NHL: 15 Players Who Left the Game Too Soon

PJ Sapienza@@pjsapiContributor IIIDecember 23, 2011

NHL: 15 Players Who Left the Game Too Soon

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    Sidney Crosby’s recent relapse with  concussion issues has many wondering if he ever will be healthy enough to play again or if he should even try.

    While it is too soon to weigh on that, it is a good time to look back at the careers of players who left the game too soon.  Most are due to injuries, but all of them should have had several more successful years had they been able to continue to play.

Mickey Redmond

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    Redmond started his career in Montreal where he played just over three seasons in a support role for the team.  He was traded to Detroit midway through the 1970-71 season.

    In his first season with the team, he showed great promise, as he scored 42 goals. In the 1972-73 season he became the first Red Wing and only the seventh player to surpass the 50 goal mark when he tallied 52 goals.  To prove it was no fluke he followed it up with a 51-goal effort the following year.  That made him only the third player to achieve that milestone in back-to-back seasons.

    29 games into the 1974-75 season, Redmond suffered a back injury and missed the rest of the year.  He attempted to play the next season but only made it 37 games before retiring.  Not only was the back too painful to play with but it also sapped the strength from his right leg.

    At 28 years old, Redmond was gone from the league.  During his three full seasons in Detroit, he had 241 points in 230 games.  He had a tremendous shot with great accuracy.

    He was not done with hockey, though, as he has gone on to become one of the best announcers the league has ever had.  This past year, the Hall of Fame awarded him with the Forster Hewitt Memorial Award.

Eric Lindros

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    When looking at Crosby’s condition, many think back to Erick Lindros.

    Lindros was a beast.  He entered the league as the top draft pick of the 1991 draft.  The Quebec Nordiques selected him, but after refusing to play for them he was traded to Philadelphia.  At 6’4" and 240 lbs he had the physical size to hammer opponents but also possessed an amazing amount of skill.

    For much of the early part of his career his points per game average was in the top five all time.  Even after injuries took their toll his still ranks 18th all time.

    Lindros won the Hart trophy and Lester Pearson (now Ted Lindsay Award) for the 1994-95 season.  He scored 70 points in 46 games, due to the strike-shortened season.  He would surpass the 40-goal mark four times in his career.

    Then the injuries started to happen.  While injuries such as a collapsed lung and a wrist tendon issue hurt him, the main issue for Lindros was concussions.  The mindset of fans, players and media at the time was to label him soft as people did not understand the long term ramifications of multiple concussions.

    Lindros suffered at least eight concussions in his career.  The injuries took away parts of many seasons.  In fact the strike shortened season of 1994-95 was the only one that he was able to play every game.  He would average almost 21 missed games a season.  He finally decided to retire at the age of 34.

Bobby Orr

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    There are many who will argue that Orr was the greatest player of all time.  He played defense but was such a scoring threat that he changed the game from the blue line.

    The best was to understand his game and how amazing he was are through the words of former Boston coach and GM Harry Sinden http://bruinslegends.blogspot.com/2006/10/bobby-orr.html

    "(Gordie) Howe could do everything, but not at top speed. (Bobby) Hull went at top speed but couldn't do everything. The physical aspect is absent from (Wayne) Gretzky's game. Orr would do everything, and do it at top speed."

    While there had been a few offensive minded defenders in the past, Orr took it to a whole new level.  He had the speed and skill of a forward to go along with the physicality and toughness of a defensemen. He won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

    In 1968-69 he would set the scoring record for defenseman with 64 points.  He then blew that away the following season by scoring 120 points.  He would top 100 points six times with a best of 139 in 1970-71.  He would become the only defenseman to ever lead the league in scoring. He retired with the fourth best points per game of all time.

    Orr would win eight straight Norris Trophies as the league’s best defender.  He would also win the Hart Trophie, two Conn Smythe Trophies, two Stanley Cups and the Art Ross award.   He is the only player to win the big four skater awards in the same season (Norris, Hart, Ross and Smythe).  He had 915 points in only 657 games.  One can’t help but wonder where those numbers would have ended up. 

    He went through over a dozen knee surgeries. His knees issues slowed him and eventually forced Orr to retire from the game at the age of 30.  The league waived the Hall of Fame waiting period and made Orr the youngest inductee into the hall at the age of 31.

Vladimir Konstantinov

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     Konstantinov only played in the league six seasons but had quickly risen to be respected as one of the better defenders of his time.  In what would be his final season, he was the runner-up for the Norris Trophy.

