UPDATE: The Blues will honor Wade Redden's 1,000th NHL game milestone prior to Saturday's 7 p.m. game vs. Anaheim.
ST. LOUIS -- When days turned into months and months into years, one could understand if pessimistic thoughts crept into Wade Redden
Through good faith and a solid work ethic, Redden never wavered. He believed all along that another opportunity in the NHL would present itself. But when the defenseman was cast aside by the New York Rangers in 2010, little did he imagine it would take nearly three more years to reach 1,000 career games.
At long last, the 35-year-old, a Lloydminster, Saskatchewan native, will become the 282nd player in NHL history to do so when the St. Louis Blues host to the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.
Redden was playing for the Rangers' American Hockey League affiliate, the Connecticut Whale, after his last NHL game in 2010. Instead of wallowing in self-pity about whether he would ever get the opportunity to play in the League again, Redden continued his everyday life in a business-like manner, believing the chance would arise.
"I went down there [to Connecticut] with a good attitude to work hard," Redden said. "I was going to the rink every day to play hockey. I tried to approach it the same way. It's still a pretty high level. The AHL has a lot of great players in it ... I still had to play hard and work at things.
"There were times when things weren't going my way and stuff like that, but you've got to battle through that."
Redden worked so hard and presented himself in such a professional and experienced manner that he became captain of the Whale toward the end of his two-year tenure.
"The guys elected him to be our captain, so obviously there was a great deal of respect for him by his peers," Whale coach Ken Gernander said. "I noticed as a coach that he was handling himself as a professional would ... not just in words and things of that nature but just by his actions.
"He came in early, made sure he rode the bike or stretched or whatever was necessary for him to get prepared for practice, took practice seriously, and as a person he's a family guy. I think he showed by example how you're supposed to handle yourself away from the rink as well. A lot of the little things that it took to be a professional, he led by example. Often guys can talk the talk, but you have to back it up as well and I think he did that."
It was a forgettable ending for Redden in a Rangers uniform. After signing a six-year, $39 million free-agent contract in the summer of 2008 on the heels of spending 11 seasons with the Ottawa Senators, Redden never seemed to live up to the pressures of playing in New York.
Defense - STL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 2
SOG: 7 | +/-: -3
The Rangers were completely ready to move in a different direction, willing to bury the rest of Redden's salary in the AHL. There was no chance of trading him at $6.5 million per season. He earned his NHL salary while playing with the Whale, where he scored 12 goals and had 62 points in 119 games.
Redden had 5 goals and 40 points in 156 games with the Rangers, and after their season ended on April 11, 2010, he would never wear their uniform again.
"That wasn't fun at all," Redden said of the criticism he received in New York. "That was a big challenge. [It] obviously played a part in things, the way things went there. Obviously to get the two years in the minors, I tried to make the most of my time there and get ready to get back to this level."
When a clause in the new collective bargaining agreement enabled the Rangers to buy out the remaining two years on Redden's contract, he was free and clear to begin anew.
"It was obviously a demotion for him, but that being said, I think from Day One he carried himself and handled himself as best that one could ask for," Gernander said. "He was a hard worker, a good example, and there was no pouting or he didn't make things difficult here or didn't show a miserable attitude. He was a real good guy to have around."
Enter Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who was an assistant during the 2005 World Championships and 2006 Winter Olympics when Redden played for Canada. Hitchcock, who pursued Redden in 2008 as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, kept tabs on him. He had been skating with a group of NHL players in Kelowna, British Columbia, along with the Kelowna Rockets junior team.
It took one phone call from Hitchcock to attract interest from the Blues, who signed Redden on Jan. 18, one day before the NHL season started.
"I'm proud of him that he stayed with it, proud of him that he's getting a second opportunity like this," Hitchcock said. "He was a very good player, a very dependable player.
"He played with arguably one of the best defensemen ever in the game in [Zdeno] Chara [in Ottawa]. They were a great pair, they were great on the power play, they were dynamic for a number of years. Both guys kind of went in different directions."
With the Blues in search of a left-handed defenseman with offensive skill, general manager Doug Armstrong closed the deal rather quickly after conferring with Hitchcock.
"It was a low-risk option for us," Armstrong said. "He seemed to be a good fit for what we were looking for.
"It shows great perseverance and shows how fickle this game can be. He's a top-level player, drafted second overall [by the New York Islanders in 1995], had a great career going that got derailed a little bit there through different circumstances with the Rangers. But I think the NHL did a really nice job with this lockout realizing that there were a couple players that should have been in the League that might not have been and they rectified that after the CBA, which I think showed a lot of understanding on both parts. Wade and Scotty Gomez [who was bought out by Montreal and signed with the San Jose Sharks] were the recipients of that. Both deserved to be in the League."
Redden, who has 2 goals in 5 games with the Blues, will have a large group on hand to see his milestone game, including his father Gord, brother Bart and sister Niki. His mother Pat passed away of cancer in 2006.
"It's a great milestone," Redden said. "I think when you look back at your career afterwards, it's something you definitely can be proud of. To be around that long, not a lot of guys can say that."
Redden will be the 11th player to record his 1,000th game while playing for the Blues, joining Jean-Guy Talbot, Jim Roberts, Harold Snepsts, Al MacInnis, Geoff Courtnall, Pierre Turgeon, Mike Keane, Doug Weight, Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk.
"There are a lot of guys that get that close and don't get to do the 1,000, so it's a big deal," Redden said. "But I always felt like I'd get an opportunity. I always believed that."