Blues defenseman Al MacInnis proved he's more than just a big shot
For all the talents and skills of Blues defenseman Al MacInnis—the way he holds his position against onrushing forwards, digs the puck out of corner scrums, delivers crisp passes to start the offense up-ice—nothing can eclipse this enduring image of him in St. Louis. It was Jan. 17, 1984, and MacInnis was a little-known Flames rookie playing on the road against the Blues. His wicked slap shot was largely responsible for getting him to the NHL, but that weapon hadn't yet registered on the radar of most fans. With 9:14 gone in the game, MacInnis, 20 years old and sapling-thin, wound up at the blue line and blasted a high shot toward St Louis goalie Mike Liut. The puck flew at hellacious speed and struck Liut on the mask. He fell to the ice; the puck continued into the net.
The play was so remarkable that it became a staple of highlights reels, and Al MacInnis, slap shot hero, was born. "Since that play," says MacInnis, "I've been the guy with the great shot."
MacInnis's slapper, which typically travels at more than 90 mph, remains the fastest and most fearsome in the game, but it's his broad range of skills that makes him SI's choice for the Norris Trophy. At week's end MacInnis led all defensemen with 19 goals and 49 points. He was playing a staggering 28 minutes and 51 seconds per game, and his plus-26 rating, tops by far on the Blues, was seventh-best in the league. The six players with better plus-minus marks all played on teams with much higher winning percentages than St. Louis's .500. "He's our MVP and our best defenseman," says Blues general manager Larry Pleau. "He controls games for us."
The 6'2" 196-pound MacInnis prides himself on "giving the coaches the same effort every night." While many high-scoring backliners regularly sacrifice their defense to join the rush, MacInnis's lethal shot enables him to hang back and still provide offense. Occasionally, when St. Louis is scrambling in the offensive zone, MacInnis will calmly hold the puck at the blue line and opponents will tense in anticipation of his shot, affording MacInnis's teammates time to regroup. Without the puck, his positioning and knack for stepping into passing lanes and intercepting the puck enable MacInnis to defuse scoring chances before they develop.
Were this season an anomaly, he would still be our choice as the league's top defenseman. But his 1998-99 performance coupled with his pedigree—he has played in 10 All-Star Games and finished among the top three in the Norris voting lour limes-makes him a prohibitive choice for the trophy. "He hasn't won a Norris yet?" asks Lightning forward Wendel Clark, surprised. No, not yet. That should change at the awards ceremony in June.
Bryan Trottier Saga
A High Price To Say Thanks
Bryan Trottier is the most popular player in Islanders history. Among the best two-way centers ever to play and the Isles' alltime leading scorer, Trottier was a heroic figure when New York won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 through '83. Thus, when one looks to the rafters at Nassau Coliseum and sees the retired sweaters of Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom, Denis Potvin and Bill Smith, Trottier's fabled number 19 is oddly absent "That's always a big issue with our fans," says Islanders spokesman Chris Botta. "They want to know why we haven't had a ceremony to retire his sweater."
Last week a representative for Trottier, New Jersey businessman Tom Happle, revealed the reason: To take part in a retirement ceremony (and to make future p.r. appearances for the team), Trottier wants $3 million. The Islanders say that Happle, working on Trottier's behalf, has been trying to persuade the team to accede to this fee for more than a year. Players typically receive airfare and gifts at such events but not payment.
Happle says that Trottier, now an Avalanche assistant coach, should be handsomely compensated because the Islanders will benefit from the publicity Trottier generates. Last week Trottier, who calls Happle a "very good friend whose counsel I seek," neither confirmed nor denied the demand. He said that if there is a retirement fete, he would like to "get it done the right way."