Making it to the National Hockey League is the ultimate goal of everyone who laces up their skates, but only a small handful ever get to live out that dream. The players who are lucky enough to make it to the NHL, never want that journey to end, but stopping Father Time is just not possible. All that these players know, is being a professional athlete, and although you can still play competitive sports after retirement, nothing compares to playing against the top players in the world.
All of these players on this list had great NHL careers, some even had Hall of Fame worthy careers. What all these players also have in common was no matter how good their careers were, they all played long enough to where their play went into a decline. Their mind probably said they still wanted to play, but their body was telling them otherwise. In each of these cases, the player ignored what their body was telling them. If these players had retired sooner, they would have avoided having their careers somewhat tarnished.
Here 15 NHL players who should have retired before they tarnished their careers.
16 Sergei Gonchar
During the 2000s it was hard to find an offensive defenseman as consistent as Sergei Gonchar. He scored at least fifty points in all but one season from the 1999-00 campaign until the 2009-10 season. The 2008-09 season was the only season he failed to reach fifty points, and that was because he only managed to play 25 games due to injury.
Gonchar left the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins offense in 2010 and signed with the Ottawa Senators. Gonchar would play three seasons with the Senators, where his numbers weren't outstanding, but he still recorded a more than respectable 91 points in 186 games. Gonchar was traded to Dallas in 2013, his first season with the Stars would be the least productive season of his career, he recorded just 22 points. Gonchar split the 2014-15 season with Dallas and Montreal where he put up just 14 points in 48 games. Gonchar would have a try-out with Pittsburgh in 2015, but he failed to make the cut, which was not surprising considered he was a just a shell of his former self.
15 Dan Cleary
There was a time where it looked like Dan Cleary was going to be a complete bust. He was originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks with 13th pick in the 1997 draft. Cleary played just 41 games with the 'Hawks, registering a measly nine points before being traded to Edmonton. Cleary's production increased slightly with the Oilers, but the team expected more from a former high draft pick. Cleary played one forgettable season in Phoenix before signing with Detroit in 2004. It was while with the Red Wings that Cleary established himself as a bonafied NHL player. His career NHL season came in 2010-11, when he recorded a career-high 26 goals and 46 points.
In recent years, injuries and age have caught up to Cleary, which made his production fall greatly. In the 2014-15 season, he played just 17 games for the Red Wings, and not because he was necessarily hurt, he was actually a healthy scratch for most of the season. You wouldn't think the Red Wings would bring Cleary back for the 2015-16 season, but that is exactly what they did. The Red Wing's management only did this as a favour. Cleary had verbally agreed to an $8 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers back in 2014, but the Red Wings told him to hold off, as once they got they salary cap in order they would sign him. Detroit would end up signing him to one year deal only.
For the past few seasons, the Wings have been giving Cleary an NHL contract based on good faith alone.
14 Chris Chelios
Chris Chelios played a whopping 26 NHL seasons in his career, which was probably at least one too many. Chelios started out his career as a member of the Montreal Canadiens where in his seven seasons with the club, he established himself among the league's best defenseman. Despite being a Norris Trophy winner, Montreal decided to trade him to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1990. Chelios would go one to become one of the best defensemen in Blackhawks history, adding another two Norris Trophies to his already stellar resume. In 1999, at the age of 37, Chelios was traded to the Detroit Red Wings. One would think that he would only have a few seasons left in him at best, but Chelios would end up playing a miraculous ten seasons in the Motor City.
Although Chelios played a significant role in his first few years with the Red Wings, by the end of his time in Detroit he became a part-time player. In the 2008-09 season, his last with the Red Wings, Chelios only suited up for 28 games. It was looking like Chelios was finally going to call it a career, but apparently he had other plans. With Detroit no longer wanting his services, Chelios started the 2009-10 season with the Atlanta Thrashers AHL farm team. Chelios played so well that he earned a contract with the Thrashers. He would only play seven scoreless games for the Thrashers before finally hanging up his skates at the age of 48. Chelios may have been in amazing shape for a guy his age, but he should have called it a career after his time in Detroit ended.
13 Peter Forsberg
Peter Forsberg played just 708 games during his NHL career, but when he was in his prime and healthy, he was one the best players in the game. Forsberg made a name for himself in just his second NHL season while playing for the Colorado Avalanche in 1995-96. He recorded an incredible 116 points and added another 21 in the playoffs to help Colorado capture the Stanley Cup. Forsberg would win another Cup with the Avalanche in 2001, and would lead the league in points during the 2002-03 season.
