Making the NHL is a dream come true for the millions of hockey players around the world. It doesn't matter if you're a superstar or a career fourth-liner; the only goal is to go out there and have fun. Make the most of your opportunities and enjoy the privilege of playing in the greatest hockey league on our planet.
Unfortunately, a number of NHL players threw away their careers by committing terrible acts on or off the ice. Some of them also just made terrible seasons (trades, free agency, sitting out a season), etc.
And little did these players know that one specific incident (on or off the ice), would lead to the end of their once-promising careers. Some of these guys were superstars, others were just tough guys and some were on their way to something excellent. But at the end of the day, they threw it away.
Here is a look at 15 NHL players who derailed their careers with one stupid decision.
15 Mike Richards: Off-the-Ice Troubles
Mike Richards was once a superstar on the Philadelphia Flyers, and was given a 12-year extension worth $12 million as he became the face of their franchise. But in 2011, the Flyers chose to trade him to the Los Angeles Kings, as reports indicated that the team was tired of his non-stop partying ways off the ice.
Richards joined the Kings and did manage to win a pair of Stanley Cups with them, but his scoring totals went way down and he never found his game there. Richards was bought out by the Kings after getting arrested at the border for drug possession. He tried to revive his career with the Washington Capitals in 2016, but it went nowhere.
Had Richards avoided the partying and the law, he could have remained a superstar to this very day.
14 David Clarkson: Leaving the Bench
Just over a year after scoring 30 goals with the New Jersey Devils in 2011-12, power forward David Clarkson joined his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs on a seven-year deal worth $36.75 million. The Toronto media hyped up Clarkson to be the next Wendel Clark -- the ultimate tough guy who would capture the hearts of Leaf fans.
But Clarkson's tenure in Toronto was a disaster from the beginning. In a 2013 preseason game, Clarkson left the bench to engage in a fight -- which resulted in a 10-game suspension. Once he joined the Leafs, Clarkson simply didn't get anything going. He finished with just five goals in 60 games.
The next season, Clarkson had just 10 goals in 58 games. He was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nathan Horton, ending one disastrous era in Toronto. Imagine if he had just not left the bench? Perhaps he would have hit it off with the Leafs right away and could have become a star.
13 Paul Kariya: Leaving Anaheim
Paul Kariya was the heart-and-soul leader of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, spending nine seasons with them as he turned his squad into a relevant franchise. Kariya led the Mighty Ducks to the 2003 Stanley Cup Final, where they narrowly fell to the Devils in seven games.
Rather than re-sign with the team that made him legend, Kariya chose to join the Colorado Avalanche powerhouse with old friend Teemu Selanne. Kariya took a MASSIVE pay cut to play for the Avalanche, signing for just $1.2 million.
Kariya had his worst season in Colorado, scoring just 11 goals and 36 points. He would play two strong seasons with the Nashville Predators before finishing his career with the St. Louis Blues -- where he struggled in three years there. Kariya wasn't the same player once he put on the Avalanche jersey, meaning he shouldn't have left Anaheim.
12 Tim Thomas: Letting Politics Get In the Way
Tim Thomas didn't have a lengthy NHL career by any means, but the two-time Vezina Trophy winner will never be forgotten in Boston. He led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011, while taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. But after that, Thomas let politics get in the way of his career.
Thomas chose to no-show the Bruins' Stanley Cup meeting at the White House, simply for being a Conservative who didn't care for Barack Obama's policies. Thomas then chose to sit out the entire 2012-13 season.
Thomas would play one more season in the NHL, but was well past his prime and retired after the 2013-14 season. Too bad, because he could have had a couple more strong seasons if he chose to keep politics to himself.
11 Sean Avery: Being Too Pesty
Sean Avery will go down as the biggest pest in NHL history. His size didn't exactly make him menacing (5-foot-10, 195 pounds), but Avery just knew how to get under the skins of his opponents. But he did the pesky stuff a little too hard, because it would ultimately lead to the end of his career.
After clashing with teammate Dustin Brown in Los Angeles, Avery was dealt to the New York Rangers. The Dallas Stars would sign him to a four-year deal in 2008, but he was placed on waivers after becoming very unpopular among players and management.
