The St. Louis Blues lost an important piece of their defensive core last spring. 2021 brought the news we all expected.
On the same day the St. Louis Blues surprise absolutely no one by signing Mike Hoffman, they also got some news that everyone expected. Jay Bouwmeester officially hung up his skates and quietly retired from the NHL.
Bouwmeester’s retirement comes just around 11 months after his frightening cardiac episode on the bench during a game at the Anaheim Ducks. Bouwmeester was rushed to the hospital and while he has recovered, the surgically implanted defibrillator made returning to the game at an NHL level almost impossible.
Bouwmeester finishes having played 17 years in the NHL. The first nine seasons were spent between the Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames.
Bouwmeester’s best offensive years came with the Panthers. He regularly scored in the 40-point range.
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Once he went to Calgary, he never quite found his offensive game again. His best season outside of those early years in Florida was 37 points with the Blues in 2013-14.
The odd thing about Bouwmeester’s time in St. Louis was how up and down it was. While the points were not there, initially, he was still a good skater and solid defender.
Suddenly, after being the league’s reigning iron man, once Bouwmeester picked up an injury that required him to miss time, it seemed like he was snake bitten. He missed 20 total games over 2014-15 and 2015-16, but just seemed a bit off.
He missed over half the season in 2017-18 and we eventually found out that he had a hip problem. Once that was finally fixed surgically, he had that same smooth stride and defensive confidence we saw earlier in his career.
It should be no surprise that first, full, healthy season, he was one of the team’s best defenders in their championship season. In fact, without Bouwmeester’s defending, the Blues don’t even make the Stanley Cup final since his goal line clearance was the reason Pat Maroon even had a chance to score the overtime winner against the Dallas Stars.
Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko were usually used against the Boston Bruins’ best scoring lines. He had become a stalwart on the back line again.
Bouwmeester was one of the team’s better defenders in 2019-20 as well. Then, it was all cut short.
Sadly, beyond the loss of a quality human being and good hockey player, this just adds to the team’s history of career’s cut short too early. It seems quite prevalent in defensemen, but Blues overall too.
Thinking about Blues defenders, Al MacInnis comes to mind very quickly. MacInnis seemed to be getting better with age, winning a Norris Trophy at age 35. Then, it was all ended by an eye injury due to an errant stick forced his career to come to an end.
Bob Gassoff not only lost his career, but his life as well. He was taken from this world too early by a motorcycle accident while at a team party.
While he kept playing after leaving the St. Louis Blues, Wayne Babych was never the same. He only played one full season outside of St. Louis.
Brian Sutter should have had gas left in the tank at only 31. He was forced to take a coaching career when his body failed him.
Even Chris Pronger was bitten by the Blues bug. Though he went on to some success in Edmonton and Anaheim, Pronger’s career was cut short by concussions.
Alex Steen was getting close to retirement age anyway, but he was still likely to play in 2021 if his body would have let him. Unfortunately for him, back issues were much worse than he ever let on and eventually he could no longer push through.
All these ends were rather sad, mostly because the players were not allowed to go out on their own terms. Any time a player retires, there is a feeling within themselves of still having it, but some players still get that career fulfillment.
When you still had gas in the tank and something takes it away from you, retirement stings even more. Thankfully, other than Gassoff, all the other players went on to have good lives outside the game.
There will be every opportunity for that to happen with Bouwmeester. The Blues have already suggested they would like to keep him in the organization as a scout, but he will likely need time away with his family before deciding that.
All Blues fans, whether you loved him the entire time or were the driver of the Bouwmeester hate wagon, should appreciate what he gave this team on the ice. He was a consummate professional, who showed up every game and performed to the best of his ability.
He was a key cog in the first ever Blues Stanley Cup too. We all wish him the best of health and happiness in his future endeavors.