As hockey fans await news on the return of one former NHL superstar, they will say goodbye to another. Paul Kariya announced that he is retiring from hockey in an interview with The Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek on Wednesday.
Citing struggles with reaching a full recovery from past concussions, and too great of a re-injury risk as reasons, Kariya will hang up his skates after 15-seasons in the NHL.
Kariya did not pull any punches in talking about the concussions he suffered over the years, or the league’s handling of the brain injury issue. The former first round pick (4th overall, 1993) of the Anaheim Ducks believes harsher penalties are the key to eliminate or reduce concussions:
“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.”
On the symptoms and after effects he’s fought with in attempting to fully recover in hopes of a return to hockey:
“I knew I was bad, but I didn’t know I was that bad. But they had concussion data on me all the way back to 1996, and then from the (Gary) Suter hit (just before the 1998 Winter Olympics), so they could track my results from one concussion to another.
“The drop in my brain function, the doctor said, was down by 50 per cent. At that point, I wasn’t thinking, ‘Am I going to play again?’ I just wanted to get healthy.”
“After two-and-a-half months, I saw a 40-50 per cent improvement, but the scans were still showing brain damage. After five months, I was up to 80 cent. As spring came around, and teams started calling, I went back to the doctor, but he said, ‘Paul, there’s just no way you can play again. You’re still too vulnerable to another concussion.’”
Reflecting on his career and on leaving the game:
“I feel very fortunate for the 15 years I spent in the NHL. At some point, whether you play 10 or five or 20 years, you have to retire eventually – and no matter what you do afterward, you need your brain to be functioning.”
Kariya spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Anaheim Ducks (or Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, if you will), before making stops in Colorado, Nashville, and most recently with the St. Louis Blues from 2007-2010.
He will leave the game having posted 989 points in 989 career games. In 15-seasons Kariya twice eclipsed the 100-point barrier, played in seven All-Star Games, and won an Olympic Gold Medal in 2002 – but we’re ultimately left to wonder what could have been…