Avery then rejoined the Rangers, but head coach John Tortorella was no fan of Avery. He last played an NHL game in 2012, and his career ultimately ended because he made himself hated by virtually everyone in the league.
10 Mark Messier: Leaving the Rangers
Mark Messier sits third all-time in career scoring, and is widely considered the greatest captain/leader in NHL history. 'Mess' led the Edmonton Oilers to five Stanley Cups, plus another with the New York Rangers in 1994. That championship was emotional for the Rangers, who finally ended a 54-year Stanley Cup drought.
But after the 1996-97 season, Messier chose to chase the money and joined the Vancouver Canucks on a three-year deal worth $20 million. Messier's tenure got off to a bad start after he took the captaincy away from fan favourite, Trevor Linden.
Messier saw his stats go way downhill, and he ultimately failed to earn love from the Canucks faithful. He rejoined the Rangers to finish his career -- but he was way past his prime. He would have been better off staying with them the whole time, considering he and Wayne Gretzky could have been reunited in New York.
9 Scott Gomez: Leaving New Jersey
Scott Gomez was one of the top scorers on the New Jersey Devils throughout the 2000s, helping them win the Stanley Cup in 2000 and 2003. Just a year after scoring 33 goals and 84 points, Gomez chased the money and signed with the rival New York Rangers for seven years worth $51.5 million.
Gomez became a huge flop in New York, scoring just 16 goals in each season before falling out of favor with the team. Somehow, they convinced the Montreal Canadiens to take on his contract and packaged him in a blockbuster deal that sent current Ranger captain Ryan McDonagh to Manhattan.
But Gomez did even worse in Montreal, once going an entire year without scoring a single goal. He was bought out in the 2012-13 season, and would never come close to discovering his old form.
He should have just stayed with New Jersey, who remained a powerhouse following his departure.
8 Raffi Torres: Hit on Jakob Silfverberg
Raffi Torres was once an extremely serviceable power forward in his career. He helped the Edmonton Oilers come within a victory of winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, and did the same with the Vancouver Canucks in 2011.
Torres was a big man and was able to intimidate his opponents, but he also had a knack for headhunting opponents which led to lengthy suspensions. But a specific hit essentially ruined Torres' career.
In a 2015 game (as a member of the San Jose Sharks), Torres committed an ugly head shot to Ducks' forward Jakob Silfverberg. Torres was given a 41-game suspension and was eventually traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Torres never played a game for them and retired after the 2016 season. You wonder how much longer he could have played if he simply kept it clean on the ice.
7 Alexei Yashin: Greed For Money
Alexei Yashin was once co-face of the Ottawa Senators, alongside Daniel Alfredsson. He spent seven seasons in the nation's capital, which featured five 30-goal seasons. Yashin was also good for posting at least 70 points a season, and was a terrific fit for the Senators.
But he chose to sit out the entire 1999-2000 season after a contract dispute with the team. He tried to play overseas and to get out of his contract, but the NHL wouldn't let him. Yashin was traded to the New York Islanders in 2001, and had some good years there.
But Yashin quickly fell out of favor and has his contract bought out in 2007. His once-excellent NHL career came to a crashing halt, simply because he was too greedy and selfish for more money. If he had just played hockey, he could have had the career of a Hall of Famer.
6 Todd Bertuzzi: The Steve Moore Incident
Todd Bertuzzi was once a superstar for the Vancouver Canucks. In the early 2000s, he had emerged as one of the game's best power forwards -- scoring 46 goals and 97 points in the 2002-03 season. Bertuzzi was having an excellent year in 2003-04, with 17 goals and 60 points in 69 games.
But late in the season, Bertuzzi got involved in an incident that ruined his career. In a 2004 home game against the Colorado Avalanche, Bertuzzi tried to instigate a fight with enforcer Steve Moore -- who had delivered a head shot to Canuck captain Markus Naslund earlier in the season.
When Moore wouldn't comply, Bertuzzi eventually chased him down and sucker punched him in the back of the head and tackled him to the ice. Moore suffered three fractured vertebrae and never played another NHL game. Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of the season and was NEVER a superstar after that incident.
