Now, after a lengthy delay caused by an NHL investigation of Shanahan's St. Louis contract, an arbitrator was about to award compensation to the Devils. St. Louis had offered winger Rod Brind'Amour and goalie Curtis Joseph. The Devils had asked for Stevens, the linchpin of the St. Louis defense.
In the corridor outside the Team Canada locker room Monday night, Stevens and Shanahan conferred with Rick Curran, Shanahan's agent. Stevens, Shanahan graciously pointed out, was a 27-year-old, established All-Star. Shanahan, 22, was still growing into his potential. Surely, arbitrator Ed Houston wouldn't send Stevens to New Jersey. Never happen, they all agreed.
Yesterday afternoon, it happened.
All those NHL GMs who resented Caron for breaking their informal rule against signing free agents had to be celebrating.
All the players and agents who have maintained that the current arbitration system must be scrapped as part of a new collective bargaining agreement, well, they had fresh ammunition for their charge that the system favors the NHL establishment.
"I think this is a move to punish St. Louis in some manner for what they've done," Shanahan said. " . . . There'll be no movement now."
Blues executives hinted that the book was not closed on the case.
"I suppose on the surface, as we speak, you could look at it as punitive," Blues president Jack Quinn said. "We're going to try to take a look at our options."
Quinn said the team planned to look at the 14-page decision in closer detail and issue a longer statement in a few days. He wouldn't say whether legal action against the NHL was being contemplated, but the league's arbitration process doesn't provide for an appeal."
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello applauded Houston's decision.
"Unless the bylaws have changed, you're supposed to get a quality player in return," Lamoriello said. "To think you are going to beat the system is wrong. Stevens gives us a toughness we need. Our goaltenders are going to be happy having him around."
In asking for Stevens, Lamoriello had argued that Brind'Amour was coming off an off season and that his team did not need goaltending.
Stevens, who earlier in the week had threatened not to report to the Devils if they won the case, seemed subdued and cautious.
"I'm still shocked," he said a few hours after the decision. "It's tough how you can be treated and moved around like this without your consent."
Stevens said he had lauded the Blues' acquisition of Shanahan, never thinking he might be affected.
"I never in my wildest thoughts believed I would be the compensation for him," Stevens said.
He wouldn't talk about the possibility of not reporting to New Jersey.
"I've got to talk to my agent, Rick Bennett, and see what he says . . . (St. Louis) is a great city. I was just starting to feel comfortable there."
Caron still owes the Capitals four No. 1 picks for Stevens, who was a Blue for just one season.