As the St. Louis Blues find themselves in the middle of another mini-slump they hope to end on Tuesday in Colorado (if you can call it a slump at all, they’ve lost 2 in a row but are 5-2 in the last 7 and still got a point on Saturday in San Jose), they will look to play a tougher game to slow down the quick Avalanche team, and force them to make poor plays that lead to turnovers for the Notes.
What we will look at here, is not how the Blues can beat the Avalanche, but rather historical St. Louis tough guys who would be welcomed to the stage in Denver on Tuesday evening. These players embody the ‘true Blues’ (and hockey) spirit, and are likely guys whom you would hear about the world round for their grit and tenacity, along with their laundry-list of health issues they play through at any given time.
There are tough guys in hockey, but when you have guys on each line ready to hit or drop em, that’s a tough team to play against #stlblues
— Luke Hofmann (@lukehofmann) January 24, 2012
Top 5 Toughest St. Louis Blues, Ever
Without further ado, here’s the top 5 toughest St. Louis Blues of all time. Keep in mind that this list embodies more than just physical toughness, and was still incredibly hard to come up with because of so many great players to choose from (NOTE: ALL REPORTED STATS ARE ONLY FROM TIME WITH THE ST. LOUIS BLUES CLUB, NOT OVERALL NHL CAREERS).
5. David Backes (2006-Present)
The current captain and long-time tough guy has earned the number-5 spot on this list because of his amazing heart, and his never-say-die attitude. He’s been known as one of the toughest opponents in the NHL for years now, isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league, and has the track record to back it up. In the 2013-14 NHL playoffs he was diagnosed with a concussion after the infamous Brent Seabrook hit sent him in to la-la land. He was expected to miss the remainder of the series, but returned in Game 5 after only missing 2 games from the incident.
More recently he also took an errant TJ Oshie point shot to the mouth and went off the ice just to get some dental work done, a little sewing to the lip area completed, and a cage put on his helmet before heading back out on to the ice to finish the period (he was pulled from the game by team doctors). Besides his incredible tolerance for pain, David Backes has also managed to be the driving force behind Blues’ hockey since 2006, amassing 816 PIMs to go along with 372 points (167 G, 205 A), and a plus-50 rating. Truly a tough guy to play against in any arena.
4. Keith Tkachuk (2000-2010)
Here’s another tough player who earned his spot here from aspects of his game other than fighting. Keith Tkachuk was known for being able to take a beating in front of the opposition’s net for as long as it took for his team to score, or the puck to be covered. He had some of the best chirps in the league and was able to get under opposing team’s skin in a multitude of ways, whether it be from chippy play in the corners, finishing checks all over the ice, or by planting himself in front and grinding out a goal without budging one bit.
Talked to Oshie, who feels worse than anyone. It was his shot that hit Backes & for those that remember, knocked out Keith Tkachuk’s teeth. — Lou Korac (@lkorac10) December 11, 2014
He’s also been known to lose a few teeth along the way, but that has never stopped him from playing that in-your-face style of game you’d expect from a Bostonian. Like Captain David Backes, Keith Tkachuk always had a knack for gaining points and aiding team wins ahead of letting his temper get the best of him (543 GP, 208 G, 219 A, 427 P, 677 PIM with the club), and he did all of this while operating in the toughest area of the ice, the opposing crease (low-slot).
3. Rob Ramage (1982-1988)
Rob Ramage was a true old-school tough guy of the NHL. He focused his game on joining the rush and not taking crap from anyone as he did it. He would’ve been an excellent complement to the team’s current blue-line due to his physical play, and his quick transition abilities that the Blues current systems need to be (stay) successful. His leadership was always welcomed in any locker room he was in, and his gritty play made sure he always bested the opposition whether the refs were looking or not.
He was able to help the St. Louis Blues stay competitive through the 80s, and even held the team record for most points by a defenseman (66 in the 1985-86 season) for a brief time, until Jeff Brown scored 78 points in the 1992-93 campaign. He will always be remembered by Blues faithfuls as a ‘true-blue’ defenseman, who would make sure he dealt with business and then hop up in the play to help his team win.
2. Bob Plager (1967-1978)
Bob was one of the first St. Louis Blues players after the 1967 NHL expansion brought the area a team, but no one could’ve guessed the impact he had, and still has, on hockey in the area. Bob Plager was another tough defenseman who wouldn’t take crap for anyone, and who loved playing rough for a crowd. His on ice antics quickly made him a fan favorite, and not just because he’d rough up the opposition and block tons of shots in an era where padding was not up to par, but also because he played a style that was electric.
Other team members caught on, and early in the Blues’ history they started playing tough, ‘blue-collar’ hockey that is still at the foundation of what we call ‘Blues hockey’ today. Plager amassed 762 PIMs over 11 seasons with the club, and was a big reason the team started out with 3 straight Stanley Cup finals appearances (another big reason was that 1 expansion team was guaranteed a spot in the final series due to conference alignment), and he is certainly still welcomed into any bar in the area, including his own. While with the Blues, Bob Plager also quickly coined the phrase, “Number-5 in your programs, number-1 in your hearts.” which is a testament to his fan-first mentality that helped NHL hockey become a mainstay in the St. Louis area.
1. Brian Sutter (1976-1988)
Brian Sutter is awarded the title of ‘Toughest St. Louis Blues Player of All Time’ due to his complete playing style. He was able to garner tons of points while helping the Blues’ team to countless victories, and he was always the first to get involved in physical play with the opposition to make sure they knew who they were playing against. Many who mention his name still utter the phrase ‘heart and soul’ as it was what he embodied every time he was on the ice. His 1786 PIMs still top the Blues’ record charts, and his 636 career points (303 G, 333 A) also rank 3rd on the team’s all-time list.
— STL Blues History (@STLBlueshistory) December 17, 2014
He was a gritty player who never backed down from any challenge physical or otherwise, and he still had league-wide respect due to his relentless playing style. He was a player who would never give up regardless of any injury he may be suffering at the time, and would find that extra gear to kick in to, in order to fight and claw back in to any game. He was to the Blues then, what the modern day David Backes is to them now, a man who leads (led) by example on and off the ice, and once again (as with every player on this list), he was a ‘true Blue’.
This list was incredibly hard to narrow down and due to an abundance of tough players coming through the organization over time, it’s only appropriate to list those who were on the cusp of making the cut (IN RANDOM ORDER):
Chris Pronger (598 GP, 84 G, 292 A, 396 P, 931 PIM), Mark Hunter (218 GP, 112 G, 94 A, 206 P, 476 PIM), Perry Turnbull (396 GP, 139 G, 99 A, 238 P, 829 PIM), Barret Jackman (756 GP, 27 G, 148 A, 175 P, 999 PIM), Bob Gassoff (245 GP, 11 G, 47 A, 58 P, 866 PIM), Bob Bassen (284 GP, 35 G, 63 A, 98 P, 483 PIM), Wayne Babych (396 GP, 155 G, 190 A, 345 P, 382 PIM), Kelly Chase (345 GP, 14 G, 26 A, 40 P, 1497 PIM), and Tony Twist (294 GP, 10 G, 11 A, 21 P, 688 PIM).
There you have it, the top-5 toughest St. Louis Blues of all time, and those who barely missed the cut. The team will look to continue the trends these players started while with the club throughout this season, and into the future to aid their quest for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
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Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.