Earlier this year the Saskatoon StarPhoenix posted an updated version of a Kevin Mitchell piece from 2008, telling the story of Bill Hunter’s quixotic attempt to bring NHL hockey to Saskatoon, and how it very nearly succeeded.
On Hunter, Mitchell quotes Emile “The Cat” Francis, who was not only the Blues’ GM, executive vice president, and sometimes coach through this period, but a North Battleford native himself: “He was the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever met… I went back to Saskatoon when all this was going on and I must have run into 10 guys — he’d already told them they were going to be the guy to drop the first puck when the season opened. He didn’t tell one guy; he told about 12. He was going to fill up the building, I think, with guys who were going to drop the puck. But that was Bill.”
If, like Just Wide, you remember this chapter in Blues history from a U.S. point of view, you’ll enjoy the Saskatchewanian perspective — complete with a plausible fictional timeline of the Sakatoon Blues’ inaugural season.
The events of 1983 look especially wacky from our vantage point in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 draft. Think of the opportunities the current system provides for rebuilding teams, both in the form of a hard salary cap, and in the deepest, widest pool of high-level hockey talent the sport has ever seen. Now imagine a struggling team just… skipping the draft, as the rudderless, orphaned Blues did in ’83.
Remaining in St. Louis, the Blues finished under .500 the following season. Incredibly, that was good enough for second place in the entertainingly hard-nosed but otherwise unimpressive Norris Division.