Last night, while his St. Louis Blues were playing the Chicago Blackhawks, Keith Tkachuk, scratched due to a lower body injury, announced his retirement from the NHL. The 18 year veteran was drafted in the first round (19th overall) in the 1990 NHL entry draft by the Winnipeg Jets. He played ten seasons with the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise, before being dealt to the St. Louis Blues in 2001. Tkachuk finished his career in St. Louis, with a brief stint in Atlanta for the 2007 playoffs, another eight seasons.
In his 18 year career with Winnipeg/Phoenix and St. Louis, Tkachuk was the premier power forward. He skated, he scored, he passed, he hit, he fought, he played defense, he led. He did it all. In 1,200 career games played, he has amassed Hall of Fame numbers: 538 goals, 525 assists, 1,063 points, and a whopping 2,219 PIMs. Tkachuk had a stellar four year run from 1993-1997, where he put together the ridiculous line of 165-151-316 with PIMS in 289 games, including two 50-goal seasons. But it was more than his career stats for Tkachuk. He played the game the way it was always meant to be played. He played hard every night, driving to the net, getting rebounds, getting dirty goals. He put forth an effort that made every blue collar American smile.
Tkachuk represented the United States on six separate occasions; the 1992, 1998, 2002 and 2006 Olympics, and the 1996 and 2004 World Cup. The five time All Star, 1996 World Cup Gold Medal winner, and Olympics Silver Medal winner in 2002 has never won a Stanley Cup. That is one truly unfortunate thing in his great career, and it really illustrates how incredibly difficult it is to win Lord Stanley’s Cup. He also does not have any “major” individual awards, but that should not matter. A great majority of those awards are for single season greatness, not career consistency and longevity. In the end, his numbers and leadership speak on their own.
Tkachuk will play his final game tomorrow, Friday, against the Anaheim Ducks. He will retire in front of a St. Louis crowd that has loved him for years. The first and only time I saw him play was this year at MSG. He only played for 9:13, but he made each one of those seconds count. That was the game that teammate Paul Kariya scored his 400th goal. Kariya, another skater who may wind up in the Hall, is 135 goals behind Tkachuk. That really puts things in perspective. One thing is for sure, Tkachuk will be enshrined when the Hall comes calling in five years.