Thursday, 28 August 2008

Not Many Left

I was saddened by the news today that long-time NHL player, Stu Barnes, has decided to call it a career at the age of 37. You might ask why, but Stu Barnes was always one of the most unsung guys on every team he played for. He did the dirty work, chipped in with a goal and a few points, and never once asked for any publicity for his work. He was a phenom in the WHL, and transitioned himself into one of the best two-way forwards that the game has never mentioned. However, it saddens me that Mr. Barnes has decided to step back from the game because there are only a few Winnipeg Jets left in the NHL. Much like the few players still playing who suited up for the Nordiques or the Whalers, this distinction is becoming more and more rare.

Stu Barnes was drafted 4th overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the Winnipeg Jets out of the Tri-City Americans system. In the WHL, Mr. Barnes averaged 129 points per season over three seasons. In three seasons in the WHL, he played 204 games, amassing 148 goals and 238 assists for 386 points while spending 370 minutes in the penalty box. Pretty impressive numbers, and certainly worthy of a first-round pick.

Barnes started his WHL path with the New Westminster Bruins in Vancouver before the franchise moved south to Kennewick, Washington and changed names to the Tri-City Americans. Barnes spent the next two seasons lighting the lamp for the Americans before being drafted by the Jets. After being drafted, Barnes spent the 1990-91 season with the Canadian National Team, playing 53 games for Team Canada.

Barnes spent the next season shuffling between the Winnipeg Jets and their AHL affiliation, the Moncton Hawks.

The sad part is that he was never given his due in Winnipeg or Moncton, despite him playing in most situations with Moncton and in checking roles with the Jets. I know the Jets wanted more production like they saw in the WHL, but Barnes never really developed into an offensive juggernaut. After a couple of rocky seasons, the Jets decided to part ways with Barnes.

After two seasons, Barnes was traded to the Florida Panthers for Randy Gilhen. Barnes was part of the improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996 when the Panthers lost to the Avalanche. Barnes showed his value as a two-way centerman during this season, as well as an excellent face-off guy.

In November of 1996, Florida traded Barnes to the Pittsburgh Penguins, along with Jason Woolley, for Chris Wells. He bounced between Pittsburgh, Florida, and Buffalo between 1996-99 as he was placed on waivers and claimed by teams. He ended up in Pittsburgh three times through the waiver wire.

However, he was traded from the Penguins to Buffalo at the trade deadline in March of 1999 for Matthew Barnaby. It was in Buffalo that Barnes' value as a two-way, clutch centerman really came through.

In four seasons with the Sabres, Barnes averaged 42 points, and routinely was sent out against the opposing team's best players in a checking role. Barnes was highly effective in head coach Lindy Ruff's system, and another team took notice of his abilities.

At the trade deadline in 2003, the Dallas Stars swung a deal to acquire Barnes from the Sabres for Michael Ryan and a second-round pick. In four seasons with the Stars, Barnes platooned himself in the lineup as one of the premiere checking forwards in game, and was definitely a fan favourite.

Honestly, Stu Barnes had one of the best hockey names in the history of the game. I loved listening to play-by-play guy Rick Jeanneret's calls in Buffalo when "Stuuuuuuuuuuuu Barnes" would score.

Absolutely classic.

The good news is that Stu Barnes isn't going very far. He accepted an assistant coach position with the Dallas Stars, and I think he'll be great as a coach.

"I was truly fortunate to play as long as I did, and I knew this was the time for me to wrap up my playing days," Barnes said at the press conference today. "A great opportunity to become an assistant coach was presented to me by the Stars, and I look forward to making that transition and learning a new part of the game."

It's also good news for people involved with the Athletes Against Autism foundation as Stu Barnes is a big supporter of the charity, and often donates his time to helping the organization achieve their goals.

Congratulations on a fantastic career, Mr. Barnes, and good luck on the coaching side of the ledger, and whatever else comes your way in life!

By the way, if you're keeping track at home, there are only a few ex-Jets left now: Shane Doan, Keith Tkachuk, Teemu Selanne, Kris Draper, Teppo Numminen, and Nikolai Khabibulin. With Dallas Drake and Stu Barnes both retiring this summer and Chad Kilger going AWOL on the Florida Panthers, the number of ex-Jets remaining in the NHL is dwindling fast. Of course, the number of former Jets who are now coaches is remarkable: Randy Carlyle, Barry Melrose, Stu Barnes, Scott Arniel, and Paul MacLean just to name a few. Maybe that's what the Jets franchise was - a breeding ground for coaches?

Just as a note, I am working on a follow-up article for the Amadeus Steen Foundation Charity Benefit that I attended last night. I am still waiting on some material I'd like to include in that article, so I'll have it posted by early next week if everything falls into place.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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