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5 Retired NHL Players Who Could Make a Comeback

Erik CottonCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2017

5 Retired NHL Players Who Could Make a Comeback

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    The NHL is full of warriors.  By the time these warriors reach the age of retirement, they've been through enough battles to last a lifetime.

    So what makes them still have the itch to compete?

    For many, the rink is all they've ever known.  From mini-van trips for Bantam tournaments to Stanley Cup appearances, hockey has been the center of these players' worlds for, in many cases, close to 40 years.

    That means it's not that easy for most to stay away from the game for very long.  Some turn to coaching and/or management, while others turn to broadcasting. 

    It's rare to see a retired NHL player who's not still somehow involved in hockey, even at its lowest levels.

    Dale Hunter recently stepped down as coach of the Washington Capitals to resume his post in juniors as the head man for the OHL's London Knights. 

    What other sport would see a former player-turned-coach at the highest level voluntarily go back to a lower one?

    With all of these things said, let's look at five retired players whose competitive itch could still be satisfied by actually coming back to lace them up.

1. Nicklas Lidstrom

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    Nicklas Lidstrom, who played his entire 20-year career with the Detroit Red Wings, is the most obvious choice because he just retired in May. 

    He was also still able to play at an extremely high level right up until he retired. 

    2011 saw him win his seventh Norris Trophy for best defenseman at the ripe old age of 41.  That ties him with Doug Harvey for second all-time behind only Bobby Orr, who had eight.

    The statistics you could rattle off about Lidstrom are almost never-ending.  Some of the most important ones, though, focus on him being European-born and trained.

    European players have gotten a bad rap over the years of being soft, selfish and weak leaders.  The slick Swede single-handedly put to rest a lot of those stereotypes.

    Yet his ability to return to the NHL this year is possible because of the type of game he played.  Never mistaken for a bruising defenseman, Lidstrom was a master at making plays without taking big hits.

    His skating and passing skill rarely left him vulnerable.  He was also bar-none the best "quarterback" on the ice of the last two decades. 

    The Red Wings could do a lot worse on the blue line this year than a soon to be 43-year old Nicklas Lidstrom.

2. Joe Sakic

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    The second player who could make a comeback if he wanted to is Joe Sakic. 

    Similar to Lidstrom, Sakic spent his entire 20-year career with the same organization, the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche. 

    He served as captain for 16 years.  At the time of his retirement, he was the only captain the Avalanche ever had after moving to Denver in 1995.

    His stats speak for themselves (ninth in career points), but the common theme among all of these players is their ability to lead their teams on the ice. 

    Sakic exemplified this trait back in the 1991-92 season, when the Nordiques were one of the worst teams in the league.  When asked about Eric Lindros' decision to refuse to play for Quebec, he responded by saying:

    We only want players here who have the passion to play the game. I'm tired of hearing that name. He's not here and there are a lot of others in this locker room who really care about the game.

    "Super Joe" was another who stayed relatively healthy for the majority of his career because of the way he played.  Sakic's style was as smooth as the ice he skated on.

    Although he suffered from hernia and back problems in his last two seasons, Sakic retired while still playing at around a point-per-game pace.

    Even now at 43, you could pencil in a healthy Sakic for 60 points.

3. Brendan Shanahan

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    Breaking the mold of the two smooth-skating retirees we've already discussed, Brendan Shanahan was the definition of a power forward.

    The former winger won three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings and still remains the only player in NHL history to have 600 goals and 2,000 PIM. 

    Also, according to Kevin Allen of USA Today, he holds the record with 17 Gordie Howe Hat Tricks.  That's a game in which he had a goal, an assist and a fight. 

    Those are numbers that old-school fans of the game can truly appreciate.

    It's ironic that someone like Shanahan is now the NHL's head disciplinarian.  He played his entire career on a fine line between legal and downright dirty.  But this isn't Claude Lemieux we're talking about here.

    These facts make it all the more impressive that he was as durable as he was.  Shanahan never missed more than 15 games in a season due to injury.

    His consistency was also a staple of his 21 years in the league.  He's one of only 11 players in league history with 12 30-goal campaigns and is second only to Howe with 19 consecutive 20-goal seasons.

    At 43, the speed of the game may have passed him by a bit, but he could still stand in front of the net on the power-play and score 20 goals in his sleep.

4. Rod Brind'Amour

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    The first three players in this list were all bonafide superstars.  Rod Brind'Amour doesn't carry that title, but he was still one of the best two-way centers in the game for 20 seasons.

    Starting his career in St. Louis, Brind'Amour spent the majority of it between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Carolina Hurricanes.

    He captained the Canes to the franchise's only Stanley Cup title in 2006.  He won the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward that year as well as in 2007.

    His reputation was built on his ability to shut down the other team's best line.  He took all the crucial face-offs and excelled in almost every facet of the game.

    He was no slouch offensively either, ending his career with 452 goals and 1,184 points. 

    During his stint with the Flyers in the mid-90s, he set a team record by playing in 484 consecutive games.  Like the other three, his durability is what allowed him to play at such a high level for so long.

    The 42-year old hung up his skates after the 2009-2010 season, in which he played 80 games.

    Although his offensive numbers would surely not be at the same level they once were, Brind'Amour could still be a third-line center on most teams as a defensive/penalty-killing specialist.

5. Mark Recchi

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    We conclude this list with the most traveled of the five, Mark Recchi. 

    Recchi played for seven different teams throughout his illustrious career, including three stints with the Pittsburgh Penguins and two with the Flyers.

    It didn't matter where he went.  You could always count on him to produce, and he developed a knack for scoring clutch goals.

    He retired after winning his third Cup with the Boston Bruins after the 2011 season, becoming the oldest player in NHL history to score a goal in the Finals.

    The longevity of his effectiveness is best shown by the fact that he went 15 years between his first Cup win in 1991 with the Penguins and his second, with the Hurricanes in 2006.

    He still holds the Flyers franchise record for points in a season with 123 in 1992-93.

    But yet again, it's not the statistics that we should focus on.  His durability over an incredible 22 seasons is mind-boggling.  His 69 games in 2000-2001 marked the lowest total of his career. 

    As a relatively little guy at 5'10" and 190 lbs, Recchi was great at finding the open ice while not shying away from the physical side of the game either.

    No one can blame him for going out on top like he did.  Yet if that fire started to burn again, even at 44, Recchi could still give a team 15-20 goals and invaluable leadership.

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