|1983 DRAFT QUICK FACTS|
|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
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.|
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.
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.
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
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
|No. 1 pick: Brian Lawton (by Minnesota)|
NHL: 113 players (46.7 percent)
Won Stanley Cup: 21 players
Most NHL Games:
Steve Yzerman (1,453 games)
Playoff Games: Claude Lemieux (233 games)
Highest Pick to Miss:
No. 35 (Todd Francis)
Lowest Pick to Reach: No. 232 (Bo Berglund)
242 (134 forwards, 86 defense, 22 goalies)
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