Ca­reers cut short

A look at some mem­o­rable NHL play­ers who left the game too soon


A num­ber of NHL ca­reers have been cut short for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. In the lat­est edi­tion of NHL 100, a weekly se­ries from The Cana­dian Press, we look at some of the play­ers who left the game too soon or were never able to reach their full po­ten­tial.


“Su­per Mario” played parts of 17 sea­sons in the NHL, but his ca­reer left the hockey world want­ing more. If Lemieux had been healthy, many like to ask, would he have ap­proached Wayne Gret­zky’s records? The su­per­star cen­tre for the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins suited up for just 915 reg­u­lar-sea­son games from the time he en­tered the league in 1984 un­til his se­cond re­tire­ment in 2006, thanks in part to a bat­tle with can­cer, as well as back and hip prob­lems. Lemieux re­tired in 1997, but re­joined to the Pen­guins in 2000. All told, Lemieux scored 690 goals and added 1,033 as­sists for 1,723 points while win­ning two Stan­ley Cups with Pitts­burgh. He finished with 1,134 fewer points than Gret­zky, but his per-game av­er­age was 1.88, just 0.04 back of The Great One.


The only de­fence­man to ever win the NHL scor­ing ti­tle — he ac­tu­ally cap­tured it twice — Orr was forced to re­tire at 30 be­cause of knee prob­lems. He played 10 sea­sons with the Bos­ton Bru­ins, win­ning the Stan­ley Cup in 1970 and 1972. Orr’s clinch­ing goal in over­time of the 1970 fi­nal is one of the most mem­o­rable mo­ments in league his­tory. He even­tu­ally signed with the Chicago Black­hawks, but his wonky left knee wouldn’t let him con­tinue. Orr re­tired in 1978 with 270 goals and 645 as­sists for 915 points in just 657 games.


With a unique com­bi­na­tion of size, speed and skill, Lin­dros’s ca­reer spanned from 1992 to 2007. Af­ter forc­ing a trade from the Que­bec Nordiques to the Philadel­phia Fly­ers, Lin­dros ter­ror­ized the league, but con­cus­sion prob­lems meant he never reached his full po­ten­tial. The cen­tre­piece of Philadel­phia’s famed “Le­gion of Doom” line, Lin­dros would leave the Fly­ers af­ter sit­ting out the en­tire 2000-01 sea­son. He went on play out his ca­reer with three other teams, fin­ish­ing with 865 points (372 goals, 493 as­sists) in 760 games.


Knee in­juries cut Bure’s ca­reer short. “The Rus­sian Rocket” played parts of 12 sea­sons, burst­ing onto the scene with the Van­cou­ver Canucks in 1991. He would only suit up for 702 games, reg­is­ter­ing 779 points (437 goals, 342 as­sists), but his blaz­ing speed when healthy left an in­deli­ble mark.


Neely also saw his time in the NHL cut short af­ter tak­ing a knee-on-knee hit in the 1991 play­offs. The bruis­ing power for­ward played just 22 games over the next two sea­sons and would even­tu­ally re­tire in 1996 at 31 be­cause of a de­gen­er­a­tive hip con­di­tion. Neely finished with 694 points (395 goals, 299 as­sists) in 726 games.


A full-time NHLer from 1952 to 1974, Hor­ton died in a car ac­ci­dent while he still play­ing at age 44. Best known out­side of hockey for the restau­rant chain that bears his name, Hor­ton played 1,446 games with four teams, win­ning four Stan­ley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs.


Barilko was just 24 when he died in a plane crash while on a fish­ing trip in 1951. Im­mor­tal­ized in the Trag­i­cally Hip’s song “50 Mis­sion Cap,” the de­fence­man’s last goal won the Cup for Toronto. Barilko won four ti­tles in his five NHL sea­sons, but the Leafs didn’t win an­other Cup un­til the year his body was found with the plane’s wreck­age in north­ern On­tario in 1962.


In the lat­est edi­tion of NHL 100, a weekly se­ries from The Cana­dian Press, we look at some of the play­ers who left the game too soon or were never able to reach their full po­ten­tial. Team Lemieux coaches Bobby Orr, left, and Mario Lemieux laugh dur­ing first pe­riod NHL All-Star Celebrity Shootout against Team Gret­zky in Los An­ge­les in a Jan. 28 file photo.

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