Welcome to Blue Collar Weekly “Legends of the Past” which is an offseason edition of BCW where we honor legendary Blues alumni.
This week the “Blue Collar” goes to…
Wayne Babych was born June 6th,1958 and is of Ukranian descent. But he was born in Edmonton, Canada. He was a 5ft 11″ 191 lb right-winger that played in the NHL for several teams: St.Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Quebec Nordiques, Hartford Whalers. Most of his time was playing with the St.Louis Blues. Thus he played there for 6 six seasons from 1979-1984. He was drafted in the 1st round by the Blues 3rd overall in the 1978 NHL draft.
Wayne played his junior career with the Edmonton Oil Kings, and Portland Winterhawks. In 269 WCHL games, Babych scored a massive amount of points in a year 4-year span. He scored 151 goals with 197 assists for a total of 348 points. That’s well over a point per game. He also played for his national team of Canada twice and scored 13 points in 13 games in those two years.
|1974-75||16||Edmonton Oil Kings||WCJHL||68||19||17||36||157|
|1975-76||17||Edmonton Oil Kings||WCJHL||61||32||46||78||98|
|1976-77||18||Portland Winter Hawks||WCJHL||71||50||62||112||76|
|1977-78||19||Portland Winter Hawks||WCJHL||68||50||71||121||218|
Rookie Year (1978-79)
After scoring 5o goals in back to back season in the WCJHL with the Portland, Winterhawks Babych would finally realize his dream for the NHL was coming soon. Wayne was part of a new Blues record-breaking drafting scheme in which they drafted 31 players(19 picks were added by paying cash for them) The NHL later responded by banning all NHL teams from acquiring future picks in such a manner. The Blues literally and figuratively drafted an entire replacement team. Unfortunately, Babych was probably one of the most notable players out of all those 31 players. Needless to say, only five players of that draft would even play in the NHL. (source https://thehockeywriters.com/unbreakable-records-the-st-louis-blues-and-the-1978-nhl-draft/ )
In Wayne’s first year as a rookie, he would also break records. Even though he missed part of the 1978-79 season with a broken left ankle, the new rookie set Blues records (since broken) for points (63), goals (27) and assists (36) by a rookie in 1978-79. Babych also finished third in voting for 1978-79 Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year.
When people think of “The Kid Line,” most remember TJ Oshie, Patrik Berglund, and David Perron. But actually the first Blues ‘Kid Line” was a trio of Wayne Babych, Bernie Federko, and Brian Sutter. He played 67 games on the Kid Line that year and brought a lot of speed and grit to the line. The man had extraordinary upper body strength and could hit like a freight train. To add to all of that, he also had a cannon of a shot!
Sophomore Season (1979-80)
Babych would have a solid sophomore season. He nearly replicated his rookie season with 61 points in only 59 games. He scored 26 goals again and seemed to be on a consistent pace, which helped him avoid that “sophomore slump.”
Coach Berenson makes the line changes (1980-81)
Starting the new year after being knocked out of the playoffs in the Preliminary round coach Red Berenson decided to switch Babych on the second line and switch him to left-wing along with playmakers Blake Dunlop and Larry Patey. The move would prove to be a good one.
With newfound chemistry with his new line-mates, Wayne was able to score 54 goals and 96 points in 78 games. He became the first St. Louis player to score 50 goals in a season on March 12, 1981, vs. Montreal. Surprisingly, 40 of those goals were at regular strength, which was a first in the league at the time. He also ended up playing in the 1981 All-Star game. Without a doubt, Blues realized they had a real superstar on their hands. Even so, he did find struggles in 11 playoff games only scoring two goals in a disappointing playoff run. After his having a career-changing year, St.Louis would sign Babych to a 4-year contract which was worth over $400,000 plus $125,000 signing bonus. This was big bucks for 1981 and proved Wayne was no chump.
The Final three years with St.Louis
Becoming a glorified hero in his first three years Babych would hit a roadblock due to one huge injury to his shoulder that happened in the first preseason since signing the big contract. He ended up dropping the gloves with one of the NHL’s toughest and most feared fighter in the league the Jets bruiser Jimmy Mann. Unfortunately, just as Babych was launching his first punch, the linesman tried to play peacemaker by grabbing his arm. While breaking up the fight, the lineman accidentally tore Wayne’s rotator cuff.
