As one longtime scribe in town might ask, "How will we remember the Brendan Shanahan era?"
Most of the time, he uses that line in jest, but in this case I pose it as a serious question.
How will we remember the Brendan Shanahan era?
I know how I will.
Shanny came to town twenty years ago, as a free agent signed away from the Devils and amid great fanfare. Here was the young power forward to take some of the scoring load off of Brett Hull and give the team the toughness in the corners and in front of the net that defenseman Scott Stevens was providing at the blueline.
He became the center (or, well, winger) of controversy not long after. Arbitrator Edward J. Houston joined Don Denkinger in the St. Louis Sports Hatred Hall of Shame when he ruled that Stevens should be awarded to New Jersey as compensation for Shanahan.
Scotty, we hardly knew ye.
But for four years, we got to know Shanny. It didn't take him long to become "our" Shanny.
His stature in the league rose like a comet in the sky. He zoomed past any expectations we had for him by scoring 50 goals not once, but twice. He gave the Blues that toughness, and did it with a bit of an Irish sneer - and a twinkle in his eye.
My favorite on-ice Shanny moment was actually a sequence of events in the regular season-ender against Winnipeg in April of 1994. It went a little something like this:
Shanahan hit in the face by Keith Tkachuk's stick.
Shanny goes off the ice for repairs.
Shanny comes back.
Shanny scores a goal.
Shanny gets a loud ovation.
Shanny seeks out Tkachuk and pounds him into the ice in retaliation.
Shanny gets misconduct.
Shanny leaves ice again, getting another loud ovation.
He actually scored two goals in that game, and extracted some frontier justice. A hat trick, of sorts.
My second favorite Shanny off-ice moment came on, well, naturally, St. Patrick's Day. Our then-reporter, the intrepid Trey Wingo, came up with the idea of going with a camera and chronicling the Blues' ruddy Irishman as he mingled with the lads and lasses in Dogtown. A perfect story for Wingo, who was always right at home in a festive occasion; and the story turned out great as well, with Shanny blending in with the celebration that overtook the neighborhood just a clearing pass away from the Arena, the old barn. It summed up Shanny's relationship with Blues fans - he was one of us.
He further showed his human side with his devotion to the fight against Alzheimer's Disease. His dad was afflicted with Alzheimer's, and I remember an interview in which he teared up talking about the effects it had on his father. He put together an annual celebrity softball game, of which the proceeds went to Alzheimer's research. When my own father showed the early signs of the disease, a few years after Shanny left town, it allowed me to feel another connection with him.
Yes, I did say another connection. My son was the other.
When John was little, he had an imaginary friend. He never went anywhere without him.
His name was Brendan.
In addition to being John's friend, Brendan also played hockey. And I spoke too soon when I said John never went anywhere without him, because there were times John would tell his mother and me that Brendan was gone for a while.
Oh, where is he, John?
He's visiting his grandma.
Well, I got a photo of Brendan (Shanahan), and I brought it in to work one Sunday when Shanny was going to be a guest on Sports Plus. When he came in, I told him the story and asked if he would sign the photo. He got a chuckle out of the story and then inscribed the photo, "To John, your pal, Brendan (Shanahan)."
That photo occupied space on my son's wall for years; long after John had outgrown the need for imaginary friends.
Long after Brendan was traded.
You see, in a perfect world Shanahan would have spent the next decade with the Blues. The Blues would have finally won that Stanley Cup, and Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan would have had the Cup in tow, leading the parade down Market Street. And then maybe again. Why not?
Well, it's no news bulletin to say that the world we live in ain't perfect.
But it sure was a news bulletin on the night of July 27, 1995 when we found out Mike Keenan was trading Shanny - our Shanny - to Hartford for a young defenseman named Chris Pronger. After just four seasons, he was on his way out of town.
It was like he just got here.
We all know how Pronger turned out, and we're grateful for the time he was here. But as hockey fans, we were once again like little kids with no money in our pockets, faces pressed against the candy store window.
Like Stevens before him, Shanny got to hoist the Cup.
Three times each, they hoisted the Cup.
Stevens won with the Devils we resented for taking him away from us. Shanahan completed his trifecta with the hated, the despised, Red Wings.
And now both are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. And as we do each time something like this happens, we report on the news that another former Blue is going into the Hall.
I never got a chance to thank Shanny for the hallowed space he occupied on my son's wall. But I do have an answer to my question.
I'll remember that era he spent with the Blues fondly.
And with a disappointment the party didn't last longer.
Until next time...