SAN JOSE -- Owen Nolan was known as one of the NHL's toughest and most skilled power forwards during his 18 seasons, including eight with the San Jose Sharks. But when it came time to leave the game he loves, Nolan faced one of his toughest fights -- to hold back tears.
"I was very fortunate to play 18 seasons, 1,200 games in the League, and today I'm announcing my retirement," said the former Sharks captain, his voice cracking.
"I guess I've known this day was here for a while. When your body won't do what your mind and your heart is willing to do, it's time to move on. I've enjoyed every minute of it. I've had the opportunity to play with some great players and great teammates."
Playoff Pts: 40 | Seasons: 18
Nolan didn't officially sign a ceremonial one-day deal with the Sharks.
"This was a handshake deal," Wilson said. "But the ultimate thing was to have him retire as a San Jose Shark. That's something that he wanted and we wanted badly. We do. We used today as a celebration and an appreciation of what he's done for this franchise. It means an awful lot to us."
The Quebec Nordiques chose Nolan with the first pick in the 1990 NHL Draft. He played five-plus seasons for his initial franchise, including nine games after the team moved to Colorado, before being traded to the Sharks on Oct. 26, 1995, for defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh. After playing eight seasons for San Jose, he spent time with Toronto, Phoenix, Calgary and Minnesota. Last season he played 24 games for Zurich of the Swiss League. He signed a tryout contract with the Canucks this season but was waived in late September.
Nolan scored 206 of his 422 career goals and notched 451 of his 885 career points as a Shark. He played 568 of his 1,200 career games with San Jose. Nolan had a career season in 1999-2000 with San Jose, scoring 44 goals and amassing 84 points, both career highs.
The Sharks had already been to the playoffs twice before Nolan arrived, but they became a perennial playoff team during his time in San Jose. His game-winning goal from around blue line in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference quarterfinals against St. Louis is still one of the top playoff highlights in team history.
"He was one of the rare prototypical power forwards that had enough skill to beat you either way," Wilson said. "You look in this business; everybody's trying to find that type of player now. They don't exist. To play that role, it's a physical role, it's very tough on your body and tough mentally, and to have the talent to do the other things, too, it's rare.
"He had a huge impact on this franchise, and it's no surprise to me that winning followed. His competitive fire. But he is just a unique, unique player. I'm not sure we've had one since, and you're trying to find them going forward. So he does deserve an awful lot of credit for where this team got over those hurdles and got to the next level."
Nolan hasn't played for San Jose since the 2002-03 season, but his name is still prominent throughout the Sharks' record book.
Nolan ranks second on the Sharks all-time list in goals (206), third in assists (245), third in points (451), second in penalty minutes (934), second in power-play goals (75), tied for first in shorthanded goals (14), tied for fourth in game-winning goals (25), second in shots (1,668), tied for second in hat tricks (3) and third in games played (568).
Nolan still owns the Sharks record for most points in a game with six, set on Oct. 4, 1999, when he had three goals and three assists in a 7-1 win against Chicago. His team record of four goals, set Dec. 19, 1995, against Anaheim, still stands.
"He had great hands," said Ricci, who teamed with Nolan in both Quebec and San Jose. "People don't realize he could do some pretty good things with the puck. He could shoot the puck, obviously, but he had great, in-tight finesse skills to go with that toughness. He was a unique blend. We were together for a lot of years. I got to watch it firsthand. It was a lot of fun."
Nolan embodied a balance between the skillful and physical sides of hockey.
"It just comes naturally to play physical and be fortunate enough to be able to score goals," Nolan said. "Was I the greatest goal scorer? No. But there was a balance between everything, playing physical and being able to score and make plays. I guess the power forward is a unique position."
Nolan played four of his career five All-Star Games as a Shark, including the 1997 game at the Shark Tank when he was named the MVP. Nolan had a hat trick and called his shot on the third goal, pointing to the top right corner on a breakaway then burying a shot to that spot past goaltender Dominik Hasek.
Nolan said he saw a replay of that goal recently and wondered, "'What the hell was I thinking?' You know when you get one of those things, it just seemed right to do at the time. If it doesn't work, well, it's a different story, but it just worked. Luck on my side, whatever. The rest is history, I guess."
The Sharks traded Nolan to Toronto on March 5, 2003, for Alyn McCauley, Brad Boyes and the Leafs' first pick (No. 21) in that year's NHL Draft.
"It was very emotional when I got traded out of here," said Nolan, who has maintained a home in San Jose, where he's in the restaurant business. "We all know that hockey's a business, it's not only a sport. I believe it was a business decision. It happens to everybody. Definitely tough to leave, but I've got the rest of my life to live here now."
Nolan was born in Northern Ireland but moved to Thorold, Ont., with his family when he was less than a year old. He has an Olympic hockey gold medal from the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, where he was a member of Team Canada.
"It's just an absolute honor to play for Team Canada, and then to have the success of winning, words can't describe it," Nolan said. "You're playing with the best players in the world and you're playing against them as well. And to be able to come out on top, words can't describe the feelings."
Nolan said he'd eventually like to get back into hockey in some capacity, but for now, his plans are to spend time with his family and adjust to life as a former NHL player.
"I'm still trying to gear down from the competitiveness," Nolan said. "When you're not on the ice, it's tough when you watch it on TV. You're still twitching and questioning why guys do different things. I'm trying to tone down from that and accept the retirement side. At some point I'd like to get back into it."