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Blues blunder: The day the team fired Al Arbour

Blues blunder: The day the team fired Al Arbour

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Al Arbour

Al Arbour, with the Blues in 1970.

On Nov. 9, 1972, the day after the St. Louis Blues fired Al Arbour, hockey writer Gary Mueller wrote this column questioning the team's motives. Arbour would become the fifth-winningest coach in NHL history, winning four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders.

Surely a coach who takes a floundering, spiritless hockey team on Christmas morning and turns it into a contending team within three months deserves more than 13 games to pull a team out of a slump at the start of the next season. But don't try to tell that to Al Arbour.

The reward he received for his outstanding coaching job in the 1971-72 season was his walking papers after the Blues limped off to a 2-6-5. start this season.

"I've always co-operated with the press," said Arbour, "and now I'm going to have to ask your co-operation. Just quote me as having nothing to say."

What is it that Arbour isn't talking about? Was he really fired merely in the hopes of shaking up the team. Has sport indeed become such a big business that the individual, no matter what his previous accomplishments, is a sacrificial lamb? Or was there something else behind the scenes?

It has been no secret around the Blues this season that there have been differences of opinions among management on the future of Noel Picard. Picard, injured last season, has made a gallant comeback from his tragic accident. Picard, never the National Hockey League's best defenseman, has been having some troubles this season. In one game Arbour used him not at all. In others, he used Picard only on an odd shift or two. And in still other games, Arbour had Picard taking a full shift.

"To say that how Al was using Picard had anything to do with his firing is totally inaccurate," said Sid Salomon III, the executive vice president of the Blues. "There have been definite disagreements about a lot of things between Al Arbour, Sid Abel and myself, but to say that there was one specific conflict that was the germ or seed that led to the firing is not one bit true.

"I'm not even going to pretend that there weren't some arguments, but I think that's a sign of a healthy organization when management can sit down and work things out together."

Thus, the Blues on one hand are saying that Arbour's dismissal was merely a move made to shake up the team. No one can step forward and question his coaching ability.

A change merely for the sake of change is deplorable at best. Something else must be involved. But no one can expect the Blues to hang their dirty wash out in the public air. If Arbour, Abel and Salomon had their differences, and Arbour's view got outvoted, that's their business. No one can question the club's right to fire Arbour, but one certainly can question the reasons given publicly.

"Something's missing on this club, something that we had at the end of last year," said Salomon. "

The Blues decided against trades apparently because they felt the team's slump Was not the result of poor personnel, but rather poor performances, by players who weren't playing up to their abilities.

"You can't go out on a wholesale trading binge," said Salomon, "because then you wind up giving away quality hockey players for nothing. And we feel we have quality hockey players.

"But we did feel some change had to be made. The easiest thing in the world would have been to sit back and do nothing. Any idiot could do that.

"Listen, we're not one bit happy that Al Arbour has been fired, If you want to say we get a kick out of firing coaches, that's your business, but we don't enjoy it at all.

"We want to do what's best for this hockey team and you have to give us a little credit, we've done a pretty good job of giving our fans a winning hockey team over the years."

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