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Kesler says he understands NHL career is over

Hasn't played since 2018-19 because of hip injuries, 'hated the game' during final seasons

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

Ryan Kesler is still recovering from resurfacing surgery on his left hip in February and said he understands he'll never play in the NHL again.

The 37-year-old also had resurfacing surgery on his right hip May 9, 2019.

"I tried coming back on my first hip and I was working hard rehabbing and skating, and then my other hip went and blocked all my momentum," Kesler said Monday. "And to be honest, I'm still a far way away to even coming close. I don't think I'll ever get to an NHL level again. I'm just hoping to get to a level that I'm happy at."

Kesler played 15 seasons in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks but has not played since March 6, 2019, for Anaheim against the St. Louis Blues. He has one season remaining on the six-year contract he signed with the Ducks on July 15, 2015.

"It got to a point, my last couple years playing, I hated the game, I hated playing," he said. "Going to the rink, being in pain and then not being able to do what you normally do. Your mind wants you to do it and you just can't do it. That was when I knew, let's get something done, let's reset, let's try to get back to loving the game again. And I started loving the game again. I was trying to get back and skating and then my [left hip] went and I was like, 'You know what? I'm not going through this again.'

"I still skate three days a week just trying to get back to a level that I'm happy at. But I'm 37 years old. As much as my mind's like, 'Oh yeah, I can play again,' I'm not going to be that guy that's that naive to think that I can compete in the League, let alone be myself in the League again."

Selected by the Canucks in the first round (No. 23) of the 2003 NHL Draft,  Kesler has scored 573 points (258 goals, 315 assists) in 1,001 regular-season NHL games and 65 points (24 goals, 41 assists) in 101 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He won the Selke Trophy, presented annually to the forward best to excel in the defensive aspects of the game as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, in 2011 and also helped the United States win the silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Kesler, who was born in Livonia, Michigan, has moved his family back to the area so he and his wife's four children can be closer to family.

"Both our families are from here," he said. "People don't understand, when you play in the NHL you barely see your family. You might see them once or twice a year during the season and then sporadically during the summer because you're training full time. I really wanted my kids to grow up around family and have a family environment and kind of get away from California, having to live a five-hour flight away from them. I just wanted a family environment for my family, for my children."

Kesler is staying active by coaching his son's 11U team with the Little Caesars hockey program, which is based in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He was also named a volunteer assistant coach with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team Friday.

Kesler, who played for the NTDP from 2000-02, lives about 25 minutes from USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan, making his new role an easy commitment for him.

He said he'll work with the players a few days each week, focusing mainly on face-offs, defensive-zone coverage and the penalty kill.

"I can skate, I can demonstrate [drills], I can take face-offs against the kids," Kesler said. "I'm a lot more functional now than I was before both resurfacings. But at the same time, I can't run, I can't do anything that's pounding. Can I play with my kids and play basketball and jog around a bit? Yeah, but I'm not playing full-court basketball or anything. That stuff [stinks]. I'm still building myself up to hopefully being able to do that, but it's a slim chance. My body age is like 80."

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