ST. LOUIS – There’s a lyric in the song, “Dancing Nancies,” where Dave Matthews asks, “Don’t you wonder … if you took a left turn instead of taking a right, you could be somebody different?”
Martin Brodeur often wonders what would have happened to him 26 years ago if an arbitrator didn’t award Scott Stevens to the New Jersey Devils as compensation for the St. Louis Blues signing restricted free agent Brendan Shanahan to an offer sheet.
The Blues wanted to give goalie Curtis Joseph and center Rod Brind’Amour, but then-Devils GM Lou Lamoriello stuck to his guns and insisted on Stevens, the future Hall of Fame defenseman and current Wild assistant coach. An arbitrator eventually ruled in New Jersey’s favor.
Had “CuJo” gone to the Devils instead, Brodeur, now the Blues’ assistant GM and acting goalie coach, wonders if he would have been buried in the minors, trapped behind Joseph as a backup or eventually traded to another team where perhaps there’d be no chance he’d have enough success to eventually become the NHL’s all-time wins leader and three-time Stanley Cup champion.
“Everybody was so excited to be able to get Scott, and it really affected me,” Brodeur said. “They get CuJo, I’m probably not playing in the NHL. Then, not only don’t they get CuJo, they get Scott Stevens, the guy who helped me become the guy I became.
“It’s amazing when you really think about how close that arbitration came to affecting my career and life.”
Stevens was the Shanahan compensation in the first place because the Blues didn’t have the draft picks to give New Jersey as compensation because the year before, they had to give picks to the Washington Capitals as compensation for signing Stevens from them.
Stevens spent only one season in St. Louis and was the Blues’ captain. He loved it there, and the fans to this day still love him. Stevens didn’t want to leave and initially refused to report to Devils training camp following the drawn-out arbitration process.
“St. Louis is a lot like Minnesota. Fans in the Midwest are great people and passionate, and the Blues fans were always positive and behind their team, and we had an awesome year,” Stevens said. “My time in St. Louis was short-lived, and it was harder on my wife because we had two young ones at home 16 months apart.
“We just bought a house, so that was tough. But everything happens for a reason, and it turned out great in New Jersey in the end, obviously.”
Meeting the boss
Stevens, an assistant coach in New Jersey from 2012-14 and a co-coach with Adam Oates in 2014-15, has evolved as a first-year assistant coach in Minnesota.
It was Stevens’ former defense partner, Scott Niedermayer, who made the introduction to Bruce Boudreau soon after Boudreau was hired by the Wild last May.
“How they would jibe and stuff, I didn’t really know, but I knew Bruce was a good, quality person that’s enjoyable to be around,” Niedermayer said. “Scotty’s a little more intense, a different personality [than Boudreau]. But Bruce mentioned to me what he was looking for in a staff, and Scotty’s name popped in my head.”
“Watching him on NHL Network [as an analyst last year], I was kind of like, ‘Oh, we didn’t even talk that much,’” Niedermayer said, laughing. “When he was coaching the Devils, he came through [Anaheim] and his passion talking about coaching and the interest he had in it, that impressed me. I was like, ‘Wow, this guy means business.’ Some of us have to figure out our way after we retire and maybe he did for awhile, too, but I think he got to a point where he realized what he wanted to do.”
Stevens, now 53, is a quiet guy and Boudreau said his biggest growth is talking to players.
“He’s a shy guy and he does a lot of work quietly on the computer, and he’s gotten better and better putting himself in a position to talk to the group,” Boudreau said. “You can imagine the work he put into being a player. He’s a very big stickler on details. The respect thing comes automatically, but he’s also earned the respect once he got here.”
Brodeur believes Stevens would eventually make for a great head coach: “He’s invested in everything he does.”
Asked in January if head-coaching is his aspiration, Stevens said, “I’m not sure. I’m going to take it one year at a time and enjoy the process and go from there. … This is a great position. It’s much like playing the game. You never stop learning.”
Boudreau said if anybody comes calling for Stevens this offseason, he wouldn’t stand in his way.
“I would be the one singing his tunes,” Boudreau said. “You want good guys around, but at the same time, you want people to have opportunities as well. I would take a lot of pride if Scott was at least talked to.”