The St. Louis Blues have had some fantastic players come through their doors, but rarely is how they leave very satisfying. This was never more true than with Al MacInnis.
The St. Louis Blues made some unbelievable trades under the watch of Doug Armstrong in recent years, many of which we look back on and wonder how he got away with it. We forget that some trades worked out just as well in the past, like the one that brought Al MacInnis to St. Louis.
At the time, it seemed like a reasonably even trade. The Blues were giving up Phil Housley and second-round picks in 1996 and 1997, while Calgary gave up MacInnis and a fourth-round pick in 1997.
So, it became a battle between MacInnis and Housley. MacInnis would play almost 10 seasons with the Blues, while Housley bounced around between Calgary, New Jersey, Washington, back to Calgary, Chicago and finally Toronto.
Hard to believe a player with his talents played for so many teams. Nevertheless, the Blues got some of the best years out of MacInnis and that is saying quite a bit considering he was so great with Calgary.
In terms of points, there was little comparison. He had a 100-plus point season with the Flames and scored 25 or more goals four times.
The most goals he had with the Blues was 20. The most points was 68.
However, he was just a steady machine. That 68 point season came when MacInnis was 39.
His only Norris Trophy of his career was with the Blues too, coming in 1998-99 when he was 35. MacInnis came close other years, but only won once and it was in the Note.
MacInnis was also a consummate professional. While there would have been every reason for him to stomp around, cause a fuss in the media and be a distraction when the team named Chris Pronger captain in 1997-98.
When it was MacInnis and Pronger, the nonsense never came to be. MacInnis just kept playing, doing all he could to support his teammates and win games. He scored 19 goals and had 49 points that year, despite missing 11 games.
The thing that was amazing about MacInnis was just how steady he was. That can be used as a bad term with some players, but that’s what you got in all aspects.
He was never the star scorer that you expected to fly around and get a goal every other game like a Bobby Orr. He was not a defensive dynamo that would crumble your bones with a single hit like Scott Stevens.
MacInnis just went out, played his best and gave you all he had and that was better than 99% of the guys at his position. What makes things even more interesting was how good he was without being noticeable.
A lot of that boiled down to being in position. MacInnis didn’t need to make the flashy play because he knew he didn’t have the speed, so he figured out how to disrupt plays with positioning.
It would be disingenuous to say he never made a mistake. Of course goals went in when he was on the ice.
However, I challenge fans to find a glaring mistake that cost his team a game. Maybe it’s out there, but I cannot remember it.
Perhaps I have put on rose-colored glasses over the years, but I don’t remember thinking poorly of MacInnis during his years with the Blues. That is not true of just about any other defenseman, or any other player for that matter.
I don’t remember yelling at the TV screen after some poor MacInnis turnover led to a breakaway the other direction. I don’t remember ever thinking the Blues need to get rid of this guy because he’s too slow or too old or he’s lost a step.
We hear those reactions to just about every player after every game these days, thanks to social media.
But, MacInnis was something different. There is a reason he has a statue in front of the Blues home right now.
He was not just a point producer. He was a great defender, even though it was not always noticeable.
MacInnis had some of the best defensive point share numbers of his career with
The entire point of this article is to point out how sad it was the way his career ended. We never got a storybook ending for MacInnis. In fact, he never got to skate off the ice to a standing ovation.
His career was robbed from him due to an errant stick from the Nashville Predators. That eye injury would eventually cause MacInnis to retire, 15 years ago, on September 9, 2005.
The Big Mac on ice stuck it out though. His injury actually came almost two years prior, in a game on October 16, 2003.
MacInnis kept trying to come back, trying out face shields and getting second opinions. His eye sight never quite got back to what he was used to and the 2004-05 season was wiped out by the lockout.
By that time, MacInnis probably felt it would be too hard to return after having been away from the game for almost two years.
Nevertheless, it felt empty. This was a guy that quietly went about his business, but left a huge impact on this franchise and he was forced to retire quietly instead of getting his due.
It’s not as though he never received accolades. He has that statue and his number hangs from the rafters.
MacInnis still works in the Blues front office and is regularly seen at team functions due to his remaining popularity. Outside of Brett Hull or Bernie Federko, you won’t find a former Blues player that more people gravitate toward.
Sports, like life, are never quite fair. Some of MacInnis’ teams in St. Louis were probably more talented than the one that actually won the Stanley Cup in 2019.
Even so, he was still able to lift the Cup a second time, even if it was as a guy in a suit and not a sweater.
Given the way the Blues trended after all that, perhaps it was better he slipped away into the night. It just would have been nice for him to get that proper goodbye with the fans, such as Keith Tkachuk got.
Instead, his final moments on the ice were a stick slashing across his eye and then it was all taken away. The guy was not slowing down and could have played well past 40. We’ll never quite know though since it was ended early.