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 â€” he actually captured it twice â€” 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.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press