After the lockout ended in 2005, Forsberg signed with the Philidelphia Flyers. This is where Forsberg's injuries started to pile up. In his two seasons with the Flyers, he missed over 40 games with foot problems. After a brief stint with the Nashville Predators, Forsberg rejoined the Avalanche near the end of the 2008-09 season. Although Forsberg showed he was still was an offensive threat by recorded 14 points in nine games, he announced his retirement from the NHL at the end of the season.
With all of his foot problems it seemed like Forsberg made the right the decision by retiring. However, Forsberg made the wrong decision by coming out of retirement to rejoin the Avalanche in January of 2011. Forsberg played just two games, and was a minus four, before he hung up his skates for good due his never ending foot injuries.
12 Curtis Joseph
Curtis Joseph played 943 games during his NHL career, not bad for somebody who was never even drafted. Joseph got his big break while playing for the St.Louis Blues, establishing himself as their starter during the 1991-92 season. In 1995 he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers, where he would take his place among the best goaltenders in the league. After three seasons with the Oilers, Joseph would sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he would become a fan favourite. "Cujo" played an integral role in helping the Maple Leafs reach the Eastern Conference finals in 1999, and 2002.
After his run in Toronto, Joseph was a solid goaltender for both the Detroit Red Wings and Phoenix Coyotes. However, his last season with the Coyotes in 2006-07 was one of the worst of his career. He posted an 18-31-2 record with a 3.19 GAA, and a .893 save percentage. Those numbers would suggest that Joseph should have called it a career at that point. Joeseph would sit out most of the 2008-08 season before a great performance at the Spengler Cup earned him a shot with the Calgary Flames. He played nine games with the Flames where his numbers were mediocre at best. Joesph decided he wanted to play one more season, so he once again signed with Toronto. It was rather clear the Leafs were not going to be a good team in 2008-09, so the signing of Joseph was more of a gift to the fans than helping the team be more competitive. Joseph's last season ended up being his worst statistically.
11 Mario Lemieux
When it comes to the greatest player to ever play the game, there are only a few players you can make a legitimate argument for. Mario Lemieux is definitely one of those players. When it came to the 1980s and 90s, the only player that could hold a candle to Wayne Gretzky was Lemieux. He had four seasons where scored more than 150 points, including an incredible 199 points during the 1988-89 season. Unfortunately, Lemieux suffered numerous health problems and retired in 1997.
Lemieux would not play for three seasons before making a remarkable comeback in the middle of the 2000-01 season. He managed to put up 76 points in just 45 games. Lemieux' injuries would catch up to him in the 2001-02 season, as he only suited up for 24 games. The following season, it was looking like Lemieux was on his way to leading the NHL in points, but once again injuries caught up to him near the end of the year. The 2003-04 season was almost a complete wash for him as he only played ten games.
Despite missing 145 games over the previous three seasons, Lemieux decided to resume his career after the lockout ended in 2005. He played 26 games before announcing his retirement mid-season. Lemieux proved to everyone he still had it when he first made a comeback in 2000. However, he did no service to his body by continuing to play. He should have retired following the 2003-04 season, as he already had accomplished everything there was to do in his career.
10 Teemu Selanne
After the 2003-04 NHL season, it was looking like the career of the once dominant Teemu Selanne was over. Selanne was coming off the worst season of his career while playing for the Colorado Avalanche, recording just 32 points. The 2004-05 NHL season was cancelled due to the ongoing labour negotiations, so Selanne took the year off to rest and get healthy. Taking the year off did amazing things for Selanne as he had an incredible season for the Anaheim Ducks, recording a fantastic 90 points.
Selanne would continue to be a point per game player for the Ducks up until the 2010-11 season. During the 2011-12 season, Selanne saw his production fall to 66 points in 82 games. Although those numbers were great, especially for a guy in his forty's, it was an early sign that Selanne age was catching up to him. Selanne would play half of the 2012-13 season, scoring just 24 points in 46 games. This would have been the perfect time for Selanne to call it a career, but Selanne still loved the game and did not want to call it quits just yet. Selanne would play one more year for the Ducks where he played a decreased role. Selanne ended up have the worst offensive year of his career, registering just 27 points in 64 games.