    He was a physical force on the ice.  He excelled not only at shutting down the opponent's top scorers but he also had a knack for getting in their heads.  It would force them off of their game and often anger them enough that they would take bad penalties.

    During the 1995-96 season he would win the NHL’s plus/minus award with an impressive +60.  That was the best rating in 20 seasons.  No player has been within eight of that number since.

    In his final season, he helped lead the Red Wings defensive charge as they swept the Philadelphia Flyers in route to ending their Stanley Cup draught.  Sadly, Konstantinov was a passenger in a limousine accident following a Stanley Cup party.  He suffered severe head injuries which has forced him to learn how to walk and talk again.

Mike Bossy

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    If he had stayed healthy, Bossy may be the player who owns all of the scoring records in the league.  He averaged .76 goals per game, the best ever and far ahead of Wayne Gretzky’s .60.

    He set the rookie then-record for goals with 53 goals and won the Calder Trophy.  The following season he became the second player to score 50 goals in 50 games.  He would win four Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy.

    His scoring was amazing, as he holds the record with the most consecutive 50+ goal seasons with nine.  He also is tied, with Gretzky, for most 60+ goal seasons with five.  Perhaps his most impressive number is that he scored 573 goals, good for nineteenth all time.  But he reached that number while playing in almost 200 less games than anyone else in the top 50.

    Back injuries forced Bossy to retire at 30 years old.  He played in ten seasons, topping 50 goals in nine of them and 100 points in seven.

Steve Moore

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    Nobody really knows what type of player Steve Moore would have been.  After a couple of brief call ups, Moore finally make the Colorado Avalanche roster for the 2003-04 season.

    After 57 games he was involved in one of the worst on-ice incidents in NHL history.  A few weeks before the fateful game, Moore had what was deemed a clean, but very hard and blindsided hit on Canucks star Markus Naslund.  Naslund would suffer a concussion and an elbow injury and miss several games.

    The Canucks players and front office was angered by the lack of a penalty during the game or fine afterwards by the league.  Coach Marc Crawford and general manager Brian Burke made very public critical remarks afterwards.

    In a game on March 8, 2004 the Canucks were well ahead late in the game when Todd Bertuzzi tried to get Moore to fight.  He would not engage Bertuzzi in a fight as he had already fought one Canuck earlier in the game.

    As Moore skated away, off the puck, Bertuzzi sucker punched him from behind.  Moore ended up falling head first to the ice with Bertuzzi on top of him.  Several other players ended up on the pile as well.  Moore was knocked unconscious.  He would suffer several broken vertebrae as well as a serious concussion that he still feels the effects from today.

    The cheap shot ended his career after 69 games played at the NHL level.

Adam Deadmarsh

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    Deadmarsh would only play parts of nine seasons in the league before concussions forced him to retire at 27.

    Deadmarsh was not a high-flying goal scorer but he was the type of player every successful team needs.  He was usually good for at least 20 goals a season but more important was his hustle.  He played hard and covered the entire ice.  He wasn’t afraid of contact and was the unsung hero of Colorado’s 1996 Stanley Cup-winning team.

    He missed most of the 2002-03 season and all of the following year after suffering two concussions.  After the NHL lockout season, he was still feeling the effects and decided to retire.

Keith Primeau

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    Premeau’s career did last many seasons.  But he still was forced to retire several years too soon.  Concussions slowed him and forced him out of the game after only playing 63 games over his final two seasons. 

    Primeau started with the Red Wings before going on to captain both the Hurricanes and Flyers franchises.  Through his prime, he averaged over 24 goals a season.  He used his imposing 6’5" frame to patrol the ice.

    He would score 266 goals and 619 points in his 909-game career.

Mike Richter

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    Richter was a tremendous goalie.  In his first season as the starter, he helped lead the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994, finally ending their 54-year draught.

    He was known for having very quick reflexes and lightning quick moves.  In the Stanley Cup-winning year he had four shutouts throughout the playoffs.  His biggest moment came during the finals when he was able to stop Pavel Bure on a penalty shot.

    He was able to reach 301 wins, which is impressive as he fought through many injuries in his career.  A fractured skull and serious concussion forced him to retire after only playing 13 games in the 2002-03 season.

Pavel Bure

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    Bure earned the nickname the "Russian Rocket" for his fast-paced playing style.  Many seem to forget just how good Bure was.  Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy have scored more goals in their first three seasons then Bure did.

    After an impressive rookie year in which he scored 34 goals in only 65 games he followed that with back-to-back 60-goal seasons.  While he technically played for 12 seasons, he would only play more than 60 games in half of those seasons and three times played less than 20.  While most of that was due to injuries, there was one holdout year in 1998-99 where he refused to return to Vancouver and sat out until they traded him to Florida.

