On the 11th day of Bluesmas, our true love gave to us – a retired number 11, who was the best to wear it.
The St. Louis Blues have a wonderful history, filled with all types of great players. Interestingly, though perhaps not coincidentally, they have really only had one great 11.
That is not meant to insult the legion of Bert Wilson fans, but the truth is Brian Sutter was the only truly great player to wear that number for the Blues. So, what better way to remember that than to talk about him on the 11th day of Bluesmas?
Sutter was one of those rare players, in more ways than one.
St. Louis drafted Sutter with the 20th overall pick in 1976, though back then the 20th pick took place in the second round. Sutter played in the NHL immediately, notching four goals and 14 points in 35 games as a rookie.
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Sutter still had the rookie jitters the next season, only getting nine goals and 22 points in 78 games, but then he exploded. Both he and Bernie Federko found their games in 1978-79.
Sutter came out with 41 goals and 80 points that year, side by side with the 31 goals and 95 points for Federko. Their games complimented one another.
Federko was the playmaker with the skill. Sutter was the hard-nosed worker that cleared the space and took care of his linemates and still had the talent to finish when needed.
That was evident in Sutter’s point totals yo-yoing a little over his career. He never lacked the skill, but he would focus more on other aspects of the game when the team needed that.
Nevertheless, he still managed to produce. Sutter’s career year came in 1983-84 when he had 83 points. That was two seasons after he scored his career high in goals with 39.
Sutter’s tough mindedness and bruising style often had him in the box, which was not always the case with most skill players. Sutter had over 200 penalty minutes three times in his 12-year career and never failed to rack up less than 100 penalty minutes in any season he played the full year.
Unfortunately, this style of play took a toll on him. Sutter retired at just 31 years old.
He immediately went into coaching and the Blues hired him as their head coach the season following retirement as a player. The 1988-89 season was the only season he finished below .500 with the Blues.
Though hard-nosed, surly coaches don’t always get along with players, Brett Hull credited Sutter for pushing him to be a better scorer. In Hull’s first season with the Blues he had 41 goals and 84 points.
Hull thought that was pretty good. Sutter demanded more of him. Hull went out and scored 72 goals the following season.
Unfortunately for Sutter, despite Hull’s heroics, the Blues lacked a lot of depth in those days – partially due to crazy trades made by Ron Caron, but that’s another matter. Though many fans remember him fondly, Sutter actually only lasted four seasons behind the Blues bench.
Sutter went on to coach the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks. Sutter had a better win percentage with Boston, but more wins overall in St. Louis. It was somewhat strange when the Bruins fired him after the lockout-shortened season.
Perhaps fittingly, Sutter’s coaching career ended just as early as his playing career. He went out with his head held high and never looked back.
Sutter spent most of his days after hockey on the family farm, coming from Alberta. The Blues retired his number 11 in his first year of retirement/coaching.
The team honored him with a number in the rafters on December 30, 1988. That banner has hung for 32 years now.
The team’s website put it perfectly when they selected heart and soul as the two words that described Sutter the best. At 5’11 and 173 lbs, he was not the biggest or the meanest.
He got by on grit and pure will, which he had more of than so many of his contemporaries. Sprinkle in a good deal of talent and you’ve got yourself a special hockey player.
Sutter is not the type to wonder about what ifs and could haves. Still, you wonder how things might have been had he stayed healthy and played longer.
Nobody knows. Blues fans still got a damn good player and one who never suited up for another NHL team, even if it was more brief than we’d have liked.