Unfortunately, this untimely injury would prove to hamper Babych’s entire career. He was evaluated by doctors, and they gave him a long rehab and eventual shoulder surgery to attempt to rebuild the rotator cuff. Babych never was the same superstar power forward he once was, due to many more fights and with the brand of physical play that he was accustomed to perpetuating. Though he did have 125 points in his last 192 games as a Blue.
Departure from St.Louis to play with the rookie Mario Lemieux
After a failed trade to Edmonton, the Blues would leave Wayne open to waivers in 1984. Pittsburgh was the need for a couple of playmaking wingers to put on a top line with their new superb rookie named Mario Lemieux. So Pittsburgh signed Wayne to a contract and created a line of Babych, Young, Lemieux. This would be the last time Babych would score 20 goals in a season. He would only last a year in year in Pittsburgh before being traded.
A Bittersweet End
On October 20th,1985 Wayne Babych was traded to the Quebec Nordiques for “future considerations.” He would only play 15 games and score only 11 points before being traded to Hartford for Greg Malone on Jan.17th,1986. But Wayne was happy he would finally get to play pro hockey with his little brother Dave Babych, even though he was leaving the first-place team and going to the last-place team.
Here’s what Babych had to say to writer Gerry Cantlon years later about joining the Whalers and playing alongside his little brother: “It was short, but such a pleasure for us,“ Wayne, with his trademark big smile, said. “We hadn’t played together since we were eight-years-old together and there is a two-year difference. It was clearly one of the highlights of my career. To play again with Emile Francis, who I was within St. Louis, he put together a real good crew and made it a lot of fun a very special place as far I was concerned.” https://www.howlings.net/2019/07/28/cantlons-corner-wayne-babych-returns-to-hartford/
Let’s hear what Wayne had to say about playing with his brother, which comes from the book written by Gary Mason called “The Old-timers” “Dave set me up for my first goal in Hartford,” “I went through some kind of hell in my career, but to play with my brother is all I wanted ever to do.” http://stlouisblueslegends.blogspot.com/2007/09/wayne-babych.html
By the end of the year, Hartford had squeaked into 4th place and secured a semi-final match-up against nonother than the 1st place Quebec Nordiques. The Whalers would come out and surprised everyone as they swept the series 3-0. Unfortunately, Hartford would lose in 7 games against the unstoppable Patrick Roy and his Montreal Canadians in the Division Finals. But it was something special for Wayne Babych. He ended the regular season with 28 points in 37 games but struggled to produce only 1 point in 10 playoff games that season.
The Pre-season Curse
Sometimes some people have the worst of luck! In the case of Wayne Babych and his pre-season injury history, this would ring true and as painful as ever.
In a September 1986 pre-season game Babych was a victim of a horrific two-handed slash to his left knee from Ken McRae. The slash would break his knee and leave him out for the rest of the season. Wayne would undergo reconstructive knee surgery and eventually tried to regain his form to play in the final four games of the regular season. Ironically these would be his last four games in the NHL and end a career that was filled with ups and downs. But in the end, the pain was too great and sustaining another injury could’ve possibly left him severely disabled.
Wayne eventually sued McRae, and it was settled out of court. But by then, the damage was irreversible and became a detriment to his overall health.
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My Final Thoughts
I really believe Wayne was a special player and had shown by his early success with the Blues that he was one the best power forwards the game had seen in a long time. For him to come into the league and start breaking franchise records within his first two years was quite the eye-opener for many fans and critics.
If it weren’t for his bad luck in the pre-season, he might well have gone on to be considered one of the best wingers of his time. But we will never know because he can’t go back and change the past. I am sure he’s still grateful and happy the way things turned out. I’m pretty excited to honor his career and present him with this Blue Collar Award. Cheers to #10 Wayne Babych a true warrior and such a hard worker! I leave you with a quote from the great Ron Francis:
“I think you always hope you can play forever, but you always realize that time will come.I was fortunate I was able to make a decision, move on and do it comfortably. “
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