Paul Kariya announces retirement

Updated: June 29, 2011, 6:04 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

After missing the entire 2010-11 season because of post-concussion symptoms, Paul Kariya announced his retirement from the NHL Wednesday after 15 seasons.

Kariya said there was no angst about the decision.

"This is a black-and-white issue," he told ESPN.com. "It wasn't very difficult at all."

Kariya, a left wing, was the fourth overall pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 1993 after a phenomenal college career that saw him win the Hobey Baker Award as a freshman at the University of Maine.

He and Teemu Selanne, acquired from Winnipeg in February 1996, became one of the most dynamic duos in the NHL, helping to establish the Ducks as a player in the California sports scene.

He had 989 career points (402 goals, 587 assists) in 989 regular-season games and was a two-time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy. He also represented Team Canada at the 1994 and 2002 Olympics, winning a gold medal in 2002.

Kariya, who also played in Colorado, Nashville and St. Louis, released a statement Tuesday afternoon, thanking the fans and former teammates and coaches for their support.

"It was my dream to be a professional hockey player in the NHL, from my minor hockey days in North Vancouver and Burnaby, through junior hockey in Penticton, college hockey at the University of Maine, and the Canadian National Team," he said. "I would not have achieved it without support from all of these people and organizations."

[+] EnlargePaul Kariya
Ron Chenoy/US PresswirePaul Kariya retired Wednesday after repeated concussions left the All-Star with brain damage.

One of the defining moments of Kariya's career came during the 2003 Stanley Cup finals. In Game 6 in Anaheim, Kariya laid motionless on the ice for several minutes after a crushing open-ice hit by New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Stevens.

But Kariya returned later in the game and scored.

Highly skilled and a stickler for details big and small when it came to preparation, Kariya became a cautionary tale even before the NHL had turned its attention to keeping its best players safe. Kariya suffered his first concussion in 1996 and another in 1998.

Mark Lovell, one of the continent's top concussion doctors and a man familiar with NHL players, told Kariya last season that the forward suffered brain damage and wasn't able to play.

"He said to me, 'No one in my profession would clear you to play this season,' " Kariya recalled.

Lovell also told Kariya that if it had been up to him, he would have suggested Kariya retire right then and there.

"I was shocked," Kariya said.

Even this past spring -- when Kariya was feeling better and teams were calling to see whether he might be available for a late-season run or perhaps for the 2011-12 season -- Lovell told Kariya he was in no position to play.

Kariya began working with Dr. Daniel Amen, one of the NFL's leading post-concussion experts. After five months of hyperbaric chambers and other workout regimens, Kariya jumped from the 20th to the 80th percentile in brain function.

Still, Amen echoed Lovell's sentiments: Playing in the NHL again would be foolish.

"There's still brain damage on the scan," Kariya said.

Even confronted with all of that data, Kariya was until recently confident he could come back and play.

"In the spring when teams were calling, I was getting excited to play," he said.

When Kariya was concussed for the final time in late December 2009, after Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta delivered a blindside elbow, there was no suspension.

"It's been a little disappointing that in the time I've been in the league, nothing much has been done to stop that," Kariya said. "We shouldn't be having this conversation right now. To me there's never been enough of a deterrent not to do it."

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.