That was 15 years and five teams ago. When the Sabres shipped him to the Kings last winter, Fuhr reported to his fourth team in five seasons. His 1988 Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL's best goaltender, and the five Stanley Cup rings from his years with the dynastic Edmonton Oilers are merely baubles that serve to dramatize the speed and steepness of his descent. Fuhr finished last season in Los Angeles at 1-7-3, and the Kings declined to re-sign him. He was an unrestricted free agent, but interest from other clubs was not high.
Fuhr had some miles on him. He wasn't just 32—he was an old 32. He had a surgically repaired left knee and screws in both shoulders after having suffered numerous separations. He bore the untold ravages of a seven-year cocaine habit, which led to his being suspended by the NHL during the 1990-91 season, his final one in Edmonton. When L.A. passed on re-signing him, a lot of people thought his career was over.
Some influential people felt otherwise. Keenan had long coveted Fuhr, whom he had coached in the 1987 Canada Cup. But could Fuhr still play? Keenan solicited opinions from around the league.
The testimonial in which he put the most stock was, if not unsolicited, decidedly unexpected. During the Stanley Cup finals last summer, Keenan was having a glass of wine at an outdoor table at a midtown Manhattan restaurant when a passing taxi came to a sudden halt. Out jumped Wayne Gretzky and his wife, Janet, who joined Keenan at his table.
What do you think? Keenan asked Gretzky: Can Grant still play?
"Of course he can still play," Janet said.
"Well," said Keenan, "That's good enough for me."
Gretzky seconded his wife's opinion, adding, "He just needs some confidence."
"Not a bad little reference to have at the bottom of your résumé," Fuhr says of the Great One's recommendation. "That'll open a few doors."
Yet when the Blues signed Fuhr to a two-year, $2 million deal last July, puck fans in the Gateway City were dubious. Many remained faithful to popular goalie Curtis Joseph, a free agent whom Keenan had elected not to re-sign. But Keenan staunchly defended Fuhr, assuring critics that the future Hall of Famer was working out and would report to training camp in shape. When Fuhr made a liar of him, Keenan banished the pear-shaped netminder for a week, which left the Blues with Racine and journeyman Jon Casey in net. Says Hull, "Anyone who tells you they weren't in a panic at that point is a lying sack of s—-."