9 Grant Fuhr
When it comes to goaltenders who had success during the 1980s, you would hard-pressed to find one more successful than Grant Fuhr. During his ten seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, he won an incredible five Stanley Cups. After leaving the Oilers in 1991, Fuhr struggled to find a permanent stop as he had brief stints with Toronto, Buffalo, and Los Angeles before finally settling in St.Louis. Fuhr was an absolute workhorse for the Blues, playing 152 games in his first two seasons. Fuhr's age and health would eventually get to him as his numbers slid in his final seasons in St.Louis. Fuhr was nowhere near the goalie he was during his prime with the Oilers when he signed a one-year deal with the Calgary Flames in 1999. Fuhr would have by far the worst statistical year of his career with the Flames, and would actually finish the season in the minors. This embarrassing season could have been avoided had Fuhr took his last couple of poor seasons in St.Louis as a sign that he was no longer an NHL calibre goaltender.
Fuhr was nowhere near the goalie he was during his prime with the Oilers when he signed a one-year deal with the Calgary Flames in 1999. Fuhr would have by far the worst statistical year of his career with the Flames, and would actually finish the season in the minors. This embarrassing season could have been avoided had Fuhr took his last couple of poor seasons in St.Louis as a sign that he was no longer an NHL calibre goaltender.
8 Bryan Trottier
Bryan Trottier had as successful an NHL career as one could ask for. He played an integral role in the New York Islanders winning four straight Stanley Cups during the 1980s. The 1980 playoffs were particularly special for Trottier as he led all players in goals with 12, and points with 29. Trottier would be awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for his efforts. He would go on to play fourteen fantastic seasons for the Islanders before signing with Pittsburgh in 1992.
At this point in his career, Trottier was no longer the same player he was during his earlier years with the Islanders , but the Penguins brought him to provide leadership. Trottier's first two seasons with the Penguins were the worst offensive years of his career. However, his on and off ice leadership helped the Penguins capture back to back Stanley Cups. Trottier would retire following his sixth Stanley Cup win. Trottier took a job in the Islanders front office, but after just one year off, he rejoined the Penguins for the 1993-94 season. It was clear that his decision to comeback was not a good one. Trottier was almost a complete non-factor on the ice recording just 15 points in 41 games.
6 Dave Andreychuk
Dave Andreychuk played a remarkable 23 NHL seasons in his career. During his career, he established himself among the greatest NHL goal scorers . He scored at least 20 goals in nineteen seasons. Andreychuk currently ranks 14th on the NHL all-time goal list with 640 career goals. Although during the latter part of his career, Andrechuk was no longer the same dominant goal scorer that he was in his prime, he was still good for around 20 goals and 40 points a season. More important than stats was that fact Andreychuk was one of the best leaders in the game. He played a huge role on and off the ice in helping the Tampa Bay Lightning capture the Stanley Cup in 2004. It's not too often that a player has an opportunity to end his career by finally lifting the Stanley Cup over his head, but Andreychuk had that exact chance. However, Andreychuk decided to return to the Lightning after the lockout ended in 2005 at the ripe old age of 42. As it was kind of expected, Andreychuk struggled. In 42 games he managed just 18 points before he was
5 Martin Brodeur
When it comes to the greatest NHL goalies of all-time, Martin Brodeur's name rightfully deserves a spot near or at the top of the list. He ranks number one all-time in games played (1266), wins (691), and shutouts (125). Of his twenty-one NHL seasons, Brodeur played 20 of them for the New Jersey Devils. He was a huge factor in turning the Devils into a perennial Stanley Cup contender during the 1990s and early 2000s. In total, the Devils won three Stanley Cups with Brodeur playing a significant part in each win.
The New Jersey Devils remained a strong team for most of the 2000s, even making it all the way to the 2012 Stanley Cup finals, before bowing out to the Los Angeles Kings in six games. After that season, the Devils started to regress as a team, and so did Brodeur. In 2013, the Devils were preparing for Brodeur's retirement when they acquired the much younger Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks. The two goalies would split starts in the 2013-14 season, with Schneider outplaying Brodeur by a landslide. Nobody would have been upset if Brodeur ended his career after that season, retiring a lifelong Devil in the process. However, Brodeur thought he had more in the tank and signed with the St. Louis Blues. It was clear that Brodeur didn't quite have what it took to be an NHL goalie anymore. He played just six games with the Blues, where posted some of the worst numbers of his career before announcing his retirement.
