December 06, 2010
Bill Guerin(notes), 40, announced he's retiring as a Pittsburgh Penguins player today, a symbolic gesture that acknowledges the impact he had on that team's 2009 Stanley Cup championship and the impact that franchise had on his NHL legacy.
But he also had an impact on the New Jersey Devils, Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks and New York Islanders. Perhaps not in the win column or on the scoresheet in every tour stop, but in the locker room, where he'd lighten the mood during the most dire times with a quip or self-degradation; and amongst the fans, who valued the gritty throwback style the power forward brought to the rink.
The NHL has lost an 18-year veteran with 429 goals, 39 more in the playoffs and two Stanley Cup rings. It also lost one of hockey's cagey old court jesters in Bill Guerin.
Said Guerin, in a release by the Penguins:
"We were only here a short time but my family and I developed such a deep connection to the city, the team and the fans," Guerin said. "It was amazing. From ownership and Ray Shero to the coaching staff and trainers, from my teammates to the arena workers to the people in the stands, they all treated us in such a first-class manner. It was an extremely positive experience. We all agree that retiring as a Pittsburgh Penguin is the perfect thing to do."
Well, not necessarily the "perfect" thing to do. The perfect thing would have been for hockey fans to see another playoff run with Guerin's battle-worn, scruffy face coming up with a key play in a critical situation.
But today's NHL is no country for old, slowed, 1-year-and-done rental players. He tried, and failed, to latch on with the Philadelphia Flyers in the preseason; after that, he waited by the phone, gradually coming to terms with the fact that there wouldn't be an ideal situation coming his way.
Which is fine. You'd rather see Guerin call it a career than dabble in some Brett Hull-on-the-Coyotes nonsense. Late in his career, he captained the Islanders, won a Cup with the Penguins and did his damndest to hook up with the Flyers for another Cup run. It didn't happen, the skates have been hung up for the last time, and any Guerin fan should be fine with that.
I'd count myself among Guerin's fans, but not always. His 1997 holdout showdown with Lou Lamoriello was a bitter pill, and eventually led to his trade from New Jersey to Edmonton roughly two years after he was dancing onstage at a parking lot parade.
His meandering 2006-07 season in St. Louis and San Jose seemed to have him tabbed for journeyman irrelevance. But he found his second life on Long Island has a veteran sage along with players like Doug Weight(notes).
OK, maybe "sage" is too much; knucklehead also fits:
On March 4, 2009, he was traded to Pittsburgh by NY Islanders for Pittsburgh's 3rd round choice in that year's draft.
Playing on Sidney Crosby's(notes) wing, and adding that vital bit of grit and veteran savvy to the lineup, Guerin's acquisition by Ray Shero will go down as one of the final pieces to that championship puzzle. He had 15 points in 24 playoff games that season, playing to a plus-8. The intangibles he added to that dressing room ... well, whatever the Penguins lacked in their previous run, Guerin injected it upon his arrival.
Maybe with all the princes and nobility in the room, they just needed a jester. Witness this 10-minute mic'd up moment with Guerin in practice from a Penguins' DVD:
Trying to get "Doofy" (or was it "Toophy"?) to stick as a "League-wide" as a nickname for Sidney Crosby? Priceless.
Fair thee well, Bill Guerin. Like a fine wine, you aged well.
Like a bottle of Boone's Farm, you had no shame: