Steve Yzerman and Joe Nieuwendyk were forced into retirement by injuries and never really had to wrestle with the decision about when to call it a career.
So when they see players like Mats Sundin or Joe Sakic struggling to make up their minds, they have one simple piece of advice.
“If there’s any doubt and guys aren’t sure, I think they should be playing,” Yzerman told The Canadian Press on Friday. “You can be retired for the rest of your life. You’ll know when you’re done.
“If you’re not 100 per cent certain that you don’t want to play anymore, then the decision is that you should be playing.”
Added Nieuwendyk: “People always told me: ‘Play as long as you can.’ I think these guys you’re talking about still have some good years left in them.”
The last NHL season ended months ago for Sundin and Sakic and the next one is fast approaching. In the meantime, both players are still trying to decide whether they want to go through the grind of another 82 regular-season games.
While fans have grown frustrated as they await the final word, Yzerman says he can understand why some players take a long time mulling things over.
“I think guys want to be certain and just do it once,” he said. “You look at what Brett Favre is going through right now, it’s better when you make the decision just to do it one time.
“It’s better for everyone if it’s the right decision and you don’t change your mind and have any regrets after.”
Sundin had targetted Friday as a “soft deadline” for deciding whether he would return for an 18th NHL season. The 37-year-old ended up letting it pass, but presumably not for long.
He and Sakic have both expressed a desire to attend training camp if they’re going to play, which means that each will likely need to make a decision in the coming week or two. NHL training camps open in mid-September.
Neither player seems likely to follow the route taken by Anaheim Ducks defenceman Scott Niedermayer last season. He didn’t join the team until December and only ended up playing 48 regular-season games.
Teemu Selanne waited even longer. He didn’t play his first game for Anaheim until February and is another of the players who hasn’t decided what he wants to do this coming year.
While Niedermayer was considering retirement last fall, he called his former teammate Nieuwendyk for some advice.
“He really felt that he was at a point in his life where he really wanted time to do other things and felt like he was missing out a little bit,” said Nieuwendyk. “I think once he took half a year off, he realized that those things will be there when hockey’s over.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up playing again after this contract.”
The same could happen with Sundin and Sakic – players who spent time together with the Quebec Nordiques early in their careers.
Yzerman now works in the Detroit Red Wings front office while Nieuwendyk joined the Toronto Maple Leafs management team earlier this summer. That keeps both men close to a game they would still like to be playing at the highest level.
“My desire never wavered,” said Nieuwendyk, who retired in December 2006 because of a back injury. “I loved it right until the very end. I really don’t have any regrets – I played until I was 40, which is more than a lot of guys get to do.”‘
When Yzerman held a press conference in July 2006 to end his career, he spoke for more than two minutes before saying the word “retirement.”
Repeated knee injuries forced his hand.
“The only reason I retired was health,” said Yzerman. “I loved playing the game and everything about it. If I could have remained healthy and trained and what not, I would’ve kept playing.
“But I just physically couldn’t do it anymore.”
Even he took some time before making the decision official.
Yzerman knew during the season that it would probably be his last but waited almost two months after the playoffs ended to tell the Red Wings.
“Once I had done it, I felt really good about it,” he said. “I knew it was the right decision at that time.”