Another NHL legend is calling it quits and this time it’s under more heartbreaking circumstances. Paul Kariya is retiring from the NHL after 15 seasons in the league and after a career filled with terrifying head shots that saw him miss plenty of games for it and all of last season thanks to the aftereffects of the damage from concussions.
Kariya finishes his NHL career as a point per game player, something that in itself is rare to find these days. Kariya played 989 games over 15 seasons and finished with 989 points and 402 goals over a career that saw him play for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, and St. Louis Blues. A smaller player with speed to burn, Kariya was a dynamic goal scorer after coming out of the University of Maine. The skills he had were the stuff of legend and the kind of thing that saw him team up with Teemu Selanne in Anaheim to help lead the Ducks to the 2003 Stanley Cup finals.
Kariya issued a statement through his agent Don Baizley announcing his departure from the league:
“Today, I announce my retirement from professional hockey. I would like to thank all of those who have been part of so many great memories – my teammates, coaches, team management and staff. I am also very grateful for the support I have received over the years from the fans, especially those in Anaheim, Colorado, Nashville, and St. Louis. It was my dream to be a professional hockey player in the NHL from my minor hockey days in North Vancouver and Burnaby, through junior hockey in Penticton, college hockey at the University of Maine, and the Canadian National Team. I would not have achieved it without support from all of these people and organizations.”
Kariya’s career wasn’t all goal highlights however as he was also on the receiving end of some of the most disturbing body checks and cheap shots the league has seen. Kariya told The Globe & Mail’s Eric Duhatschek today that he was retiring from hockey and took aim on the numerous illegal head shots he took from the likes of Gary Suter, Scott Stevens, and Patrick Kaleta that helped put an end to what was an amazing career.
Kariya’s words were pointed and forceful and the brand of thing everyone in the NHL and NHLPA should start listening to if they plan to get serious about cutting back on concussions and punishing players who target the head.
“If you want to get rid of it, I’m a believer that you don’t go after the employees, you go after the employers,” said Kariya. “The first concussion I had, on a brutal, blindside hit, the guy got a two-game suspension. That was in 1996. The last one, from (the Buffalo Sabres’ Patrick) Kaleta, was exactly the same play, and he doesn’t get anything.
“If you start at 10-game suspensions and go to 20, that sends a message to the players. But if you start fining the owners and suspending the coach, then it’s out of the game.”
Kariya went on to say that every hit that ever knocked him out came as a result of an illegal hit.
“Every single one,” he reiterated. “I’m not saying you’re going to ever eliminate concussions completely because it’s a contact sport, but if you get those out of the game, then you eliminate a big part of the problem.
“A two-game suspension? That’s not enough of a deterrent.”
The kinds of punishment that Kariya is suggesting to employ are the sorts of ideas that have been kicked around from people on the Internet both connected directly to the game and those who are just fans. Severe suspensions as well as fining teams for actions that happen on the ice are the kinds of things Mario Lemieux spoke of when trying to curtail thuggish behavior and continued suspensions.
Kariya calling it quits also makes us wonder how other players who have had serious concussion problems are going to handle their careers going forward. Players like Kurt Sauer, Peter Mueller, and Marc Savard have all had major complications with concussions and their effects on them even months and years after suffering the injury. If the NHL and NHLPA weren’t already worried about how they look when it comes to looking the other way on these injuries, they’ve now got a big time face to put on the issue in Kariya.
It’s sad to see any favorite player retire from the league, but in Kariya’s case it breaks your heart to see it because it was essentially taken from him thanks to the actions of those around him. Fans will debate which hits were clean or dirty, but the fact remains that players are suffering at the hands of other players and the inability of the league and player’s association to get things figured out to change things for the better.