4 Paul Coffey
When it comes to offensive defenseman, there may not have been a better one in NHL history than Paul Coffee. He currently ranks second only to Raymond Bourque in all-time points by a defenseman with 1531. Coffey had some of the most productive seasons by defenseman in NHL history, hitting the 100 point-plateau five times in his career. The 1985-86 season was particularly special for Coffey, as he set a record that still stands today for goals by a defenseman in a season with 48. His 138 points that season was only one point shy of tying the legendary Bobby Orr for the all-time single season record.
Coffey remained one of the top offensive defensemen in the game up until the 1995-96 season, when he recorded 74 points while playing for the Detroit Red Wings. Coffee would never be the same player after that season as his heath and age would hamper his production. After leaving Detroit in 1996, he would go on to play for five different teams, failing to make a significant impact for any. Coffey's last NHL season came in 2000-01, where he played just 18 games for the Boston Bruins while registering a paltry four points.
3 Mike Modano
Mike Modano played an amazing twenty seasons with the Minnesota/Dallas franchise. When his time with the franchise was all said in done, he led the Stars in many all-time stat categories. However, his crowning achievement was playing an integral role in helping Dallas capture the Stanley Cup in 1999. Modano was the Stars offensive leader for many seasons, but near then end of his career, his production started to go on a steep decline. In his last season with the Stars in 2009-10, Modano had the worst offensive season of his career, recording just 30 points. In the last game of the season, Modano received a standing ovation from the Dallas fans. It was looking like Modano would finish his career a lifelong Star. However, Modano felt he had more to give and signed a one-year deal with his home state Detroit Red Wings. It ended up being a miserable season for him in the Motor City, as was struggled with injury, and only managed an insignificant 15 points in 40 games. There are not many players who've had lengthy careers with just one franchise. Modano could have been one of those players had he retired with the Stars a year earlier, like his body was telling him.
2 Jeremy Roenick
During the 1990s there were very few players who were as popular as Jeremy Roenick. He had a very outgoing personality with a big ego to match. Roenick was able to back up his ego with his play on the ice. He started his career with the Chicago Blackhawks where he had three consecutive 100 point seasons. After Chicago, Roenick became the most popular player in the desert with the Phoenix Coyotes. After five great seasons with the Coyotes, Roenick joined the Flyers in 2001. He may not have been as productive as he was early on in his career, but he was still a solid NHL player for Philadelphia. It was after he left the Flyers and joined the Los Angeles Kings where his production took a massive nose dive. In 58 games with the Kings, he recorded a career-low 22 points. Roenick should have taken that as a sign that the game had passed by him, but he kept on playing. He had a second stint with the Coyotes where he scored just 28 points. The following season he joined the Sharks where he did score 14 goals, but still looked like a shell of his former self. He finished his career in 2012-13 with a dreadful 13 point campaign. Roenick was another example of a player who was not cut out for playing in the faster post-lockout NHL.
1 Brett Hull
Brett Hull is one of the greatest goal scorers to ever play the game. He currently ranks fourth on the NHL's all-time goal scoring list with 741 goals. He scored a ton of goals with his incredible slap shot that gave opposing goalies nightmares. Hull started his career with Flames in 1986, but he will always be remembered for his time with the St. Louis Blues, where he scored an astounding 86 goals during the 1990-91 season. After leaving St.Louis in 1998, Hull joined the Dallas Stars were he scored the infamous in the crease Stanley Cup winning goal against the Buffalo Sabres. Hull was still a more than serviceable player when signed with the Red Wings in 2001. Hull's final full NHL season came during the 2003-04 season when he scored a solid 68 points. Hull would sign a contract with the Phoenix Coyotes in the summer of 2004.
The 2004-05 NHL season ended up being completely cancelled due to a labour dispute. Most players would play in Europe in order to remain in game ready shape. However, Hull ended up taking the entire season off. When the NHL started up again 2005, the game was now clearly too fast for Hull. He would only end up playing five games with the Coyotes before calling it a career. This was after the Coyotes went out of the way to un-retire Bobby Hull's number nine jersey for his son Brett to use. Hull should have never came back after the lockout, as it ended up being a waste of his and everybody else's time.