SAN JOSE – Claude Lemieux is leaving the NHL again – and this time, it’s for good.
The 43-year-old forward from Buckingham, Que., announced his retirement Wednesday, ending a stellar career in which he emerged as one of the peskiest players in the game.
Lemieux returned to the NHL in December following five years away from the league, signing on with the San Jose Sharks. Lemieux had one assist in 18 regular-season games and suited up in one playoff game.
“I can’t say how grateful I am to the game of hockey, and to everybody that supported me in this comeback that I attempted,” Lemieux said in a Wednesday news conference.
“I’m so thankful to the San Jose Sharks for giving me that opportunity to live this dream and play for them.
“Last year will be forever for me, and will be remembered as one of the highlights of my career.”
Lemieux said giving his son Brendan a chance to see him play in the NHL was a big reason for his return to pro hockey.
“Brendan was only six years old when I retired,” said Lemieux. “He never knew very much of my previous career. I have a lot of regrets because of that.
“He’s got a passion for the game of hockey, and he’s a pretty good little player. A big part of my comeback was for him, and for my family, for all my four kids and my wife.
“It was really a family sort of adventure that we attempted together, and we’re proud of the fact that we did it.”
Lemieux scored 379 regular-season goals in 21 NHL seasons, but was known more for his ability to raise the level of his game in the playoffs.
He finished with 158 points (80 goals, 78 assists) in 234 post-season games, winning four Stanley Cup titles and earning the 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP with the New Jersey Devils.
The Montreal Canadians took Lemieux in the second round of the 1983 NHL draft, and he spent five seasons there before being being traded to New Jersey Devils for Sylvain Turgeon.
Lemieux’s best seasons were with the Devils, where he reached the 30-goal plateau in three straight seasons – including a career-high 41 in 1991-92.
The six-foot-one, 220-pound winger finishes with 786 points in 1,215 career regular-season games with the Canadiens, Devils, Colorado Avalanche, Phoenix Coyotes, Dallas Stars and Sharks.
Lemieux says he has considered taking a coaching position now that his playing career is over, but he doesn’t expect to be with a team for the 2009-10 season.
“I have entertained different offers,” said Lemieux. “I’ve decided that, for the upcoming season, I’ll remain most likely in Phoenix.
“I moved my family around quite a bit, so we had to make some decisions as far as putting the kids back in school. Last year was a little bit crazy.”
As for whether his playoff pedigree will be enough to earn him a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Lemieux said he wasn’t sure.
“I think all the guys that have had good careers and were successful all hope that they can be in that great club,” said Lemieux. “I’ve always said that if it does happen someday, it’s an amazing bonus, and if it doesn’t, then it’s because I didn’t deserve it.”