August 13, 2010
(Ed. Note: Welcome to Puck Daddy's August series, "Mount Puckmore" which will feature fans, bloggers and various media personalities of all 30 teams choosing the four defining faces of their franchise. These four people are who you remember most when you think of these teams -- whether they be players, coaches or executives. We'll be running these daily for the rest of the month. Today, representing the St. Louis Blues, Brad Lee of St. Louis Gametime.)
By Brad Lee
Being included in this prodigious project for Puck Daddy is an honor, a privilege, a little more work than we're used to in early August and just a little bit weird.
While there are a number of teams that have come into the league since the Blues debuted in the fall of 1967, St. Louis has more in common with expansion teams of the 1990s. Well, at least the ones who have never won the Stanley Cup.
During the most recent NHL playoffs, the TV commercials that showed memorable plays backwards in slow motion used the Blues as victims twice. One of the most famous (or infamous depending on your area code) is the "Superman Goal" by Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr in 1970. That's the play where he was sent flying by defenseman Noel Picard after Orr scored the Cup-winning goal in overtime. It's a great photo of a great moment by a great player. I get it. Still hate it, and I wasn't even born yet.
(For future alibi use: I would never defame, destroy or damage the new statue depicting the play in downtown Boston. Allegedly.)
The other play featured in those backwards commercials involved a turnover by Wayne Gretzky in the neutral zone, Steve Yzerman, goaltender Jon Casey (more accurately the small open area above his left shoulder), scoreless double-overtime in Game 7 of the playoffs and a harmless-looking shot from just outside the blue line.
Oh, and heartbreak that haunts me every time I see the replay.
Those two commercials underline the glaring fact that while the Blues have had Hall of Fame players since their inception more than 40 years ago, the franchise's most memorable moment involving a Blues win took place in Game 6 of the 1986 Conference Finals over Calgary. An improbable third-period comeback and win in overtime that was dubbed the "Monday Night Miracle" was quickly followed by a demoralizing defeating the seventh game of the series. That's it. No one outside St. Louis knows it. Calgary doesn't remember because they advanced the next game anyway.
The Blues literally have no moments in their history that would work for that advertising campaign. It's symbolic of how this franchise has consistently taken two strides forward before a vicious hip check sends the team into the boards and a possible concussion. Name another team to make the playoffs 25 years in a row without even making the Cup Finals much less win the darned thing.
With that in mind, I now present to you the four faces of the St. Louis Blues that should adorn a pile of rocks overlooking the scenic River des Peres in South St. Louis. Any alliteration with the players is pure coincidence and not intentional. Notice no player on this list has played for the team in more than a decade. And while Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger(notes) deserve mention as great players and great contributors in their own right, they don't make the cut for rock carved face status.
Bob Plager, D
While the defenseman known for his hip check and being hated in Philadelphia (going into the stands to fight will earn a guy that reputation) played for the Rangers first, Plager was one of the original Blues in 1967.
He finished his career in St. Louis and has stayed with the organization as a coach, scout, broadcaster and community relations treasure. He's the only one of the four players featured here to not have his name hanging in the rafters of the Drinkscotch Center.
His No. 5 has been passed down to some of the most rugged defensemen in team history (Rob Ramage, Garth Butcher and currently Barret Jackman(notes)) and is on a banner of its own witha heart. Blues fans heart No. 5 and he hearts us back. Especially Hooters waitresses.
Bob was one of three Plager brothers to suit up for the Blues. He's been a fixture with the team its entire existence and remains beloved by fans that were born a decade or more after his retirement in 1978.
Plager represents the heart of the Blues organization and link to the humble beginnings of the franchise.
Bernie Federko, C
There are some hockey fans outside St. Louis who say that Federko did not deserve to become a Hall of Famer in 2002, that his election represented a degradation in the Hall's standards. Those people are wrong.
His resume includes four 100-point seasons, seven 30-goal seasons, eight seasons with more than 60 assists and 1,130 points in exactly 1,000 games played. He had 11 seasons in his career where he played at least 70 games. He wasn't the flashiest center on the ice. He wasn't the coolest with his mustache. He wasn't the most prolific. What Federko can say isthat he was one of the steadiest players in the NHL during the entire 1980s. A broadcaster for Blues television games for several years, he's still visible with the team and on the St. Louis hockey scene.
More importantly, he's the first drafted, developed and nearly career-long Blues player to make the HoF (we'll ignore that final season in Detroit). He represents the desire of fans to see players developed from within and make St. Louis home after their careers are over.
Brian Sutter, LW
One of three Sutter brothers to play for the Blues, "Sudsy" was a loud, brash farm kid from rural Canada who wore the captain's "C" with pride and determination. For a comparison, think a little bit bigger version of current Blue T.J. Oshie(notes) with a bad attitude and more bruises.
After he hung up the skates, the hard-nosed leader of the Blues stepped behind the bench and became the head coach for the team. His focus onteam play and strong defense gave him the reputation as a disciplinarian and aviable head coaching replacement when owners felt their team needed a heavier hand in the dressing room. One of Sutter's guiding philosophies is that hard work is a skill just like making good passes or skating with the puck.
Sutter's No. 11 hangs in the rafters as a "thank you" for his leadership and devotion to the only team he played for in the NHL. He represents the hard work Blues fans demand of their players and the level of popularity can gain in this city by playing hard.
Brett Hull, RW
The "Golden Brett" retired in Phoenix. He won Stanley Cups in Detroit and Dallas. He was drafted by Calgary. But he made his mark and became a superstar in St. Louis.
Hull joined the 50-50 club twice, set the mark for goals by a right winger in a season, became only the second player to score more than 80 in one season and helped to explode thesport of hockey in St. Louis during the 1990s. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was a perennial All-Star. They made comic books about him and sold them at McDonald's. The guy was everywhere.And then a falling out with the front office and the coaching staff combined with a growing sense that a team with Brett Hull couldn't compete for a Stanley Cup and the Blues let Hull walk as a free agent. They didn't even trade him away for prospects or draft picks.
While his play on the ice was wildly popular, off the ice Hull gained a reputation as a loudmouth jerk in some parts of the community.
He represents the best player in the history of the organization, the star power this team had in the 1990s when the playoffs were guaranteed every year and the disappointment fans have when former players such as Chris Pronger, Brendan Shanahan(notes), Scott Stevens, Rod Brind'Amour(notes), Dallas Drake(notes) and Doug Weight(notes) all win the Stanley Cup in other cities wearing the uniform of other teams.