The Strangest Final Seasons of Hall of Famers in NHL History
Joe Namath with the Los Angeles Rams. Babe Ruth with the Boston Braves. Franco Harris with the Seattle Seahawks. John Unitas with the San Diego Chargers. Hank Aaron with the Milwaukee Brewers.
If you just said, "Wait, is that where each of those Hall of Fame players finished up their careers?", you hereby get a lifetime supply of Michael Jordan Washington Wizards trading cards.
This is a passion project for the author of this piece. The author once wrote about his fascination with great players finishing their careers in a strange jersey. This is the hockey version, the most unique and weirdest-looking final seasons of 10 NHL greats.
The rules for inclusion are not set in stone, but generally follow this guideline: a) the player has to have spent the vast majority of their career with one team and achieved the lion's share of their superlatives with that team, b) it preferably will be their final team and final season, but there can be exceptions and c) it has to be a pretty mediocre or bad season. That just adds to the "this never should have happened" appeal of the whole thing.
Not all players listed are in the Hockey Hall of Fame yet, but we think that will happen eventually.
We'll count down from No. 10 to No. 1 on the following slideshow, but first, here are some honorable mentions:
Newsy Lalonde, New York Americans, 1926-27; Terry Sawchuk, New York Rangers, 1969-70; Jari Kurri, Colorado Avalanche, 1997-98; Adam Oates, Edmonton Oilers, 2003-04; Paul Coffey, Boston Bruins, 2000-01; Guy Lapointe, Bruins, 1983-84; Butch Goring, Bruins, 1984-85; Dave Schultz, Buffalo Sabres, 1979-80; Brad Park, Detroit Red Wings, 1984-85; Darryl Sittler, Red Wings, 1984-85; Dale Hunter, Avalanche, 1998-99; Claude Lemieux, San Jose Sharks, 2008-09.
10. Mike Modano, Detroit Red Wings, 2010-11
In some ways, it made sense for Modano to finish up his long career with the Detroit Red Wings. He is a native of Livonia, Michigan, after all. No. 9, his number all those years in Minnesota and Dallas, was already taken when he arrived in 2010, by some guy named Gordie Howe. So, Modano wore No. 90.
But it just never looked right—which is all the better for inclusion on this list. Modano played 21 seasons with the same franchise, but just wasn't ready to hang up his skates after the 2009-10 season, even though the Stars wanted to move on.
He signed a one-year deal with Detroit and...it didn't go very well. Modano scored a career-low four goals in 40 games, with 11 assists. He retired in 2011 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.
9. Brett Hull, Phoenix Coyotes, 2005-06
The Golden Brett had a very nice 25-goal season for Detroit in 2003-04, along with 43 assists. He looked a long way from being done.
But then came the lost season of 2004-05, which Hull admitted he did not spend working out like a demon. He was thinking about calling it quits before the NHL might come back, but old friend Wayne Gretzky talked him into signing for a Coyotes team he would coach and...it didn't work out so well.
Hull quit for good after just five games, in which he recorded one assist. He finished as the NHL's third all-time leading goal scorer with 741.
That makes for a jersey I'd lust after, though. It was all so brief, but it happened.
8. Chris Chelios, Atlanta Thrashers, 2009-10
Chelios wanted to keep playing in 2009-10, despite being 47. He could not find work as an NHL player, so he took a job with the AHL's Chicago Wolves, playing 46 games and posting a great plus-34. So, the Atlanta Thrashers were impressed enough to sign him to a one-year deal and...it didn't go so well.
Chelios only played seven games, with no points and a minus-two rating. He never played in the league again.
His No. 24 Thrashers sweater is a must-have for collectors of this stuff like me, especially because the Thrashers don't exist anymore. One like this might make for a nice stocking stuffer.
7. Ed Belfour, Florida Panthers, 2006-07
Eddie The Eagle played for five teams in his long career, finishing up in 2006-07 in the funky outfits of the Panthers. He had a pretty good year, too: 27-17-10, 2.77 GAA, .902 saves percentage.
But the day after the Panthers' season ended, Belfour was arrested by Florida police after a barroom scuffle with a police officer, and that pretty much ended things for the 41-year-old there. He played one more year in the Swedish League, for Leksands IF, and here are some cool photos of his real, final hockey jersey.
The Panthers had some other Hall of Famers finish their careers there, including Dino Ciccarelli and Joe Nieuwendyk, but Belfour just looked like the funkiest (a compliment in this list) of the bunch.
