Many people love the NHL because it is a league that is the perfect mixture of high speed and physical violence. Although the role of the enforcer has seemed to diminish over the past few years, the NHL still does not fail to provide us with wonderful entertainment. However, to draw attention to the past decades when the NHL was truly ruthless, many players unfortunately went through a lot of physical turmoil and it negatively impacted their careers. Some NHLers even had to retire due to the fact that they simply could not recover.
Through this article, we will be looking at fifteen specific players who sadly had this happen to them. This list will provide players that we all have heard of and even a chunk of Hall of Famers who we all loved and respected. The most common reason for why these players lost their careers was mainly due to fact that they experienced many concussions and simply jumped back on the ice too quickly. Now with the advancement of knowledge with concussions and CTE, one should hope that these depressing occurrences do not happen to today’s superstars.
Nonetheless, here is a list of 15 NHL players who ended their careers far too soon and the reasons behind them.
15 Steve Moore
During the early 2000s, Steve Moore was starting to develop into a reliable two-way forward with a strong physical edge to his game. After spending four seasons at Harvard University, Moore got his big time break as a full time NHLer during the 2003-04 season, but sadly, that would be his only complete season as a professional.
During that season, Moore was jumped from behind by Vancouver Canucks forward, Todd Bertuzzi, and suffered a major concussion and had three fractured neck vertebrae. This attack was in retaliation of a dirty hit he put on the Canucks’ captain, Markus Naslund. This also resulted in the end of Moore’s career and today, he has noted that he still feels the effects of it, both physically and mentally.
14 Rich Peverley
Rich Peverley had a very underrated and short NHL career, but the impact he left on the teams he played for were always respected. After a short stint with the Nashville Predators, Peverley became a solid depth player for the Atlanta Thrashers and was later an integral part of the Boston Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup run. However, it went downhill from there.
After being traded to the Dallas Stars during the 2013 offseason, Peverley fell into cardiac arrest during the middle of a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and never played another NHL game today. Although he never was a superstar, he was an extremely gifted two-way forward and had many more years left in the tank.
13 Derek Boogaard
Derek Boogaard was one the scariest players to ever play in the NHL due to his gigantic size and elite fighting ability. At 6’8’’, Boogaard ‘s primary role in the NHL was to be an enforcer and to protect the stars on his team. Due to this, Boogaard was absolutely adored by fans and was well respected around the league.
Tragedy struck during the 2011 offseason when Boogaard unexpectedly passed away in his house at the young age of 28. After an autopsy, it was revealed that Boogaard died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and oxycodone. His death shocked the entire NHL world and, even though many disliked him as a rival, they all were saddened by the event.
12 Marc Savard
Marc Savard was a late blooming superstar in the NHL, but when he hit his prime, there were not many better playmakers in the NHL. After having average seasons with the Calgary Flames and New York Rangers, Savard found his game and became an elite player with the Atlanta Thrashers. However, his time as a well-known superstar came when he played for the Boston Bruins.
Sadly, during the 2009-10 season, Savard was cheapshotted by Matt Cooke and it resulted in his first serious concussion. Even though Savard would return, his play never returned to the same level and late in the 2011 season, he got a career ending concussion from a hit by former teammate, Matt Hunwick. Savard would never play again after this incident, but at least had his name put on the 2011 Stanley Cup.
11 Vladimir Konstantinov
Vladimir Konstantinov was a very huge piece of the Detroit Red Wings success during the 1990s due to his great defensive skills and big physical presence. Konstantinov valued playing the defensive end more than the offensive side of the game, but still was a very productive player all-around. He was beloved in Detroit and was part of “The Russian Five.”
After the Red Wings 1997 Stanley Cup Championship, Konstantinov had emerged into a franchise defenseman with a lot of upside. However, due that summer, Konstantinov sadly got into a severe car crash and was in a coma for weeks. He would eventually wake up, but had serious head injuries and never was able to play another NHL game again.
10 Keith Primeau
Keith Primeau was one of the best powerforwards during the 1990s and early 2000s because he had the ability to mix great physical play with offensive production. Due to this, Primeau was well respected by every team he played on and was heavily relied on to be a strong leader in the dressing room. Yet, injuries would soon get in the way.
Primeau throughout his career suffered from concussions, but found a way to push past them each time. Yet, during the beginning of the 2005-06 season, Primeau got a major concussion and would never play another game again. This was a huge loss for the Philadelphia Flyers because he was their captain at the time and one of their top players.
9 Paul Kariya
Paul Kariya was one the most beloved and talented hockey players during the 1990s and early 2000s. He will forever be remembered as one of the key players who made the Anaheim Ducks a relevant NHL franchise and for being a dominant force in the league. Kariya also was a very clutch playoff performer, especially during the 2003 NHL Stanley Cup Finals when he scored a goal after being injured.
Like many players on this list so far, Kariya suffered from numerous concussions during his playing career. Although he now is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, It is clear that Kariya could have accomplished so much more if he had not been injured. He was forced to retire young 2011 season and it was clear he had more in the tank.
