For every story of an NHL player who beats the odds to achieve an impressive accomplishment, there’s an equal story of a player who squandered a similar opportunity. The word “failed” might not be a fair way to describe players who achieved their dreams of making it into the most elite hockey league in the world. At the same time, there’s something a little pathetic about players who managed to put it all together and spend all of their young lives preparing to make a big impact in the NHL only to fail to deliver when it really matters. It takes a remarkable combination of ambition, natural talent, focus, and luck to have long lasting success as an NHL hockey player, and for the guys on this list, at least one of those factors wasn’t present, resulting in them failing as NHL players.
Some of the guys on this list are toiling in inferior leagues, making less money in salary and endorsements but are still playing the game of hockey. Others are playing in the minor leagues, still being paid to play hockey, but not making nearly as much as they would have if they could have proved their usefulness to an NHL team in 2017. Other players, the saddest cases on this list, retired from the game of hockey altogether and are working regular jobs now. You’ve probably forgotten about some of these guys, and you’ve probably wondered where others of them are now. For some players, bad life decisions have lead to their downfalls. Some bounce around the league in trades and never seem to find their footing. Let’s take a look at what some recently failed NHLers are doing with their lives now:
15. Cody Hodgson
This is a sad case for Canucks fans. They’re a team that has historically been bad at drafting in the first round, but they really thought they had a sure thing in Cody Hodgson, with many fans feeling that he seemed like future captain material once the Sedins retired. He was a beast internationally for Canada in the World Juniors, and put up some points for the Canucks before being dealt to the Sabres. At that time, there were rumours that his dad had requested the trade, as he was unhappy with Hodgson’s playing time. He had a few disappointing seasons in Buffalo, suffered a back injury, was traded again, and retired from playing hockey altogether after a terrible 2016 season. Now, he doesn’t play hockey any more and coaches little kids for a youth organization instead.
14. Marc Savard
Marc Savard’s entire NHL career was complicated, and I don’t think anyone was particularly surprised when it turned out that he had to retire after the 2011 season, when he was only around 30-years-old and still seemed to be near the prime of his career, having put up high point totals only a few years before. Marc Savard was drafted pretty late and spent a lot of time in the minors before being given a chance to succeed in Calgary. He’s a pretty small guy, and not a lot of coaches gave him a chance, but he established himself as one of the league’s top scorers. However, he got an awful concussion from a hit to the head by Matt Cooke, and each hit to the head after that only made the situation worse, as he developed post-concussion syndrome and could never play again. His condition also caused depression and anxiety, and his situation is a large part of why the rules were changed in the NHL with regards to hits to the head.
13. Linus Omark
Compared to other professional leagues like the NBA and the NFL, NHL players are not exactly known for generating controversy. There’s a kind of unwritten players code in the NHL, which dictates that players are modest, quiet, and not too flashy. Omark threw all of that out the window right away, though. During a shootout in his first NHL game after years playing in the Swedish league, he did a spin-o-rama at centre ice before scoring. The spin move served no function besides to showboat, and many of Omark’s fellow players criticized the move, calling it a “slap in the face.” He played fewer than 100 NHL games, and is now in the KHL. His NHL rights were traded to the Buffalo Sabres and he played a few games for the team, but refused to go to the minors when assigned, so his NHL contract was terminated and he won’t be playing in North America any time soon. It seems as though Omark’s flashy personality was too much for the NHL, though there was never any doubt about his skill level.
12. Mike Comrie
These days, Mike Comrie is probably is probably known better for his failed marriage to Hilary Duff than he is for his now-defunct NHL career. Comrie spent years as a very effective NHL hockey player, putting up multiple 30-goal seasons both in Edmonton and in Phoenix. His performce really dropped off, though, as he started showing up to training camps out of shape, and he constantly got injured. He played his last season in Pittsburgh back in 2011, and put up only one goal that season. He had his third hip surgery in 2012, and retired after that, meaning he had stopped playing in the NHL before he was 30-years-old. However, he probably doesn’t have any financial worries. His family founded The Brick furniture shop, and he also received millions from Duff in their divorce. Considering those cushy financial circumstances, it’s easy to see why he didn’t try to fight through his injuries and make a return.
11. Raffi Torres
You can kind of tell that Raffi Torres is an out of control guy just by looking at him. Back in 2011, he got in trouble for painting his face black as part of a Halloween costume as Jay-Z, seemingly unaware that it’s extremely racially insensitive to perform blackface. His wild style of play often manifested in success, as he was a great energy guy who could deliver on the penalty kill and in on the forecheck. His out-of-control style also led to problems though. He was suspended five times over his career for hitting opponents to the head. He holds the record for the longest suspension from the NHL that doesn’t involve a lifetime ban, as he was suspended for 41 games and fined almost half a million dollars for a hit to the head during a preseason game. He has tried to stage a few comebacks but they failed, and now he’s retired from hockey.
10. Vadim Shipachyov
Vadim Shipachyov is one of the younger and perhaps lesser known guys on this list, but his situation is also perhaps the one that played out the most recently. It is a true testimony to the dangers in signing Russian players who would prefer to be playing in their home country. Shipachyov was a great KHL player for years who signed a deal to play with the Vegas Golden Knights. Things were looking good when he scored in his first game for Vegas earlier this year, but he played only three games for the team before returning to Russia. He had to pay Vegas back his $2 million signing bonus too. So now he’s back playing in the KHL, and has said in many interviews that he doesn’t recommend that Russian players sign with NHL teams because of all the miscommunication and misleading information.
