Being a professional hockey player comes at a physical cost. From concussions to worn-down joints, the game sure does take a toll on its athletes. From sluggers to superstars, every player on the ice assumes the risk of injury and in a game as fast and emotional as hockey, it is inevitable that injuries will occur. Today’s athletes train harder than ever before not only to be stronger, but also to be more durable and withstand injuries. With that being said, injuries in the NHL are also at an all-time high, so, sadly, sometimes careers are cut short. Even some of the best players aren’t immune. For example, who knows what Eric Lindros could have done had he stuck around another decade.
However, some of hockey’s most intriguing legacies are the ones left half-written. Due to injuries, many players throughout NHL history have struggled to retire on their own terms. We’ve all seen franchise players and childhood heroes hang up their skates years before they were due. What does this mean? It means that shots weren’t taken, goals weren’t scored and records weren’t broken. We can only wonder what certain players may have been. To this day, people still believe that Bobby Orr or Mario Lemieux could have surpassed some of Wayne Gretzky records had they been afforded a few more seasons.
Some careers can be ruined over the course of multiple injuries whereas others can be ended in just split-second. Either way, it is hard to forget moments like these, when a hit or a fight can leave a player so vulnerable that his career could be on the line. So let’s take a look at the top 15 NHLer’s whose careers have been affected and ultimately ruined due to injuries.
15 Nick Kypreos
Former New York Rangers tough guy and current sportscaster, Nick Kypreos played eight scrappy seasons in the NHL before having to retire prematurely with post-concussion syndrome. Kypreos certainly wasn’t the flashiest guy on the ice but he was a valued fourth-liner and a solid contributor nonetheless, as Kypreos averaged about a penalty and a half a game.
Kypreos’ final concussion occurred playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1997. In the last fight of his NHL career, Kypreos was knocked out by a former Rangers teammate, Ryan VandenBussche.
14 Keith Primeau
The former Philadelphia Flyers centre, Keith Primeau, was diagnosed with four concussions over the course of his 15 seasons between the Red Wings, Whalers, Hurricanes and Flyers. Primeau totalled 619 points before his final head injury forced him into an early retirement just nine games into the 2005-06 season.
In his last five seasons, Primeau wore the letter “C” on his jersey and recorded 213 points in 289 games with the Flyers.
13 Doug Gilmour
Although Doug Gilmour managed to play 20 seasons in the NHL, like most professional athletes, Gilmour couldn’t leave the league on his own terms.
After winning the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989 and bringing the Toronto Maple Leafs back into contention in the early '90s, Gilmour bounced around the league playing for the Devils, Blackhawks, Sabres and Canadiens. After returning to Toronto in 2003, the beloved Leaf played just 4 minutes 51 seconds before sustaining a career-ending knee injury.
Gilmour would finish his career 18th among the all-time scoring leaders with 1,414 points.
12 Rick DiPietro
Taken by the New York Islanders in the 2000 NHL entry draft, Rick DiPietro was the first goalie to be picked first overall in the history of the draft. Six years later, the Isles’ signed DiPietro to the longest and most expensive contract in goaltending history.
After signing his 15-year, $67.5 million deal with the Islanders; DiPietro played just two full seasons before undergoing knee surgery. Following the 2007-08 season, DiPietro racked up multiple knee, groin and hernia surgeries, which limited him to just 50 games over the next five seasons with the Islanders.
The Islanders bought out their former All-Star goalie’s contract in 2013. Since then DiPietro was signed to a professional tryout contract with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) and was later dropped by the team.
11 Al MacInnis
Al MacInnis’ 22-year-long career came to an immediate and rather unexpected end at the beginning of the 2003-04 season with the St. Louis Blues. MacInnis played just three games that season before being diagnosed with a detached retina in one eye. This was a result of a high stick he had taken in 2001. Despite playing for just over two decades of professional hockey, MacInnis showed no signs of slowing down. In fact, he had just come off his best season offensively in nearly 10 years.
MacInnis was a 12-time All-Star, won the Con Smythe Trophy and the James Norris Memorial Trophy. MacInnis is also the third highest scoring defensemen in NHL history.
10 Scott Stevens
In the prime of his 22-year career, former New Jersey Devil Scott Stevens was one of the NHL’s best defensemen. Unfortunately for Stevens and fans alike, concussions and head injuries took their toll on the latter part of his fast-paced, hard-hitting career. Stevens planned to hang up his skates after the 2003-04 season, but was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome early that season forcing him to hang ‘em up almost a season early.
The Devils’ former star, and current co-head coach, was a 13-time All-Star and won three Stanley Cups during his playing days in New Jersey.
9 Pavel Bure
If one thing separated Pavel Bure from some of hockey’s best, it was a series of chronic knee injuries limiting him to just 12 seasons in the NHL. In that time, the Russian Rocket tallied 779 points in 702 games averaging 1.11 points per game and his .623 goals-per-game average is fourth among the top 100 goal scorers in NHL history.
Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry said, “[Bure] took his chances.” According to Cherry, it was Bure’s explosive, high-flying style that ultimately ended his career at the age of 32.