8 Pat Lafontaine
Pat Lafontaine is by far one of the best American hockey players to have ever played in the NHL. Lafontaine was a pure playmaker and had numerous seasons where he produced over a point per game, which is truly a spectacular feat. After lacing up the skates for all three New York teams, he is also greatly respected in that area.
Although Lafontaine had some amazing stats in the NHL, he spent a large part of his career hampered with concussion problems. Like many players, he incorrectly tried to play through the injuries. It all finally caught up to him during the late '90s when he experienced a handful of concussions. The final nail in the coffin was when he got his last concussion when he collided with teammate Mike Keane.
7 Peter Forsberg
Peter Forsberg was another elite center in the NHL and for a short time was considered to be the best player in the entire NHL. Forsberg is most known for his outstanding tenure with the Colorado Avalanche, which resulted in two Stanley Cup Championships. Him and Joe Sakic formed the best one-two punch in the NHL for almost a decade.
Yet, as his career progressed, Forsberg became very injury prone and saw his play drop a tad bit. After leaving the Avalanche after the 2004-05 Lockout, Forsberg never played another full season and only made it past 40 games one time. Due to bad foot problems and ankle injuries, Forsberg finally gave up and decided to retire after another failed comeback in the 2010-11 season.
6 Mike Bossy
Mike Bossy is arguably the best pure sniper to have ever played in the NHL. Throughout his entire career, when healthy, Bossy scored at least 50 to 60 plus goals each season and was the face of the New York Islanders dynasty. Bossy was far one his way to set the NHL goals record, but sadly, his injury problems caught up to him.
In Bossy’s last season in the NHL, he only played in 63 games, but still managed to score 38 goals. At the age of 30, Bossy decided to retire because he simply could not play through the pain he was experiencing anymore. This was truly heartbreaking for the Islanders as the team never seemed to reach glory again once he left.
5 Cam Neely
Cam Neely hit all the qualifications that the Boston Bruins wanted in a franchise player and as a result, was an absolute superstar. Although Neely was a gifted goal scorer, he also was one of the most physical presences in the league and was never afraid to fight. Neely became one of the most beloved Bruins ever in their history.
Yet, as with every player on this list, Neely suffered from numerous injuries throughout his career and it stunted his success as player. After suffering a severe knee injury during the 1991 Stanley Cup Playoffs from a dirty check by Penguins’ defenseman, Ulf Samuelsson, Neely never went on to play a full NHL season and was forced to retire at age 31.
4 Pavel Bure
Pavel Bure was a spectacular sniper in the NHL and is considered one of the best Russian players to have ever played in the NHL. When healthy, Bure quickly grew into a scoring machine. He led the NHL in goals three times in his short NHL career and was always a threat on the ice because of this.
As his career progressed, Bure’s knee took a lot of damage and that ultimately was what ended his career so abruptly. During his final stint with the New York Rangers, Bure had to receive knee surgery, but the complications from it made it impossible to player. Bure ended his career with only playing 702 games, but had a whopping 437 goals. He easily could have been a top-5 leader in goals all time if he stayed healthy.
3 Eric Lindros
Eric Lindros was one of the most dominant forces to have ever played the game and changed the way the NHL looked at power forwards forever. Lindros used his large size to grow into one of the greatest players to have ever played the game. During the 1990s, Lindros was unstoppable with the Philadelphia Flyers and overall was just an intimidating force.
Yet, Lindros’ physical edge is what ultimately started to end his career. Lindros was very injury prone and had suffered from numerous concussions as his career progressed. However, Lindros’ career would never be the same when he was hit blindside hit by Scott Stevens during the 1999-2000 playoffs. Lindros would suffer with head issues the rest of his career and ended up retiring at age 34.
2 Mario Lemieux
Arguably the best player to ever put on an NHL jersey that was not number 99, Mario Lemieux was an absolute force in the NHL. From the start of his career, Lemieux consistently put up close numbers to Wayne Gretzky and was the main reason why the Pittsburgh Penguins had so much success during the 1990s. His 199 points in the 1988-89 season was by far the best season by a player who was not Wayne Gretzky.
Sadly, during the 1992-93 season, Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgson’s lymphoma. Although he was able to beat the cancer and even return that same season, Lemieux started to experience great fatigue from the after effects of the treatment and eventually retired after the 1996-97 season. Although Lemieux would come back during the 2000-01 season, he would never be able to finish a complete season before retiring in 2005.
1 Bobby Orr
Whether you love him or hate him, Bobby Orr is the best defenseman to have ever played in the NHL. Orr was an absolute superstar during his time in the NHL and no one could stop him. During his stint with the Bruins, Orr won the Norris Trophy a record eight consecutive seasons and had over 100 points five times.
As Orr’s career continued, he began to suffer a lot of knee injuries and it ultimately is what deteriorated his career. By the time Orr signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, he had issues even simply walking and tried his hardest to push through the pain, but time inevitably caught up to him. Orr would end up playing only 36 games from 1975-1979 before finally retiring at the young age of 31.