Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The NHL's Kobes: Ten legends who held on too long

The big sports story of the weekend: Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant announced that this will be his final season. He made the announcement Sunday, then went out and had the chance to tie the game on a dramatic, last-second shot. It did not go well.

That has led to plenty of talk about how Bryant has held on too long. You never want to say a player should have retired before he or she was ready -- after all, their job is to play. And if someone is still willing to pay them to do it, they're under no obligation to go out on our terms. But it's probably fair to see that some players' final years end up being, um, slightly below peak productivity. Yes, let's go with that.

That's true for the NHL, too, of course. Sometimes, a legendary player ends his career with an exclamation point. And sometimes, the end comes as more of an ellipsis, trailing off into an awkward silence, followed by a shrug and a "never mind."

So, in an effort to make Kobe feel better about how things are ending, here are 10 examples of NHL legends whose final seasons didn't quite meet the high standards they'd established over the rest of their careers.

Brett Hull

It's fun to remember him as: Perhaps the greatest pure goal scorer the league has ever seen.

So let's forget the part where: ... he tried to hang on for one more post-lockout year with the Arizona Coyotes.

In his prime, Hull was the answer to the question "What would happen if a guy with the goal-scoring skills and instincts of Alexander Ovechkin played in an era where you could actually score goals?" That answer involved three straight seasons with 70-plus goals and a grand total of 741 career goals.

But none of those goals came with the Coyotes. Hull signed a two-year contract with the team as a free agent in 2004, then saw the first year of the deal wiped out by the lockout. When play resumed in 2005, a 41-year-old Hull didn't exactly look like a great fit for the new, faster NHL, and he lasted just five games before calling it quits.

Hull was all sorts of fun to watch for the better part of two decades. But when your retirement headline includes the words "effective immediately," you've probably held on too long.

Martin Brodeur

It's fun to remember him as: One of the most decorated goaltenders of all time, a three-time champion and the league's ultimate "can't-picture-him-in-any-other-uniform" guy.

So let's forget the part where: ... he tried a seven-game comeback with the St. Louis Blues.

Brodeur spent 21 years with the New Jersey Devils, winning three Cups, earning a trophy case full or hardware and firmly establishing himself as a Devils legend. When he and the franchise parted ways after the 2014 season and he made it through the offseason without signing elsewhere, hockey fans celebrated a terrific career while breathing a sigh of relief that we wouldn't have to see the NHL's "Willie Mays-as-a-Met" moment.

But then came December and a call from the Blues. St. Louis already had Jake Allen, and Brian Elliott was on his way back from a knee injury, but they wanted another experienced goalie because, well, nobody was quite sure, but that's a story for another time.

Brodeur came in, started five games, and played fine. He wasn't good, but he didn't embarrass himself. But when Elliott returned a month later, Brodeur dropped to third on the depth chart and never played again. He retired midseason and took a front-office job in St. Louis.

>> Read the full post on ESPN.com

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