of investors who would make the minimum $3 million offer to Ralston Purina that NHL governors needed to block the Saskatoon sale. Schoemel later increased the offer to $8 million, and Ralston recognized it was going to have a tough time getting its way.

Despite growing opposition, Ralston Purina sold the Blues to Hunter's group after the 1982-83 season ended in April 1983. The sale was subject to NHL approval, and the league was determined to block it, if Schoemel delivered on his promises. Most of the Blues players openly opposed the move. President and general manager Emile Francis was so unwilling to relocate that he asked Ralston Purina to release him from his contract, due to expire on June 30, 1983. On April 27, Schoemel announced his group could not come up with the money, but he would not concede defeat until the NHL vote. Ralston Purina and Bill Hunter both mocked the mayor, saying he would never make it on time. On May 3, 1983, confirming its determination to carry through on the Saskatoon deal, Ralston Purina let Francis out of his contract to become president and general manager of the Hartford Whalers.

Ten days after Francis left, on May 13, 1983, Ralston Purina shut down the Blues offices, dismissing everyone in the organization except a small handful of remaining senior management and scouts. But on May 18, the NHL hit back -- rejecting the Blues sale to Hunter's group by a 15-3 vote. On May 24, Ralston Purina filed a $20 million lawsuit against the NHL, all owners who voted against or abstained, and president John Ziegler, claiming they had denied the company its right to sell the team. The NHL retaliated with a $78 million countersuit for dissolving a franchise without permission. Despite the animosity, the remaining members of the Blues staff said they would attend the draft on June 8, and would proceed as if they would play in 1983-84.

On May 31, 1983, the Saskatoon group cut its commitment to the sale, leaving Ralston Purina with no buyer. On June 7, 1983, angry Ralston Purina executives said the Blues would boycott the NHL draft, and the team would be tendered to the NHL, which could try to find a buyer while Ralston pursued its suit. The NHL could not decide what it wanted to do with the Blues before the draft, and as a result, nobody spoke for the team on draft day. On June 13, 1983, learning Ralston Purina would liquidate the team's assets if the NHL did not agree to its settlement, the NHL finally took over the Blues. By August, the league was able to sell the team to California businessman Harry Ornest for the bargain-basement price of $3 million, and the franchise was safe in St. Louis. The scar of missing a draft, however, remained for years.

At the time, it didn't appear the 1983 draft would be a very bad one to miss. There were few blue-chip defensemen available, and top forwards, such as Pat LaFontaine, Alfie Turcotte and Dave Gagner, were all considered too small to be guaranteed stars in the league. The overall 1983 aspirations were so low, in fact, that Minnesota gambled and made a bit of draft history by taking Rhode Island high school player Brian Lawton with the first pick -- ahead of future Hall of Famers Pat LaFontaine and Steve Yzerman. That bold decision by North Stars general manager Lou Nanne gave Lawton the distinction of being the first American-born player ever taken No. 1 overall. Although other Americans went No. 1 in subsequent years, Lawton remains the only high school player taken No. 1 overall. Four picks later, at No. 5, another American made history when Tom Barrasso became the first U.S. high school goaltender to be selected in the draft's first round.

Other big news was made toward the end of the draft, when some teams gambled by taking high-profile Soviet stars, such as Vladislav Tretiak, Alexei Kasatonov and Sergei Makarov. Viacheslav Fetisov was also drafted -- for a second time -- in 1983, after having been taken five years earlier. Soviet players were considered risky picks because the USSR was controlled by the Communists, who were unlikely to let their players earn a living in North America. The same was true for communist Czechoslovakia, which is why nobody cared much about Chicago's late-round decision to draft Czech goalie Dominik Hasek, who at that time was considered unlikely to ever play in the NHL.
Eligible For Draft: All North American amateur players born between January 1, 1963, and September 15, 1965, and all European players born before September 15, 1965.
Draft Order: Non-playoff teams had the first five picks and drafted in reverse order of their 1982-83 finish. The 16 playoff teams then drafted in reverse order of their 1982-83 finish.
Irregularities: St. Louis did not participate in the draft. Its first two picks were exercised by teams that had already traded for them. St. Louis passed on all 10 of its picks from Rounds 3 through 12.
Rotation: Pittsburgh, Hartford, New Jersey, Detroit, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Quebec, N.Y. Rangers, Buffalo, Washington, Minnesota, N.Y. Islanders, Montreal, Chicago, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Boston
Total Rounds: Twelve
Cost to Draft: The NHL paid a lump sum to the CMJHL to support major junior hockey as a whole. The NHL teams also negotiated fees with individual European teams for the release of European players.
Draft Rights: Team could offer player contract at any time after draft, however, underage players would be required to begin the 1983-84 season with their major-junior teams if they did not make their NHL teams out of camp, and would only be available for emergency recall.
No. 1 pick: Brian Lawton (by Minnesota)
Reached NHL: 113 players (46.7 percent)
Won Stanley Cup: 21 players (8.7 percent)
Most NHL Games: Steve Yzerman (1,453 games)
Most Playoff Games: Claude Lemieux (233 games)
Highest Pick to Miss: No. 35 (Todd Francis)
Lowest Pick to Reach: No. 232 (Bo Berglund)
Players Drafted: 242 (134 forwards, 86 defense, 22 goalies)

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Total Selected: 242
Forwards: 134
Defense: 86
Goaltenders: 22
Major Junior: 122
Tier II/Jr. B: 19/5
College Players: 15
High School: 47
Canadian: 148
Euro-Canadian: 0
USA Citizens: 60
U.S.-Born: 60
European: 34
Reached NHL: 113
Stanley Cup: 21
Hall of Fame: 4
All-Star Game: 20
Year-end All-Star: 7
Olympians: 34
Picks Traded: 41
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