    Once in Florida, he returned to his high scoring ways scoring 58 and 59 goals his first two seasons before the injury bug caught up with him again.  He was eventually dealt to the Rangers where he was only able to play in 51 games before knee injuries ended his career.  He tried to rehabilitate his injuries to make a comeback but in 2005 finally decided to retire.

    He had 779 points in 702 games with 437 of those being goals.  His goals-per-game is sixth-best all time.

John Ferguson

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    Ferguson was the tough guy enforcer on the Montreal teams of the 1960’s.  After only eight seasons he surprised the Canadiens when he retired.

    He had won five Stanley Cups in his short career.  While he was known for being the enforcer of the team and the man responsible for protecting team star Jean Beliveau, he could also score.

    He was second on in rookie scoring and twice topped 20 goals.  He had 145 goals and 303 points in his career.  Pretty healthy numbers for the team’s tough guy.

Mark Pavelich

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    Pavelich may be best remembered for being a member of the "Miracle on Ice" US Olympic team in 1980.  At only 5’8", he was thought to be too small to play in the NHL and was left undrafted.  After playing one successful year in Switzerland, scoring 76 points in only 60 games, the New York Rangers signed him.

    In New York he was reunited with Olympic coach Herb Brooks, whose game plan fit the speedy Pavelich.  He averaged 33 goals a season over his first three years, with a high of 37.  He was a gifted playmaker and sat just below a point a game over that those three seasons with 233 points in 234 games. After Brooks left, new coach Ted Sator installed a dump-and-run style that went against Pavelich’s play making ability.

    After two seasons and only 34 more goals, Pavelich decided to retire.  His old coach, Brooks, talked him into playing in Minnesota with the North Stars, but he only played 12 games there.  He headed to Europe and played for two seasons, where his play-making and scoring abilities were better used.

    After not playing any hockey for two seasons, he did join San Jose in their inaugural season, but only lasted two games before retiring for good.

Mario Lemieux

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    Lemieux was an unstoppable force during his time in the league.  He ranks second in points-per-game and third in goals-per-game all-time.  He won two Stanley Cups, three Hart trophies, six Art Ross and two Conn Smythe trophies.

    He suffered through many injuries that forced him to miss many games.  Severe backs injuries that required several surgeries, Hodgkins lymphoma, hip issues and finally a heart condition all of which kept him on the sidelines far too often and forced him to retire twice.

    At his first retirement in 1997, he was the only player to average more than two points per game.  If he had been able to stay healthy he likely would have finished ahead of Gretzky on the all-time goals and points list.  The Hall of Fame waived the three-year waiting period and inducted him into the Hall.

    He topped 100 points an incredible 10 times, with a high of 199.  He had 10 seasons with at least 40 goals and his best season was 85 in 1988-89.  He reached 69 goals four times.  What is even more remarkable about his numbers is the amount of games he missed during those amazing scoring seasons.

    In 1992-93 he only played in 60 games, yet scored 69 goals.  Over a full season he was on pace to top 90 goals.  In ten seasons, he missed at least 15 games  Between retirements he sat out a total of four full seasons.

Pelle Lindbergh

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    Lindbergh was looking at being an amazing goalie for the Philadelphia Flyers.  He was named to the all rookie team for the 1982-83 season.  After the 1984-85 season he won the Vezina Trophy and looked well on his way to a successful career. He also played in two all-star games in his brief career.

    Sadly, in 1985, he was killed in a car accident after he lost control of his car and hit a wall.  His blood alcohol level was over twice the legal limit at the time.

Ken Dryden

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    Dryden only played eight seasons in the league.  He was still able to put together a Hall of Fame career in that short time frame.  He had a 2.24 GAA, 258 wins and a stunning 46 shutouts in only 397 games. 

     He played for Montreal during their dominance of the 1970’s.  He would win six Stanley Cups, five Vezinas as well as the Calder and the Conn Smythe.

     He retired following the 1979 season.  It appears his success grew tiresome.  With no more challenges he decided to move on to a new career.  Since he left the net he has been a successful author, commentator and politician.

Hakan Loob

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    Loon only played six seasons in the NHL.  He was a solid two-way player for the Calgary Flames and helped them win the Stanley Cup in 1989.

    His best season was 1987-88 when he had 50 goals and 109 points.  His totals dropped severely the following season but winning the championship made up for it.  Following the championship, he surprised everyone when he decided to retire from the NHL.  He chose to go back to his home country of Sweden.   He would continue to play hockey there for seven more seasons.