When Niklas Lidstrom retired from the Detroit Red Wings in June, fans were disappointed but nevertheless lauded a long, wonderful career that will surely place him on the first ballot as soon as he’s eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame. Since then, other long-term players have pondered retirement and decided to stick it out one more year, much to the relief of their fans.
But what would happen to those guys if the NHL implements a lockout as they’ve threatened?
Some may wait out the stoppage while others may play in their home countries. But they all would have to decide if the lockout is the last stand for them, if that season outside the NHL should be their last.
It should be noted that all of the following players mentioned will be unrestricted free agents after the 2012-13 season, played or lost, so what they do is totally their choice.
Evgeni Nabokov and Sergei Gonchar both have one-year contracts and could go back to the KHL if the lockout is prolonged. Given the fact that they’ve each had a less than stellar 2011-12 season, they would be like the kid in gym class who’s picked last in dodgeball – not really wanted. Nikolai Khabibulin could also head to the KHL for the season and then retire, as he’s in his last year of his four-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers.
Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott have comparative situations – they’re both 37 and played nearly the same number of games last season. While Langenbrunner only scored 6 goals in 70 games, Arnott’s goal total was a bit better (17 in 72 games). The big difference is that Arnott is still unsigned in this offseason. He may decide to hang it up if he can’t find a spot in Europe.
Like the Russians, Milan Hejduk could also head overseas. Hejduk is the last of the Colorado Avalanche team that won the Stanley Cup in 2001 and just signed a one-year contract. But he only scored 14 goals last season, which is the lowest goal total he’s had since his rookie year.
Unlike the previous players, Daniel Alfredsson, Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr have all had good seasons and would go out at the top of their game. Alfredsson (27 goals, 32 assists in 75 games) had been rumored to be retiring after last season but decided to come back for one more. Selanne (26 goals, 40 assists in 82 games) will stick it out with the Anaheim Ducks for one more season but is almost guaranteed to retire after that. As for Jagr (19 goals, 35 assists in 73 games), he signed with the Dallas Stars for the season. All three could play in their native countries if a lockout drags on.
Whatever their scoring highs or lows, many fans will think it’s unfair for these players to retire without a proper goodbye. But if there’s no other option, fans may have to wait for some sort of team sendoff to bid them farewell. Only time and a speedy resolution to CBA negotiations will tell if fans will get the chance to see the end of some stellar careers.