9. Kyle Chipchura
Kyle Chipchura is another example of a player who was great in juniors, was drafted pretty high in the first round, but failed to translate those early successes to a long career in the NHL. He bounced around the league a whole lot, spending seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, the Arizona Coyotes, and the Anaheim Ducks, but in his last few seasons in the NHL he was unable to even put up more than five goals per year, which led to him going unsigned and have to take a gig in the KHL starting in 2016. He currently plays in the KHL for a Chinese team, which has got to feel weird to a guy who got used to playing in a hockey-crazed market like Montreal. Given that he’s playing in China at the age of 31, it seems likely that his hockey career is almost done.
8. Nigel Dawes
It must be pretty weird for a Canadian guy from Winnipeg to now be living and playing hockey in Astana, Kazakhstan, which is a weirdly-planned city with futuristic skyscrapers. Take a look if you haven’t seen it, it’s a deeply weird place. Anyway, in interviews, Dawes actually seems pretty stoked to be playing in the KHL. He says he gets top line minutes there, powerplay time, and is relied on to be a contributor every night, which definitely wasn’t the case for him in the NHL. He’s among the KHL’s leading scorers every year, and is almost surely collecting a higher salary and paying fewer taxes than he would have in the NHL. Still, for a guy who grew up in Canada and had a shot playing for numerous NHL teams, his current situation has got to be bittersweet.
7. Bryan Bickell
Some of the guys on this list failed in the NHL due to a lack of skills. Others did not work hard enough, or didn’t want to be in the NHL in the first place. For Bryan Bickell, none of these factors were the case, and his retirement from the NHL earlier this year was kind of sad. Back in 2015, he missed some games because he was experiencing dizziness and vertigo. Over the next few years, he frequently experienced pain that kept him out of games. It was only later that doctors realized that he has multiple sclerosis, a distressing degenerative disease that reduces life expectancy by five to ten years. It only makes sense that this news forced Bickell to retire from the NHL to take care of his health. These days, he’s running an organization that rescues pit bulls.
6. Derek Dorsett
As is the case with Bryan Bickell, Derek Dorsett’s recent retirement from the NHL was totally out of his control. Only a couple of months ago, Derek Dorsett had returned to the Vancouver Canucks after injury troubles and was absolutely tearing the league up. He had 7 goals in the first 20 games on the season, putting him on pace for just shy of 30 goals on the year, which would have been a ridiculously high total for a guy who has played on the forth line for most of his career. Sadly, he has had a career full of neck injuries, and was told by doctors that it would be too risky for him to continue playing. He retired at the age of 31, but has said that he doesn’t feel bad, and is appreciative of the time he did get to spend in the NHL.
5. Derek Roy
The decline of Derek Roy has been strange to watch. Sure, he’s 34-years-old at this point, which is around the age that most NHL stars start to see their performance sharply decline anyway. But Roy was a great player for the Sabres, putting up point per game seasons. Everything kind of fell apart for Roy once they traded him. He suited up for a remarkable five different teams over the course of five seasons, and didn’t play very well for any of them. After that, he spent time in the Swiss league, the Russian league, and now he’s playing in the Swedish league, and putting up good numbers there. One gets the sense that Roy was simply unable to adapt and find his footing in any of his new environments, and that if he’d had a chance to settle in somewhere, he could still be a good NHL player.
4. Jonathan Cheechoo
Jonathan Cheechoo has had one of the weirdest NHL careers I’ve ever heard of. He didn’t start taking hockey seriously as a career option until his early teens, but he played well in junior and was a first round draft pick. In his third season in the NHL, he went insane, scoring 56 goals and winning the Rocket Richard trophy for most goals scored in a season. His production was largely due to his incredible chemistry with playmaker Joe Thornton. He had two more pretty good seasons, and then his play dropped off drastically. He spent four years in the AHL, and now he plays in Russia. The rise and fall of Jonathan Cheechoo was one of the most dramatic in the history of the league. Though he’s no longer able to perform at an NHL caliber, he is still a great role model for Cree youth.
3. Martin Havlat
It’s surprising that Martin Havlat is no longer playing in the NHL. Fellow Czech veteran Patrik Elias, for instance, played a similar kind of game to Havlat and had a similar skill set but was able to remain in the NHL until a much older age. Havlat’s main problem has been injuries, though. Amazingly, he never played a complete season in the NHL, though he played nearly 800 games in total, which has got to be some kind of a record. He was a great player for the Ottawa Senators, and pretty good for the Chicago Blackhawks too. But injuries really stopped him from building any kind of momentum. Over the past few years, he has tried to stage various comebacks to the league, but none have been successful, and he has finally called it quits for good.
2. Gilbert Brule
Gilbert Brule is one of the more disappointing hockey players in recent memory. He was drafted high in the first round back in 2005 after a great junior hockey career. The Columbus Blue Jackets needed badly for him to contribute, so they put him into their lineup right away, and many hockey fans have speculated that he was rushed into the league, which ruined his confidence and lead to him never living up to expectations. These days, he may be most famous for having given U2’s Bono a life when he saw the singer hitchhking on the side of the road. Brule has spent the past handful of seasons in the KHL, where he puts up pretty good numbers.
1. Nikita Filatov
Here’s another sixth overall pick who just never panned out. Nikita Filatov was a disappointment in the NHL because there was no question that he had the skills and scoring touch he needed to succeed, but he never really got a good enough chance to show what he’s got. Apparentl,y he ran into some troubles with excessive gambling and partying as a young man playing in the NHL, so when he got demoted to the minors, he wasn’t making enough money to support his lifestyle and had to head to Russia, where he can make a whole lot more. He has been playing well in the KHL, but is often injured and misses large chunks of seasons. It seems unlikely that any NHL team would be willing to offer him a new contract at this point so, unless you keep up with international hockey leagues—and really, who does?—you probably won’t be seeing much more of Nikita Filatov, at least until the Olympics.
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