Amidst the hubbub over the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Monday, a quiet tweet from RDS writer Ren Lavoie stated that former Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators goaltender Pascal Leclaire had announced his retirement from hockey on the RDS sports show L’Antichambre.
Leclaire, who turned 30 on November 7, leaves with a 61-76-15 record, a .904 save percentage, 2.89 goals-against average and 10 shutouts in 173 NHL games. Picked 8th overall by the Blue Jackets in the 2001 NHL draft, he earned a 45-55-12 record, .907 save percentage and 2.82 GAA in 125 games during his seven seasons with the team.
His best season was the 2007-08 season, his only full one without injury in the NHL. In that year, as he fought for the starting slot with Fredrik Norrena, he went 24-17-6 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.25 GAA. In fact, within the first five weeks of that season, he went 7-2-0 with five shutouts, and his total of nine shutouts for the season was second in the league only to Henrik Lundqvist, who had 10.
“For Pascal, his strength became his weakness,” said St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, who was the Blue Jackets’ coach from 2006 to 2010. “He never quit on any puck. He never gave up on any shot. He was so acrobatic, and it didn’t matter if it was practice or warm-up. I think he got hurt more during practice than in games.”
In March 2009, Leclaire was traded to the Senators for Antoine Vermette after an ankle injury ended his season. He earned a 16-21-3 record in 48 games and two seasons with the Senators, but he missed the entire 2011-12 season because of offseason hip surgery.
Injury haunted his hockey career. There were freak ones, like the puck he took to the side of his face that required surgery and kept him out of action for a month in 2009. He’d had surgery on his groin, ankle, knee and hip over five years’ time. But the chronic hip injury that multiple surgeries couldn’t fix spurred his decision to retire.
What’s in Leclaire’s future? He’s already been working with Newport Sports Management, who represented him during his career, in their offices in Quebec. He’s working alongside another former goaltender, Stefan Fiset, in helping players in the junior leagues. As he told the Columbus Dispatch on Tuesday, it would be a good transition for a post-NHL career because of his desire to stay involved with the sport.
Despite the numerous injuries, Leclaire showed that he had a lightning quickness and athleticism that the best goalies in the NHL possess. Hopefully Blue Jackets fans will get to show him their appreciation once hockey returns to the city.