In light of Eric Lindros’ comments yesterday about former Philadelphia Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren suggesting he attempt a comeback to the NHL in 2012, five seasons after retiring, let’s take a look at few notable NHLers who did come back after some time away:
Richard Zednik and Clint Malarchuk – Zednik and Malarchuk survived two of the scariest on-ice incidents in NHL history. In 1989, Malarchuk, then a Sabres goaltender, had his cartoid artery sliced by a skate. His life was saved by the trainer Jim Pizzutelli, who was a former US Army Medic who served in the Vietnam War. Nineteen years later, Zednik had his exterior cartoid artery sliced by the skate of Olli Jokinen. Both men survived and ultimately returned to the NHL the next season, though neither man played much longer.
Gary Roberts – After playing parts of 10 seasons with the Calgary Flames, Roberts was forced to retire at age 30 because of nerve issues in his neck. However, he began working with a chiropractor on a new form of physiotherapy and was able to return to the NHL after missing the 1996-97 season. The Flames traded his rights to Carolina, where the travel would be better than in the Western Conference, and he played 11 more seasons with a handful of teams before retiring in 2009. He founded the Gary Roberts High Performance Centre and Fitness Institute in Ontario, where he trains several high-end athletes including Steven Stamkos and Connor McDavid.
Saku Koivu – The longest-tenured captain in Montreal Canadiens history made an unforgettable comeback in the 2001-02 season. In September of 2001, Koivu was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He missed nearly the entire season, but made a triumphant return in the Canadiens’ third last game of the season. He was welcomed back with an eight-minute standing ovation by fans, and had two assists in three games as the Canadiens clinched a playoff spot. They went on to beat the first-seeded Boston Bruins in six games before losing to the upstart Carolina Hurricanes, who were on their way to a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Koivu won the Masterton Trophy that season for dedication to hockey.
Mario Lemieux – Lemieux retired after the 1996-97 season. While he was still dominating the NHL, scoring 50 goals and 122 points in 76 games that season, he stepped away from the game at age 31. He was just a few years removed from his battle with Hodgkin’s Disease, a form of cancer. The Hockey Hall of Fame waived the mandatory three-year waiting period and immediately inducted Lemieux. He was part of a team that bought the Penguins to keep them in Pittsburgh in September 2000. Four months later, the team announced that he would be returning to the lineup. In his second NHL debut, Lemieux had an assist on his first shift and ended up with a goal and two assists versus the Maple Leafs. Lemieux went on to captain Team Canada to gold at the 2002 Olympics and 2004 World Cup. He scored 229 points in 170 NHL games over the next five seasons, including a 91-point performance in 2002-03, before an irregular heartbeat sidelined him once more.