The career of a professional athlete is relatively short when compared with that of many other professions. The average NHL player's career lasts less than six seasons. With all of the fame and fortune of playing a major league sport comes the realization that some day it will all come to an end. That's why some players try to make as much money as they possibly can while they're playing and many continue playing long after they're able to contribute.
A lot of players retire due to old age or because they simply aren't good enough, but many players have chosen to leave the game for a variety of other reasons. Robin Sadler retired one week into his first NHL training camp because he didn't want to deal with the pressure. Randy Gregg played 10 seasons in the NHL and was a member of four Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup winning teams, then traded in his hockey skates for a medical degree. Fred Arthur did the same after just 80 NHL games. Todd Bergen decided to pursue a career in pro golf rather than put up with the demands of coach Mike Keenan. Tom Edur, a converted Jehovah's Witness, didn't like the lifestyle and retired to devout himself to God. During World War II many players retired to serve their country.
A large number of players have retired young for one very simple reason: they had no other choice. Sometimes the injuries take such a tole on a player's body, or in the case of concussions, his mind, that he has to leave the game he loves behind. This list is made up of players who retired early for a variety of reasons, either injury, outside commitments, or to pursue a greater passion. Here are the top 15 hockey players who retired too soon:
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15 Bill Nyrop
Nyrop made his NHL debut during the 1975-76 season playing 19 games on the Montreal Canadiens defense en route to a 1976 Stanley Cup victory. Nyrop would play two more seasons and win the Stanley Cup twice more in Montreal. After three Cup victories in three years, Nyrop retired at the age of 25 to study law. Nyrop's rights were traded to the Minnesota North Stars in 1980 and he eventually returned to the NHL playing 42 games for the North Stars in 1981-82. He played 19 games in German the following season before retiring for good at the age of 30.
14 Adam Deadmarsh
Deadmarsh scored 20 or more goals in each of his first four full seasons with the Colorado Avalanche and helped them to a 1996 Stanley Cup victory. He missed part of the 2000-01 season after suffering a concussion and was traded mid-season to the Los Angeles Kings. Deadmarsh scored the series clinching goal that spring to help the Kings to a first round upset over the Detroit Red Wings. In his first full season with the Kings, Deadmarsh scored a career high 62 points. He scored 13 goals in the first 20 games of the 2002-03 season, but then he suffered a second concussion and never played another game. He officially retired in 2005 at the age of 30.
13 Vladimir Konstantinov
The Russian defenseman played seven seasons for CSKA Moscow before making the jump to the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings. He played six seasons in Detroit and in 1996-97 he scored a career high 38 points, was nominated for the Norris Trophy, and helped the Red Wings to their first Stanley Cup victory since 1955. However, six days after the victory the 30-year-old was involved in a limousine accident that threatened his life and left him in a wheelchair.
12 Mario Tremblay
Before he was the coach responsible for Patrick Roy's Montreal departure, Tremblay was a member of five Canadiens' Stanley Cup winning teams. Tremblay played 12 NHL seasons from 1974-1986, posting four 30 goal seasons and scoring the Cup winning goal in the 1978 Stanley Cup Final. Tremblay suffered a shoulder injury in 1986 that kept him out of the Canadiens' playoff run and the following September he retired at the age of 30.
11 Carl Brewer
The legendary Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman joined the Leafs in 1958 and helped them to three consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1962-1964. Brewer's first of many retirements came following the 1959-60 season at the age of 21. Unhappy over money he was owed for medical expenses, Brewer announced he was retiring to play football at McMaster University. The Leafs convinced him to change his mind and he returned the following season.
After a 1965 training camp dispute with goaltender Johnny Bower, Brewer decided to retire from pro hockey at the age of 26. After playing three seasons elsewhere, he returned to the NHL for the 1969-70 season and played three mores seasons - one in Detroit, two in St. Louis - and then retired again. He came back briefly to join the WHA's Toronto Toros for the 1973-74 season and then took nearly six years off before returning for one final 20 game season with the Maple Leafs.
10 Gordie Drillon
Drillon played six seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs and topped the 20 goal mark four times. Known for his accurate shot, Drillon was the last Maple Leafs player to win the scoring title, posting 26 goals and 52 points in 48 games during the 1937-38 season, also also taking home the Lady Byng Trophy in the process. However, during the team's 1941-42 come from behind Stanley Cup victory, he was benched after the third game. The Maple Leafs sold his rights to the Montreal Canadiens prior to the next season, where he scored a career high 28 goals. After one season in Montreal, Drillon retired at the age of 29 to join the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II.
9 Syl Apps
The former pole vaulter joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1936 after owner Conn Smythe watched him play football at McMaster Univserity. Apps won the Calder Trophy as a rookie and quickly became the team's premier centre. He won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1942 after finishing the 1941-42 season with zero penalty minutes and then led the Leafs to an unprobable 1942 Stanley Cup victory in which they came back from a 3-0 series deficit against the Detroit Red Wings. Following the 1942-43 season, Apps retired at the age of 28 to join the Canadian Army during the war. He returned to the Maple Leafs following the war and played three more seasons before retiring for good at the age of 33 following a career high 26 goals and 53 points.
