In the cold world of the salary cap, there's no room for sentimentality.
With the cap, players are treated more than ever as commodities. Players aren't 30 point guys, but rather $1.2 million cap hits. When a cap hit exceeds a player's production, the player is no longer worth keeping around.
Barret Jackman turned 34 in March and had a cap hit of $3,166.667. He is a pending unrestricted free agent and Thursday morning it was announced the Blues won't be bringing him back for a 15th season with the club.
On paper, this move makes total sense. That $3 million and change can be signed directly over to Vladimir Tarasenko as the beginning of a big new deal. Jackman is aging and not going to get better, but only worse with each mile added onto his body. The Blues have younger replacements ready to go in Petteri Lindbohm and Robert Bortuzzo who will both be significantly cheaper.
From a team management standpoint, there's really no rational way the Blues can bring back Jackman — not even if he takes a drastic paycut. His time has passed and it's time for the team to move on.
And yet, today's news is sad news for a certain segment of fans. He's the longest tenured athlete in St. Louis. He was drafted in 1999 — if a Blues fan was born the day Jackman was drafted, they would be getting ready to turn 16 this summer.
He made his debut with one game at the end of the 2001-02 regular season and had a one-game playoff cameo the same year (both against the vaunted Detroit Red Wings). The Blues, of course, lost the playoff game, but Jackman, at age 20, played 18 minutes in the biggest game of the year.
The next year, the 2002-03 season, Jackman played his first full year and was dominant. People forget how good he was because it was two lockouts ago, but he was unreal for a 21-year-old. He had the fortune of being on a team with Hall of Famers Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger, but he more than held his own. Often paired with right-handed shot MacInnis, Jackman was the nasty stay-at-home defensemen teams coveted in the trap era. He hit anything that moved and blocked shots constantly.
In 82 games he scored 3 goals, had 16 assists and was +23 with 190 penalty minutes. He was awarded the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year, becoming the 9th dman to win the award and beating out Rick Nash and Henrik Zetterberg for the award. Never, ever, go a day without reminding Red Wings fans of that fact.
After that injuries hurt his career. He jacked up his shoulder multiple times — who would have thought a 6-foot-nothing guy throwing himself around all the time would have a bad shoulder? Then came the lockout and the rule changes that hampered his style.
The worst thing that happened to Jackman, and to Blues fans really, was Bill Laurie. The Blues owner after the lockout that wiped out an entire season, stripped the team for parts in order to sell it. Pronger was gone and the Blues were terrible. Jackman was left as the de facto No. 1 d-man (or No. 2 if you thought highly of Eric Brewer). He was put into the role of Pronger basically. He played the PK, the PP (seriously) and 20 minutes a night. He was hilariously miscast.
This era, the dark ages of the last 20 years of Blues fandom, created a division among Blues fans.
Friend of the program Duke put it best on Twitter:
Those who understood Jackman for what he is/was, got him and appreciated him. He was a player from a different era who played defense. He was a solid 2nd or 3rd pairing defensemen who played well in his own end. Want to know why guys like me and Duke like him? Ask a Red Wing or Blackhawk fan about Jackman. The outright hate about Jackman is delightful — the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Did he have flaws? Absolutely. He was never the fastest skater, he didn't provide much offense (although he did score two huge playoff goals in the last three years, basically the same as T.J. Oshie.). His passing wasn't Pronger esque, and that hurt him.
His biggest crime was that he came in hot and got compared to two legends he could never be. Certain fans wanted him to be MacInnis with Pronger's mean streak or small Pronger. He wasn't those things and that was held against him.
Heart and soul and grit and all that don't win hockey games, which is why it makes sense that the Blues are letting Jackman go, but it still sucks when the one guy who seems to take losses as hard as the fans is gone. Jackman, to a certain generation of Blues fans (raises hand), is Blues hockey. He's the connection to the Pronger Era, he survived the dead era and got to experience the recent regular season juggernaut era.
Watching Jackman's career with the Blues meant watching many years of just bad hockey. Seeing him win recently was a reminder of the time when Marek Schwarz was considered the goalie of the future. One of my favorite hockey traditions is the Second Guy Who Gets the Stanley Cup. After the Captain, the Cup always goes to the grizzled vet who has "earned' it the most. Jackman was that guy for the Blues. Every dream of the Blues winning the Cup in the last few years featured David Backes passing the Cup to Jackman.
And now, that will never happen. Jackman will move on. He'll sign with some crappy team as a veteran mentor. He'll come back to St. Louis it will be weird and he'll get a standing ovation/video tribute. Fans who booed him and blamed him for literally every goal (even when he wasn't on the ice) will claim the Blues should have kept him instead of NEXT DMAN WHIPPING BOY (my money is on Bouwmeester!). When he retires, he'll be part of the team in some capacity.
Barret Jackman won't be a Blue next season and while, it's the smart move for the future of the team, it still sucks. No player wanted to win more than him and there was no player I wanted to see win more than Jackman. It's a shame that, like so many before him, he'll have to do it elsewhere.