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Yzerman left everything on the ice

Thursday, 11.05.2009 / 11:15 AM / Hall of Fame

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Ken Holland knew why Steve Yzerman finally retired July 3, 2006. His body was breaking down and he couldn't physically withstand another season.

Yzerman, in fact, said there was no way he could have trained hard enough to compete in 2006-07.

"I don't feel I had anything left physically," Yzerman said.

Holland, the Red Wings' GM, also remembers that in Yzerman's final game, Game 6 of the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals in Edmonton, the captain still was one of Detroit's best players.

Yzerman had an assist and three shots on goal in just over 13 minutes in the Red Wings' 4-3 loss at Rexall Place.

"The last game he ever played, he was an important player for us," Holland told NHL.com. "Typical Steve. I'm not sure if it was ribs or what, but he had some injury the morning of Game 6 and he didn't skate. We weren't sure if he was going to play. He came to the rink, they gave him a painkiller and I think he might have been our best forward."

Nicklas Lidstrom, who took over as Red Wings' captain following Yzerman's retirement, remembers one particular play in that game that showed Yzerman's will, determination and skill.

"I remember some of the plays he made, and one in particular when he was going around (Chris) Pronger, taking Pronger wide and going around him," Lidstrom told NHL.com. "Pronger looks like he's huge compared to Stevie, but even though Stevie was hurt and banged up, the determination really showed. He was just going to go around that D and take the puck to the net and that's what he did. I had seen him do that numerous times, but in this game, his last game, I saw that determination again.

"I thought he was one of our best players in that game. He played 13 minutes, but the shifts that he had, you could really tell he wanted to play a strong game."

When the final buzzer sounded, Yzerman knew in his heart he was done. He said his desire to play remained, but his body wouldn't let him.

"What it came down to is: Could I contribute enough to this team to help win the Cup?" Yzerman said. "As much as I wanted to continue playing, I knew I couldn't keep up at this pace anymore. It became a real struggle for me to try to do the things. Particularly my last year, I had a heck of a time to stay healthy to get in the lineup."

It really was no surprise.

Not only was Yzerman already on the wrong side of 40, he had a rough few seasons in terms of injuries, including a few stops on the surgical table.

Following the Wings' Cup run in 2002, Yzerman had a radical knee realignment surgery, known as an osteotomy, a procedure normally reserved for the elderly. He missed 66 games in 2002-03, but came back to play the final 16.  He appeared in 75 games in 2003-04.

He broke his orbital bone and scratched his cornea after getting hit in the face by a deflected slap shot early in the 2004 playoffs. He didn't play again that postseason.

After signing a one-year contract following the work stoppage, Yzerman managed to stay healthy for only 61 games in 2005-06 and only four of six playoff games. He finished with 34 points in the regular season and 4 points against the Oilers in the playoffs, but that was it.

He retired with 692 goals and 1,063 assists for 1,755 points in 1,514 regular-season games. He had another 70 goals and 115 assists for 185 points in 196 postseason games.

"Could he have played more?" Holland asked rhetorically. "I guess he could have played more, but Steve has high standards over 82 games and ultimately his body told him no more."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com
Quote of the Day

When I first became captain here, Monsieur Beliveau came to me and said, 'You're going to be fine. You don't have to change, you got selected because of who you are.'

— Saku Koivu on Thursday, recalling what he was told by the late Jean Beliveau when he was named Canadiens captain in 1999
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