Most people in these parts wouldn’t want to see Nazim Qadri embracing the Stanley Cup, given the way he beat Blues goalkeeper Jordan Bennington. People would rather see Pat Maron’s hometown hero earn another ring.
St. Louis Rams fans have nightmares of wild hoarding Stan Kroenke as he raises the Holy Grail onto his skull tarp.
But how can you cheer against defender Eric Johnson against avalanche?
The former Blue is one of the true good guys in the sport – and has moved an arm’s length from the top of the sport after overcoming enough adversity to derail several careers.
NHL.com summarized Johnson’s injuries since becoming a professional in 2007: “Broken tooth and foot, broken knee and broken knee ligaments, dislocated shoulders and dislocated toes, elevated ankle sprains and concussions … surgery in each shoulder, two knee surgeries.” One knee, two surgeries in his mouth.”
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Somehow, Johnson, 34, has gone on to make 857 regular-season National Hockey League games and 45 more games and counting in the playoffs. None of his recovery has been easy, but overcoming the severe concussion he suffered in four games last season posed the biggest challenge of all time.
“I was thinking to myself, Do I really want to keep putting my body through all of this with everything I’ve been through?” Johnson told reporters before the start of the Stanley Cup Final. “Fortunately, I’ve been healthy this year, haven’t hurt, and it’s been a lot of fun being there.”
Diehard Blues fans are well aware of his unfortunate backstory. Back in 2006, when the Blues were still cursing, the team made him the first overall pick in the NHL Draft.
Owners Bill and Nancy Laurie, Crohn’s less successful in-laws, decided to go into tank mode and sell after NHL insurance wiped out the 2004-05 season. The team gave up talent and received a 21-46-15 defeat in 2005-06.
An intentional loss earned the blues a top pick in what turned out to be one of the worst drafts of the modern era. There was no Sidney Crosby or Conor McDavid above it.
Of course that’s how the blues took place.
The perfect pick was cornerstone center Jonathan Toyos, who went to the Chicago Blackhawks in third. Scouting manager Jarmo Kekalainen paid Johnson instead.
Ultimately, Toews led the Blackhawks in a dynasty race while Johnson only embarked on a solid career.
Kekalainen’s whiff helped explain why he later became the general manager of Columbus Blue Jackets, not the blues.
This call draft reminds us of Montreal scouting director Ron Caron who pushed the Canadians to take Doug Wickenheiser over Dennis Savard with his first overall pick in 1980. Savard went to Blackhawks in third place and became a star while Fickenheiser only embarked on a solid career.
That’s why Caron would later become the Blues’ General Manager rather than rise through the ranks of the beloved Canadians.
After a year at the University of Minnesota and a season in the NHL, Johnson blew his knee in a golf cart accident during a rowdy team outing. It was reminiscent of how Wickenheiser, who came to the blues in a trade, blew his knee during a sniper chase on a rowdy team outing.
Damn this blues is scary, isn’t it?
The Blues have reached post-season only once during Johnson’s time here – in 2008-2009, when Johnson was recovering from reconstructive surgery.
Unfairly, Johnson became the face of the blues’ failure. He tried as best he could, he couldn’t become the catalyst for the franchise required to re-release it.
The Blues traded him with Jay McClement to Colorado during the 2010-11 season for defender Kevin Shatenkirk and winger Chris Stewart.
That one-sided swap gave the blues a jolt. They started a streak of 10 post-season rides in 11 while Avalanche missed the playoffs in five of Johnson’s first six full seasons. They hit 22-56-4 in 2016-2017.
“Some of those years we were losing, it was tough, but we stuck with it,” Johnson said. “So many of these guys that I’ve been with, we’ve been through those tough times and those tough years. We kept our noses low and our chins up and kept working.”
This continued failure helped the avalanche rally stars such as Gabriel Landskog, Nathan McKinnon, and Miko Rantanen. In between injuries, Johnson took on the mentor role as Colorado added talented young defender Cal Makar, Samuel Gerrard and Bowen Byram to the squad.
Now Johnson is collecting his reward for his continuing pain. The avalanche turned into a leviathan in the twilight of his career.
“Not everyone gets the chance to play in the Stanley Cup, so in that sense, I’m thankful and lucky to be here,” Johnson said. “It takes a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of good luck to get here.
“I’ve been here for many years, some good, some bad, many injuries. You know, when you go through some downhills, you never know what light will be at the end of the tunnel.”
Now that blues fans finally have their trophy, they can probably be happy for Johnson if he gets one, too.