Ask any NHLer how he would like to retire, and he will tell you he would like to go out on his own terms. But that doesn’t necessarily come to fruition for many players. Some are forced to retire because of injury. Some because their skills have eroded. And others because of prolonged labor disputes, perhaps one of the more agonizing ways for a player to go out.
At the conclusion of the NHL’s previous lockout that erased the 2004-05 season, a number of high profile players decided to call it quits. Among them were Stanley Cup winners and/or future Hall of Famers like Mark Messier, Brett Hull, Scott Stevens, Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Adam Oates, and Vincent Damphousse.
Many of them pointed to the year-long layoff as the reason they retired. After averaging close to two decades in the league, their bodies just couldn’t handle the rigors of NHL play after spending a full season missing in action.
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The current lockout, too, will force a few players to close out their careers not by their own volition if the league and the NHL Players Association don’t come to an agreement in time to salvage some games this season.
The dominoes started to fall with the Dominator. While the announcement was mostly expected, Dominik Hasek officially halted his recent comeback attempt in early October. The free agent realized that teams had no interest in his services so he retired — for the third time.
In Kimmo Timonen’s case, it’s different. The Flyers defenceman Timonen is in the last year of a six-year $38 million deal, so he would return to Philadelphia once hockey resumes. However, the 37-year-old told Philly.com that while he feels ready to play now, he’s not sure whether he’ll feel the same way if this season goes to waste.
"I feel like I am in great shape, but to be honest if this thing drags on another two or three months who knows, I might lose my motivation and we will see what happens after."
One player that appears to have already lost some motivation to continue playing is Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. The 39-year-old told the Ottawa Citizen that he is getting more comfortable with family life and less interested in continuing his career.
"The longer it has been going, I don’t feel as eager to get back. I’m more relaxed. I can’t say I’ve been at all frustrated or really looking forward to coming to the rink. I love it when I’m at the rink, but at this stage, I know I have to look forward (to life after hockey), as well."
A couple of other veteran forwards pondering their future are Jaromir Jagr of the Dallas Stars and Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks.
The 41-year-old Jagr told Fox Sports West that — much like some of the older players found out after the last lockout — age is catching up to him and can’t see himself play in the NHL much longer.
"I don’t have many games left. I would like to play in the U.S. as soon as possible, like everybody. For this type of hockey, I’ve still got time left. But for the NHL, I don’t have many games left."
Jagr also hinted that the 42-year-old Selanne, too, could say good bye to his playing days in North America. Jagr (665 goals) is only two goals ahead of his long-time friend on the all-time goal scoring list.
The two would play in the same division and face each other six times a season if there were any games to be played — the significance of which is not lost on Jagr.
"Hopefully the season’s going to start. It would be very sad for everybody, especially for us – me and Teemu. We don’t have many games left. The separation, the goal separation is only two goals. It’s the final countdown. It would be kind of special, but you never know what’s going to happen."
For his part, Selanne told The Orange County Register in mid-October that he is less motivated to stay in game shape as the lockout drags out.
“Before they officially announced the lockout, we went full-throttle through the practices. We had 20 guys. And then obviously you could see the body language drop right away. The hardest thing right now is just to stay motivated for workouts. Those drills don’t do anything for me.”
And as spending time with his family becomes more part of his day to day routine, the game becomes more of an afterthought.
“I know some guys are bored. But they don’t have families. I’m more busy now than ever. The biggest difference right now is that during the season, if the boys want to do something, a lot of times you’ve got to be pretty selfish and say, ‘You know what? I can’t come to Disneyland. I can’t come to all the plays or whatever because we have a game tomorrow.’"
“Now I can do whatever I want. So I say, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’"
“It’s fun. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Whether fans will get to give players like Jagr and Selanne the swan song they deserve remains to be seen. Only time will tell. Though Gary Bettman and the PA will have a say in the matter, as well.
In the meantime, which players do you think will retire if the lockout drags out the rest of the season?