Originally written June 29, 2011 on Spector Blog:
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An NHL career which should've been far greater than it ultimately was has been ended prematurely because of concussion injury. Paul Kariya, who played for the Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, formally announced his retirement today in an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail, where he laid blame on his long history of concussion injuries for the end of his career, as well as expressing serious criticism of the NHL's inability to protect its players from head shots leading to injury, and in penalizing those responsible for these type of hits. It is indeed a sad end to a career in which Kariya was for several years in the late-1990s one of the NHL's top players, but ultimately saw his career go into a slow decline because of his injuries. Kariya's best years were with the Anaheim then-Mighty Ducks, where he teamed with winger Teemu Selanne to form one of the most feared one-two offensive punches in the league. In five of those nine seasons spent with the Ducks, Kariya exceeded the 80-point mark five times, including two 100-point-plus seasons (105 in 1995-96,101 in 1998-99) and 99 points in 1996-97. He also exceeded the 40-goal mark three times, including a career-high 52 points in 1995-96. Considering Kariya notched those numbers during what is considered the NHL's "Dead Puck Era", when uncalled obstruction masquerading as defensive hockey had an adverse impact upon offense, those numbers are all the more impressive. After one woeful season in Colorado, where injury limited him to 36 points in 51 games, Kariya joined the Predators, where he regained his offensive touch, netting 85 points in 2005-06 and 76 in 2006-07. Sadly however those would be the last notable offensive years of Kariya's career. He joined the St. Louis Blues as a free agent in 2007, but only posted numbers of 65, 15 and 45 points as injuries continued to take a toll. Kariya decided to take the entire 2010-11 season off in hopes of recovering from post-concussion symptoms, but though he now feels "great", his doctor advised him against returning to play, as the risk of another concussion was too great. His concussion problems began in 1997-98, when he was cheapshotted by then-San Jose Sharks defenseman Gary Suter, who crosschecked Kariya in the face. He would miss the remainder of the season, including participating for Canada's Men's Olympic hockey team at the 1998 Winter Games. He suffered another head injury after being checked by Scott Stevens in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils. He would however return to the game, and scored a dramatic goal which helped clinch victory and force a Game Seven, which the Ducks would eventually lose to the Devils. Kariya posted up impressive numbers during his 15 NHL seasons - 402 goals, 587 assists, 989 points, plus 39 points in 46 playoff games. He won the Lady Byng trophy in 1996 and 1997, was a first team All Star in 1996, 1997 and 1999, and a second team All Star in 2000 and 2003. He would also win an Olympic Gold Medal as part of Canada's Men's Hockey Team at the 2002 Games. He should once day become inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Yet one cannot help but wonder how much more Kariya could've accomplished had it not been for the years of concussions, which shortened his career and prevented him from achieving even greater heights.
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