Blast the Past
The Blues' Pierre Turgeon has exploded his image as a playoff flop
Call it the $4.6 million question: What has motivated Blues center Pierre Turgeon to perform so splendidly this spring? Has he been driven by a desire to shake the ghosts of playoffs past? Has he been moved by visions of big future paydays? Or has he, as he says, "only been thinking about helping the team"?
Whatever the answer, know this: Turgeon, who at week's end led St. Louis in the postseason with 12 points, will become a free agent this summer. The Blues must decide by July 1 whether to tender him a qualifying offer of $4.6 million (his salary this season) to retain matching rights for his services.
Had Turgeon played at his typical disappointing playoff level this year, St. Louis, which trailed the Stars 3-2 in the Western Conference semifinals after losing 3-1 last Saturday night, would have been regarded as being reasonable by its fans for balking at the sum. Now the Blues would be mad not to pay it. Turgeon, 29, has remade his postseason reputation over the past few weeks and in so doing has led St. Louis to an unexpectedly strong playoff showing. His overtime goal in Game 7 of the opening series against the Coyotes gave the Blues a 1-0 win, and in Game 4 against Dallas he roofed a wrist shot past Ed Belfour in sudden death for a 3-2 St. Louis victory. "I don't know if he's thinking about the contract," says Blues general manager Larry Pleau. "I just think he got tired of hearing people say he couldn't produce in the playoffs."
Those people had a point. The swift, sharpshooting Turgeon has burned the opposition for 397 regular-season goals in his 12-year career, including 31 this season, yet until this month his playoff rep was that of a victim. While performing for the Islanders in a 1993 first-round series against the Capitals, Turgeon was celebrating a goal, his arms aloft, when he got blindsided by Capitals thug Dale Hunter and suffered a separated right shoulder and a concussion.
By the 1996 playoffs Turgeon had been traded to the Canadiens, and his soft play and meager production that spring—he had two goals in six postseason games—drew relentless boos in Montreal. After being shipped to St. Louis the following season, Turgeon was again ineffective in the playoffs and wounded his image even further by sitting out a first-round game against the Wings with what a Blues doctor called "a garden-variety headache."
Thus, after he was viciously slashed on the back of his left knee by Stars right wing Pat Verbeek in Game 1 two weeks ago, few observers expected to see Turgeon again this spring. He suffered nerve damage and a severe contusion that doctors speculated could take weeks to heal. However, he played the next game, scoring a goal and adding two assists. "I have a lot of confidence right now because coach [Joel] Quenneville is putting me out there with the game on the line," Turgeon said last Friday. "I know about my contract situation, but it's not on my mind. I'm not sure what I'm thinking about, really."
Pay That Tribute in Cash
Two months ago we told you about former Islanders star Bryan Trottier's attempt to get New York to pay him $3 million to participate in a ceremony to retire his number in 1997 (INSIDE THE NHL, March 22). Now SI has been told that Trottier tried to exact payment from another team that wanted to honor him.
Trottier, an Avalanche assistant, was an important role player on the Stanley Cup-winning Penguins of 1991 and '92, and Pittsburgh had scheduled a tribute to him before a March 2,1998, home game against the Maple Leafs. A source says the Penguins canceled those festivities when Trottier demanded money to attend them, and instead the team staged a celebration of the seven Nagano Olympians on its roster. Trottier wasn't looking for a large sum, but financially strapped Pittsburgh, which hadn't paid former stars Mario Lemieux or Joey Mullen for their nights, was peeved that he wanted the cash.