If he hadn't been so obsessed with attacking Moore, 'Bert' could have remained a superstar for at least another decade.
5 Dany Heatley: Leaving Ottawa
Remember him? Dany Heatley was once among the NHL's top goal-scorers.
The Ottawa Senators traded away perennial star Marian Hossa to acquire him prior to the 2005-06 season. Heatley made the most of his time in Ottawa, twice hitting the 50-goal and 100-point mark. Heatley formed a dangerous line with Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, and the Senators would reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2007.
But Heatley clashed with Sens' head coach Cory Clouston and demanded a trade after the 2008-09 season. He nixed a trade to Edmonton and would be dealt to the San Jose Sharks.
Heatley had one productive year in San Jose, scoring 39 goals in 2009-10. But then he declined rapidly and was no longer a scoring force. He played six games for Anaheim in 2014-15 before playing overseas. Perhaps he should have just stayed in Ottawa, where he had been excelling.
4 Theoren Fleury: Drug/Alcohol Addictions
Thoeren Fleury is one of the best little guys in NHL history. Standing at just 5-foot-6, 180 pounds, Fleury was one of the NHL's flashiest players in the '80s and '90s. The 1989 Stanley Cup champion and 2002 Olympic gold medalist scored 455 goals and 1,088 points in an extremely storied career.
Unfortunately, Fleury was abused by one of his head coach Graham James, when he was a teenager. Fleury wasn't able to stay focused on the ice from this incident, and ran into drug and alcohol addiction. Fleury also ran into legal troubles and saw his career unravel early in the 21st century.
Fleury cleaned himself up and tried to return to the NHL in 2009, but it was too late. Yes, he had a tremendous career. But imagine if he had been able to stay focused on the ice the whole time. There's no telling what else he could have accomplished.
3 Kevin Stevens: Drug Addictions
Kevin Stevens is often forgotten when talked about the top NHL players of the '90s. Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis earned most of the love from the Pittsburgh Penguins fans in the '90s. But did you know that Stevens was a two-time 50-goal scorer and reached 100 points twice?
Perhaps the main reason people forget about Stevens' excellent career is because he simply wasn't in the NHL that long. Sadly, it's because he had many off-the-ice troubles and wasn't able to stay clean.
During the 1999-2000 season, Stevens was caught in the company of a prostitute along with cocaine. Stevens sought treatment from the NHL, but wasn't much of an impact player once he was released. He retired in 2002, and we can only wonder what would have happened if he stayed away from the drug addictions.
2 Marty McSorley: Slashing Donald Brashear's Head
Marty McSorley used his entire 6-foot-1, 235-pound frame to intimidate opponents throughout his career. McSorley will always be remembered was Wayne Gretzky's protector, using his fist to punish anyone who came near the great one during their time together in both Edmonton and Los Angeles.
But McSorley will also be remembered for one of the ugliest incidents in NHL history. During a 2000 game against the Vancouver Canucks, McSorley got into it with fellow tough guy Donald Brashear.
McSorley used his stick and slashed Brashear across the ice with it. Brashear fell down to the ice and suffered a concussion. The case even went to court, and McSorley was found guilty and was given 18 months probation.
He'd never play an NHL game, and rightfully so. He could have kept playing if he wasn't such a hot head.
1 Slava Voynov: Domestic Violence Case
Slava Voynov was a key part of the Los Angeles Kings, and was to be a key part of their future. He won the Stanley Cup with them in 2012 and 2014, and was rewarded with a six-year contract worth $25 million. Everything was looking up for Voynov, until once ugly incident.
In 2014, he was arrested for a domestic violence case in which he brutally attacked his wife; kicking and punching her while apparently throwing her through a television set.
Voynov's wife pleaded for him to be forgiven, but it didn't matter. He was sent back to Russia and may never be able to enter the United States again. Voynov hasn't played with the Kings in nearly three years, and is now playing overseas.
What else is there to say? Voynov would have remained a standout defenceman if he simply didn't commit such a brutal and awful act.
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