8 Peter Forsberg
Over the course of his 18-year career, Peter Forsberg played 13 seasons. At the age of 38, Forsberg retired with 636 assists and 885 points in just 708 games.
After being drafted sixth overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1991 NHL entry draft, Forsberg and other assets were traded to the Quebec Nordiques in return for Eric Lindros.
Forsberg’s ankle became a problem early on in his career, and eventually sidelined him for the entire 2001-02 season. Forsberg would recover only to miss the majority of the 2003-04 season with groin and hip injuries. Despite nagging injuries, Forsberg won two Stanley Cups and averaged well over a point per game over his nine-year span with the Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche.
Forsberg bounced around the league, playing in Philadelphia and Nashville before returning to the Avalanche in 2007 but would play only 11 games over four years.
7 Cam Neely
Cam Neely, the Boston Bruins current president of operations, only played 13 short seasons between the Vancouver Canucks and the Bruins before retiring at the age of 31. Bam-Bam Cam faced a career-changing knee injury after taking a hit from Ulf Samuelsson of the Pittsburgh Penguins in game three of the 1991 Prince of Whales Conference Finals.
Neely appeared in 22 games over the next two seasons and never played a full season after. The Bruins’ star was nearly a point-per-game player with 694 points in 726 games when he retired early in 1996.
6 Paul Kariya
Over his 15-season-career between the Ducks, Avalanche, Predators and Blues, Paul Kariya averaged exactly a point per game, scoring 989 points in 989 games.
Kariya sustained his first concussion in the 1997-98 season against the San Jose Sharks. The injury kept him to just 22 games that season. Kariya would immediately recover, playing all 82 games in the following season scoring 101 points.
Later on in his career, Kariya would suffer more concussions, until the last one he suffered at the hands of Patrick Kaleta forced him to retire with the St. Louis Blues in 2011.
5 Pat LaFontaine
Pat LaFontaine was an elite hockey player in his time. Not many players have reached 1,000 points in fewer than 900 games, but LaFontaine is one of them. His career seemingly came to an end after 14 seasons when he was hit by Penguins enforcer Francois Leroux. Following that body check, LaFontaine was immediately diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.
However, LaFontaine had one more season in him. The Buffalo Sabres refused to clear him, so he played his 15th and final season with the New York Rangers. It was a good one, as Lafontaine scored 62 points in 67 games, but he suffered a final concussion that ended his career.
4 Bobby Orr
Despite playing only 657 games, Bobby Orr is already considered to be the best defensemen to ever lace up a pair of skates. Maybe that has to do with his 1.393 point-per-game average, which is the fourth best average in NHL history.
Even with two rusty knees, Orr was always the fastest player on the ice. He would lead the offensive rush every time yet would never get caught up ice after the puck goes the other way.
By 1978, Orr had 915 points, eight Norris Trophies, three Hart trophies, two Stanley Cups and countless knee operations that forced him to retire early.
3 Mario Lemieux
Like Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux is considered to be one the best hockey players to ever play the game. With only 915 games to his name, Lemieux finished eighth in All-time scoring with 1,723 points. Had Lemieux remained healthy over the course of his 21-year-long career, he may have broken a few of Wayne Gretzky’s records. But sadly, we’ll never know.
Lemieux was chosen first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1984 NHL entry draft and never looked back. Lemieux recorded six straight 100-point seasons to begin his career. Unfortunately that streak came to end when Lemieux was held to just 26 games in the 1990-91 season due to a back injury. Lemieux still averaged almost two points a game that season scoring 45 points.
After being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma disease and another back injury in 1993, Lemieux would miss the 1994-95 season and announce his retirement following the 1996-97 season. Lemieux returned to the NHL in the year 2000, but would retire for the last time in 2007, after sustaining two hip injuries and being diagnosed an irregular heart beat.
2 Steve Moore
We all remember the infamous sucker punch from Todd Bertuzzi that ended Steve Moore’s career after just three seasons. In a game against the Vancouver Canucks, during the 2003-04 season, Bertuzzi followed Moore up the ice before assaulting him.
Moore’s legacy may not have been the same as some of the other names mentioned on this list, but it is the way that his career came to an end that makes it noteworthy.
Moore left that game with three cracked vertebrae and a concussion and would never play another game, while Bertuzzi would later plead guilty to assault charges.
1 Eric Lindros
Eric Lindros was one of the most sought after prospects in NHL history during the 1991 entry draft. He was acquired by the Philadelphia Flyers in one of the biggest hockey deals ever made. In return for Lindros, the Quebec Nordiques received Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Mike Ricci and other assets.
It didn’t take long for Lindros to hit his stride in the NHL, winning the Hart Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award in 1995. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after that when injuries began to take a toll in his career. Concussions bugged him in 1998 and he sat him out for an entire season in 2000-01. After that, he was never really the same. Lindros’ legendary run would gradually slow down before he retired in early 2007 with post-concussion syndrome.
Lindros managed to score 865 points in 760 games played before retiring at the age of 34, but who knows how many more he could have scored without all the injuries.