Fuhr injury still haunts Iron Mike

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

ST. LOUIS -- The play that ended Mike Keenan's best chance at a Stanley Cup in St. Louis is most remembered as Steve Yzerman's great shot.

Hockey fans have seen it -- the double-overtime blast from the blueline into the top shelf. It sent the Detroit Red Wings past the Blues in the spring of 1996.

Keenan took a stroll down memory lane after yesterday's morning skate, and said his biggest memory is losing Grant Fuhr early in the playoffs last year, and the Stanley Cup dream disappearing with the star netminder.

"Jon Casey did everything he possibly could, but he's not Grant Fuhr," Keenan said.

"Thinking back, if we had Grant, we might have won the Stanley Cup that year because we had the best centreman in the National Hockey League, Wayne Gretzky, we had (Chris) Pronger and (Al) MacInnis to anchor the defence, and if Grant had played, we were one shot away from beating a team that didn't win that year but said they didn't because of the series we had.

"We had an experienced team with a lot of members who had been to the Stanley Cup and had won either with New York or Edmonton. We had Norris Trophy-winning candidates on defence with Pronger and MacInnis. We had (Brett) Hull, a great scorer.

"We had all the ingredients to win a Cup, but we unfortunately lost that opportunity when Grant Fuhr was injured when Nick Kypreos jumped on him in the Toronto series."

That goal may not have been the beginning of the end for Keenan in St. Louis, but it likely sped the process.

As GM and head coach, Keenan's Blues were eliminated in the first round in 1995 and the second round the next season.

His tumultuous time in St. Louis ended in the middle of the 1996-97 season, when he was fired amidst rumblings of all kinds of problems between himself and several players, especially fan favourites Hull and Gretzky.

Keenan was asked if he looks back at that time and wishes he'd done things differently and answered "sure," but didn't want to delve much into it yesterday.

He pointed out the ownership group changed during his time, and he was told to dump big-name salaries after building what he believed to be a strong team.

"It's difficult when you get marching orders to trade people," Keenan said.

"I'm not shy to tell the folks here I was explicitly told to trade (Al) MacInnis, (Brett) Hull and (Brendan) Shanahan to reduce the budget significantly, and the team didn't want to carry those finances.

"I told them at the time there would be major backlash and the easiest guy to trade would be Brendan because of his age. He was younger than Al and Brett. When that happened, there was a backlash and I was the guy out front taking responsibility for the orders I was given by the ownership."

Down the road the trade turned out to be very good for the Blues, who received Chris Pronger in return, but Keenan has faced intense wrath in St. Louis ever since for that reason and others.

The Blues acquired Gretzky from the Los Angeles Kings under Keenan's watch in February 1996, only to see him leave as a free-agent for the New York Rangers a few months later.

Keenan and Gretzky had a much-publicized incident during the playoffs -- he reportedly berated the star in front of his teammates and later apologized. Keenan was asked whether Gretzky would have stayed with the Blues had they won the Stanley Cup.

"That's hard to say what Wayne would have done," Keenan said. "Certainly, winning was a very important part of what he was looking for."


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