Ron Caron, a longtime scout for the Montreal Canadiens and general manger of the St. Louis Blues, died Tuesday. He was 82.
"It's a travesty to see Ron gone because I don't know if there was a more passionate hockey man in the world," said former Blues star and Hall of Fame center Bernie Federko. "He breathed it, he lived and died with hockey in his mind."
Caron, nicknamed "The Professor" for his incredible memory, helped the Canadiens build a dynasty in the 1970s as a scout and assistant general manager. Montreal won the Stanley Cup six times -- 1971 and 1973 as well as four straight from 1976-79 -- with Caron helping to mold the organization's talent pool.
"My memory of him is just as a guy who was totally consumed by the game of hockey, and sports in general," said longtime Habs broadcaster Dick Irvin. "He was a terrific baseball fan. As a matter of fact, in his room when I visited him there was a picture on his wall of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on a fishing trip. He was just so intense when it came to the game of hockey. If you listened to him, you learned a lot."
In 1983, Caron was named general manager of the St. Louis Blues. He helped the Blues reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of his 11 seasons, and acquired some of the top players in franchise history.
"On behalf of the St. Louis Blues, I would like to express how saddened we are to hear about the passing of Ron Caron," said John Davidson, Blues President of Hockey Operations. "Mr. Caron was extremely passionate about the Blues and the city of St. Louis. He will truly be missed."
His most famous transaction came March 7, 1988. Caron traded goaltender Rick Wamsley and defenseman Rob Ramage to the Calgary Flames for a young forward with a famous father. The Flames went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1989, and the additions of Wamsley and Ramage played a key role, but Brett Hull blossomed into one of the best goal-scorers in the history of the sport playing for St. Louis.
"Ron really had limited resources, but he had great connections, he had been a great scout and he had been with a great organization with the Montreal Canadiens," Federko said. "He was able to bring in a lot of players, he made the deal to bring in Brett Hull, and with a limited budget he was able to put together a competitive hockey club."
Caron also acquired center Adam Oates in a trade, and signed prominent free agents like Al MacInnis and Brendan Shanahan. MacInnis and Shanahan were both restricted free agents, so the Blues gave Calgary defenseman Phil Housley and two draft picks for MacInnis and defenseman Scott Stevens -- added the year before from the Washington Capitals as a restricted free agent in a landmark transaction -- was awarded to New Jersey by an arbiter as compensation for Shanahan.
"He cut a big swath," said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, who only knew Caron as an opposing coach who faced the Blues in the playoffs while with the Dallas Stars. "He put together a lot of good teams, and they played with the same passion he had."
Not only was he a shrewd GM, Caron also had a very unique way of motivating the players, according to Federko.
"When he was excited or he had something to say, a lot of times it wouldn't make any sense at all," Federko said of Caron's visits to the Blues dressing room. "He would rant and rave. When he would walk out, we would look at each other and say, 'What exactly did he mean from that?' He was colorful to say the least. But we got the message."
Caron's Blues made the playoffs each season but reached the conference finals just once -- losing to the Flames in 1986. Those teams did help solidify the Blues' standing in the sports marketplace in St. Louis, and the team moved into a new arena in 1994 (now known as Scottrade Center).
"He'll be missed, especially in St. Louis," Federko said. "He had a limited budget but we were competitive. He knew his business, he knew hockey."
He was replaced by Mike Keenan in 1994, but Caron returned as interim general manager of the Blues in December of 1996 for the remainder of the 1996-97 season before GM Larry Pleau was hired in June of 1997.