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Happy birthday, Barret Jackman: A true Blue treasure

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at St. Louis Blues Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

I miss that sly grin.

St. Louis Blues fans will know what I’m talking about. Barret Jackman would get involved in a post-whistle shoving match and as the players were separated, he’d give the other team’s tumbling tower of dice a slight smile as the parties returned to their neutral corners. It happened every single time. Part of me thought it was a simple “get the fuck out of here, weakling” statement being thrown; there were other times where I knew for sure Jackman was crawling inside that player’s head. I just miss that.

Jackman, nicknamed “Jax,” turns 39 years young today. His body may disagree with the “young” part of that statement, but his body of work speaks right to it. Some may think of his career as a disappointment for a first round, 17th overall pick back in 1999. You wouldn’t place him in the same space as Chris Pronger, Al Maclnnis, and Alex Pietrangelo. But you also shouldn’t overlook his career either.

Jackman was born with brass balls and dedicated his hockey life to the old school Broad Street bully style of play. He didn’t have a wicked hard shot, a computer-generated type hockey sense, or a smooth way with the puck. Jackman has more career giveaways than total points. There used to be a running joke on Twitter when he would cough up a puck in the defensive zone.

Then again, Jackman wasn’t a defenseman built for mere production; he did all the dirty jobs most players avoid. He blocked a 1,000 shots in his 14 year career, including 153 in the 2011-12 season. When in doubt, Jackman would go down to the ice and take away a potential goal. The Calder Trophy winner was never the same after an early career Derian Hatcher hit to the shoulder, but he still put up two seasons of +20 in his career.

Jackman was a 20 minute defenseman in seven seasons. He wasn’t a possession beast, but got better in Corsi and Fenwick as his career went along. There were years where he’d finish over 50%-putting him above average-and others where he’d finish below. One could argue 2013-14 was his best overall year. Jackman made mistakes and didn’t amount to what some thought he’d be, but he was an overall solid and quite game defenseman for a number of Blues teams.

The second part of that sentence is something I miss. While it’s hard to quantify for the saber nerds of the sport, relentless toughness and intimidation is a dying breed in today’s game. Two whistles couldn’t be blown without Jackman mixing it up with the other team, starting shit that he had no problem finishing. He’d get into fights he couldn’t win and throw his body into players who were bigger than him. Jackman was the best kind of hockey player: a selfless one.

He also scored a few incredibly timely goals, with the most notable one coming on a slap shot in the playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks. There were others among his career 30 goals, but none top the one on April 19, 2014. Right when the opposition thought it was okay to back off Jax, he’d surprise them ... and Blues fans in the process.

Off the ice, he was a gem. He spread his time and name all over the community, embodying the blue note on the crest more than anything. Jackman was the company warrior who never made the organization doubt why they brought him in and kept his talents around. One will wonder how things could have turned out if Hatcher didn’t collide with Jackman, but the result was still sturdy and solid.

I wish he would have spent his entire career here, but the defensive core was in transition and Jackman wanted to keep playing. He didn’t look right in those mustard-colored Predators jerseys, but he did get to play in 14 playoff games during his final year in the league. Good for him.

Some of my fondest memories are Jackman hanging out with Bobby Plager in the press box during last year’s Stanley Cup run. A pair of #5’s sharing war wounds, having a laugh, and basically shooting the shit. Those kind of things make the heart happy. Seeing Jackman honor Plager at the retirement ceremony was a thrill. “Thank you for showing me what it means to be a true Blue.” Wow. Selfess to the core. That’s Jackman.

He’s retired these days, working around St. Louis and doing a hockey show with Jeremy Rutherford, who covered Jackman during his career for the St. Louis Post Dispatch but now writes for The Athletic. Hearing Jackman talk about the game convinces you he’ll be a coach in the league someday. He has that itch buried for now but not forever.

I miss Jackman’s toughness out there. The team is obviously thriving, but there was a certain chaotic element to his game that isn’t around enough these days.

Happy birthday, Jax. Here’s to hoping you are still finding ways to shoot that glare at people around town.