6. Mats Sundin, Vancouver Canucks, 2008-09
After 13 straight seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the captain didn't quite fit in the team's plans anymore, and after initially turning down a two-year, big-money offer from the Canucks as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2008, he was eventually lured back by Canucks general manager Mike Gillis in December.
Sundin did help the Canucks make the playoffs and played well at times, posting 28 points in 41 games, including eight in eight postseason games. But that would do it for the big Swede center, who retired after the season.
It's got to be a great way to get the goat of Leafs fans, wearing Sundin's No. 13 Canucks sweater at the Air Canada Centre. It's definitely the one I'd wear if I had the chance there.
5. Guy Lafleur, New York Rangers, 1988-89
Lafleur actually finished up his career looking very out of place in a Quebec Nordiques sweater, but he played there for two full years and this is the jersey I like the best. For one thing, it was the first sweater The Flower wore after sitting out three full years, and people could hardly believe he'd ever play any place except for the Montreal Canadiens, where he scored 518 goals for multiple Cup-winning teams.
Lafleur came out of retirement to sign with the Rangers and played better than many expected, scoring 18 goals and 45 points in 67 games for a playoff team. One of the goals came in the game shown in the video above, his first game back at the Montreal Forum.
The crowd gave him a standing ovation and chants of "GEE, GEE." Great stuff.
4. Eric Lindros, Dallas Stars, 2006-07
Although Lindros had started to bounce around the league by the early 2000s, after starring for eight years in Philadelphia, nobody figured he'd finish his career in the Western Conference with a team like Dallas.
He never, ever looked right in those green and gold uniforms, and that final season, 2006-07, didn't go very well for No. 88.
He scored only five goals in 49 games, the only time in his career he failed to reach double figures. Lindros has yet to make it into the Hall of Fame, but a lot of people think he'll get in eventually. He was a dominant figure in the league for a decade until injuries ruined the rest of his career.
3. Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull, Hartford Whalers, 1979-80
This is a great 2-for-1 here. A lot of people actually do recall that Gordie Howe finished his NHL career as a Hartford Whaler. But did anyone really guess that another fellow NHL legend, Bobby Hull, played with Howe in their final NHL seasons together? It's an easy hockey trivial pursuit question with which to stump people.
Hull wanted to retire after the 1978-79 season as a Winnipeg Jet, but when the WHA merged with the NHL the following season, he was talked into signing a one-year deal with the Jets but was later traded to the Whalers for future considerations.
Hull played nine games for the Whalers as a 41-year-old, posting two goals and seven points. But he was just a kid to the 52-year-old Howe, who posted 41 points (15 goals) and played all 80 games in his final season.
Howe Whaler jerseys are relatively easy to find online, and so are Hull's No. 16 Hartford sweaters. In fact, you might even find one signed by the man himself.
2. Martin Brodeur, St. Louis Blues, 2014-15
He played 1,266 regular-season NHL games, all but seven of them with the New Jersey Devils.
Those final seven, though? They happened with him looking extremely weird in the uniform of the St. Louis Blues. After 21 straight seasons in New Jersey, Brodeur just couldn't walk away, and after injuries hit the Blues in the middle of last season, they gave the three-time Stanley Cup winner a contract.
How did it go? Not great, but not horrible either. While many feared he would embarrass himself at his age, 42, Brodeur went 3-3-0 with a 2.87 goals-against average, .899 save percentage and one shutout.
This is a great jersey to have for collectors of this quirky thing, but it's probably best not to wear it at the Prudential Center in Newark. Devils fans can be tough.
1. Bobby Orr, Chicago Blackhawks, 1976-77, 1978-79
This one still gnaws at Bruins fans, and why not? As legendary as Bobby Orr was and is in Boston, the fact is he finished his career as a Chicago Blackhawk. It was then and remains today utterly inconceivable that Orr played for anyone else besides the Bruins.
Despite eight Norris Trophies, two Art Ross Trophies and two Stanley Cups, Orr and Bruins management (with the help of his crooked agent, Alan Eagleson) couldn't come to terms after the 1975-76 season and he signed as a free agent in Chicago. Orr was reportedly offered an 18.5 percent ownership share of the Bruins' franchise to stay (which today would be worth tens of millions), but Eagleson, who was big buddies with Chicago owner Bill Wirtz, is rumored to have never told him.
He would play just 26 games in three seasons for the Blackhawks but still put up 27 points despite playing on two horrible knees. Go ahead and wear that Blackhawks jersey to a big Bruins game, but you might want to wear a helmet, too.