8 Paul Reinhart
Reinhart scored 47 points as a rookie defenseman for the Atlanta Flames. Reinhart played parts of eight seasons in Calgary, following the team's move, and scored 60 or more points five times. However, Reinhart's play became limited due to back problems that began with an injury he suffered during the 1983-84 season. After the 1988 playoffs, Reinhart was traded to the Vancouver Canucks where he posted back-to-back 57 point seasons before back injuries forced him to retire at the age of 30.
7 Cam Neely
After three less than spectacular seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, Neely was traded to the Boston Bruins where he quickly became a premier power forward. In ten seasons in Boston, Neely led the team in scoring seven times and scored fifty or more goals thrice, including 50 goals in his first 44 games during the 1993-94 season. Neely helped the Bruins reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1988 and 1990. During a 1991 playoff game Neely suffered a knee injury from a hit by Pittsburgh Penguins' defenseman Ulf Samuelsson. Neely would only play 22 games over the following two seasons after the hit. Knee and hip injuries would bothered him for the remainder of his career and he retired in 1996 at the age of 31.
6 Pat LaFontaine
LaFontaine scored 30 or more goals in six of his eight seasons with the New York Islanders. He reached the 40 goal mark in each of his final four seasons on Long Island, including a career high 54 goals in the 1989-90 season. After a trade to the Buffalo Sabres, LaFontaine posted two more consecutive 40 goal seasons. He potted 53 goals and a career high 148 points in 1992-93, but injuries limited him over the next two seasons. He rebounded with his seventh 40 goal campaign in 1995-96, but suffered a career threatening concussion the following season. After a trade to the New York Rangers, LaFontaine played one more season and suffered a second concussion, ending his career at the age of 33.
5 Pavel Bure
The dynamic Russian sniper played parts of seven seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, reaching the 50 goal mark three times, including back-to-back 60 goal seasons in 1992-93 and 1993-94, and leading the Canucks to the 1994 Stanley Cup Final. Injuries limited Bure over his final few seasons in Vancouver. After demanding a trade, he posted two more 50 goal seasons with the Florida Panthers. Bure would split his final two injury riddled seasons between Florida and the New York Rangers. The Russian Rocket played his final game at the age of 32 and sat out two more seasons before retiring.
4 Mike Bossy
Bossy played ten NHL seasons and helped the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cup championships. Bossy scored a rookie record 53 goals in 1977-78. Bossy reached the fifty goal mark a record nine consecutive seasons and in 1980-81 he scored 50 goals in 50 games, a feat only Maurice Richard had ever accomplished prior. Ailed by chronic back issues, his 38 goal 1986-87 season would be his only sub-fifty goal season in the NHL. Bossy sat out the following season before retiring at the age of 31.
3 Ken Dryden
After spending the majority of his first pro season in the minors, Dryden was a late season call up to the Montreal Canadiens in 1971 and it only took him six games to establish himself as the Habs' number one goalie. He led the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup that spring, picking up the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. The following season he won the Calder Trophy, becoming the only player to win the Conn Smythe before the Calder. Dryden won the Vezina Trophy and led the Canadiens to another Stanley Cup victory in 1973. Before the 1973-74 season, unhappy with his contract, Dryden retired at the age of 26 to pursue law. He returned a year later and played five more seasons, picking up four consecutive Vezina and Stanley Cup victories from 1976-1979. Following the 1979 Cup victory, Dryden retired for good at the age of 31.
2 Mario Lemieux
Lemieux made an immediate impact in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring on his first shift of his first game after stealing the puck from Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque. He won the Calder Trophy in 1984 as the third rookie to reach the 100 point plateau. On New Year's Eve 1988, in the midst of an 85 goal and 114 assist season, Lemieux scored five goals, five different ways. Despite battles with back injuries and Hodgkin's disease, Lemieux won the scoring title six times and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in 1991 and 1992 . Following the 1997 playoffs, Lemieux retired at the age of 31 and was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Over three years later, the now owner of the Penguins, returned to the ice and put up 76 points in 43 games in the 2000-01 season. Lemieux would play parts of four more seasons, including a 91 point campaign in 2002-03, but injury woes persisted and on January 24, 2006 he retired for good at the age of 40.
1 Bobby Orr
Bobby Orr is considered by many to be the greatest player to ever play the game. He revolutionized the position of defense, becoming a dominant force at both ends of the rink. Orr played parts of ten seasons with the Boston Bruins and led them to two Stanley Cup victories. Orr won the Calder Trophy 1967 and won the Norris Trophy in each of the eight seasons that followed. Orr became the first defenseman to reach the 30 and 40 goal plateaus and is the only defenseman in history to win the NHL scoring title, accomplishing the feat in the 1969-70 and 1974-75 seasons. Knee injuries limited Orr to ten games during his final season in Boston, after which he joined the Chicago Blackhawks. Orr would only play 26 games for the Blackhawks over parts of three seasons - none in 1977-78 - before retiring at the age of 30. Orr was the most dominant defenseman the game has ever known and was brought down by knee injuries in the prime of his career, making him the number one hockey player who retired too soon.
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