Mario Lemieux takes the ice after ending his retirement in December 2000
Perhaps no other player in NHL has had his name connected to the phrase "what if" as often as Mario Lemieux.
Despite his legendary accomplishments, hockey fans can only speculate what Lemieux might have accomplished had he not been forced from the game twice due to injuries. While even the most unfortunate athletes may deal with career-ending injuries, Lemieux's ailments, which included cancer and atrial fibrillation, extended to the life-threatening realm.
Though medical issues may have shortened his career, they have also served to elevate it to an almost mythical level. Great players win MVP awards but only Lemieux won an MVP award despite missing a quarter of the 1992-93 season due to cancer. Great players win Stanley Cups and Conn Smythe Trophies but only Lemieux won both despite being unable to tie his own skates due to debilitating back pain.
As acclaimed sportswriter Frank Deford said of Lemieux, "That is the stuff that answers those who wonder where all our sports heroes have gone."