The Best Player Comebacks in NHL History
With Claude Lemieux attempting a return to the NHL via the San Jose Sharks at the age of 43, this list came to mind. Why would the most hated man to ever put on a NHL jersey try to return to the game after a five year coffee break? Is it boredom? Is it money? Or is it the love of the game that keeps players coming back?
This top 10 list is not only based on players who have told the world that they have retired from the game but also players who should not have played again. We cannot forget about the ones who have suffered serious on-ice injuries or have had to deal with terrible circumstances off the ice. Either way, these guys have shown strength and dedication even after their careers should have come to a halt.
They come out of retirement, get seriously injured on the ice or have to fight for their lives on off-ice situations, but no one should have ever counted them out.
And now, we will not keep you waiting...
#10 – Clint Malarchuk
This goalie got his jugular vein cut during a NHL game in 1989. While watching his own blood leaving his body, all he wanted to do was not die on the ice. Two spectators at the arena suffered heart attacks and many of the hockey players were actually vomiting everywhere on the ice. As bad as the injury was, Malarchuk returned to the ice only four days later against the wishes of all team doctors. He had a good return to the game but was clearly never the same as time went on.
#9 – Phil Kessel
Here we have a guy who found out he had testicular cancer when he was 19 years old. What’s so remarkable is that he had the surgery and returned to the ice less than a month later. Today he is one of the best players in the NHL, helping his Boston Bruins to an incredible 29-6-4 start with a staggering 40 points thus far.
#8 – Alexandre Daigle
As the only true comeback failure on this list, Daigle was and still is nothing shy of disappointing. The former #1 draft pick played seven seasons in the NHL, slowly fading every year. Then he thought it would be a good idea to quit hockey to become a Hollywood movie star. It took him two years to realize that he is not Brad Pitt and attempted to put the skates on again.
Needless to say, he did have one good season in his short, unsuccessful, over-rated and failed return.
#7 – Teppo Numminen
This guy played nearly 20 seasons in the NHL and than needed open heart surgery before the 2007-2008 season. Somehow he dragged his 39 year old body to recover and get fit to actually play in the final game of the same year. I don’t care who you are, if you get open heart surgery and then continue the same life as before in less than a year, you deserve a standing ovation.
#6 – Bryan Berard
While playing for the Leafs in 2000, Berard accidently took the blade of Marian Hossa’s stick in the eye. Initially in the emergency room he was told that he would either never see again in the eye or completely lose it. Less than a year later and after seven eye surgeries, Berard began to work out again in a successful comeback attempt. He had many one year shifts with many teams and in 2004 and even earned the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his dedication to the sport of hockey.
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#5 – Richard Zednik
One of the most horrific one-ice incidents in the modern day NHL, Zednik’s external carotid artery was accidently sliced by the skate of teammate Olli Jokinen. Incredibly, Zednik instinctively covered his neck and while blood was squirting out of his body, he skated to the bench for help. The amount of blood he lost during those 30 seconds was beyond belief but the fact that he was still alive in the ambulance was even more surprising to everyone. After undergoing emergency surgery that evening, Zednik was in stable condition.
He took the remainder of that season off and has returned to be the same player as he was before with only one difference. Zednik now wears a non-NHL-mandatory neck guard, which he promotes others to wear.
#4 – Gary Roberts
Roberts suffered a severe neck injury that was supposed to end his career back in 1996. This actually forced him to retire that season and to go under the knife. After some 18 months of physiotherapy and conditioning, he came out of retirement to play for the Carolina Hurricanes for the 1997-98 NHL season.
At the age of 42, Roberts has been through a few teams since his comeback but still plays a consistent leadership role. He has even been proclaimed to help Sidney Crosby leadership skills during his tenure in Pittsburgh.
#3 – Dominik Hasek
How many times did this guy retire or threaten to retire? Either way, whenever he was “unsure about the future”, he came back better and played better than the year before.
#2 – Saku Koivu
Koivu has been the heart and soul of the Canadiens ever since he was drafted in 1993. After six successful seasons his luck turned for the worse. In 2000, Koivu was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which was later worsened to cancer. Just like Kessel, the Finnish native was supposed to be out for that entire season but when there’s a will, there’s a way. Koivu returned to play in the final few games of the year and playoffs.
Six years later, Koivu than suffered a serious eye surgery that detached his retina. He went under the knife a few times to repair what he could but his left eye was never be the same. Even after both of these serious circumstances, Koivu’s talent has no depleted one bit.
And my winner for the biggest comeback in NHL history goes to…
#1 – Mario Lemieux
Is there any doubt?
One of the greatest NHL players of all-time has had many serious problems that would have eliminated anyone from ever playing hockey again. He has been through a spinal disc hernia, back surgeries, chronic tendonitis in his hip-flexor which led to such chronic back pains that team trainers tied his skate laces for him.
In 1997, Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma which forced him to retire. Three years later he made a return to the game and in his first game back, he scored a goal and added three assists. That year he still managed to score 76 points and 91 points a few seasons later. Not only did this show his natural talent and love for the game but also his dedication to the franchise in Pittsburgh.
Sadly, he was forced to retire again for precautionary reasons when it was found he had an atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat). Just imagine the numbers he would have put up if he was as healthy as Wayne Gretzky throughout his career.
By Kevin Chaves
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
Find all of Kevin's Best of the NHL articles here at Pro Hockey Fans!
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