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Paul Kariya announces retirement, criticizes NHL discipline

In August 2010, Paul Kariya(notes) announced that he would sit out the 2010-11 NHL season with post-concussion syndrome after a 75-game campaign with the St. Louis Blues that ended on April 10.

That would mark Kariya's final game in the NHL.

The 15-year veteran announced his retirement on Wednesday with a history of concussions to blame.

From the NHLPA:

"Today, I announce my retirement from professional hockey.  I would like to thank all of those who have been part of so many great memories — my teammates, coaches, team management and staff.  I am also very grateful for the support I have received over the years from the fans, especially those in Anaheim, Colorado, Nashville, and St. Louis.

"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.  I would not have achieved it without support from all of these people and organizations."

He doesn't leave quietly. Kariya had some critical words for the NHL's lack of substantial punishments for players who target their opponents' heads.

Speaking to the Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek, Kariya expressed his displeasure with the state of the NHL today in regards to head shots and how supplementary discipline has been inconsistent for too long:

"If you want to get rid of it, I'm a believer that you don't go after the employees, you go after the employers," said Kariya. "The first concussion I had, on a brutal, blindside hit, the guy got a two-game suspension. That was in 1996. The last one, from (the Buffalo Sabres' Patrick) Kaleta, was exactly the same play, and he doesn't get anything."

Kariya pointed out that suspensions of a couple of games are not a deterrent for players to change the way they go about delivering hits and that the punishments handed out by the NHL to date have not been enough to alter the mindset of some:

"Crosby is a perfect example," said Kariya. "You have the best player in the game playing on a the same team as a guy (Matt Cooke(notes)) who is ending guys' careers with those kinds of hits.

"Hopefully, things will change."

Kariya famously was on the receiving end of a vicious Scott Stevens hit during the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. He would return later to the game and score for Anaheim, but that was just one of many "illegal" hits, according to Kariya, that he would receive throughout his career that led to Wednesday's announcement.

He's now symptom-free, but Kariya's doctors advised him that the risk was too big to continue playing.

After the NHL's Board of Governors announced a change to Rule 48 where any hit where the head is the principal point of contact is now illegal, steps are slowly moving in the right direction to better protect players.

While Kariya is right that NHL discipline has been inconsistent for far too long, and that lengthy suspensions and fines to clubs can help reduce the number of dangerous hits and head shots, the players themselves must also take responsibility and play the largest role in protecting each other.

Kariya finishes his NHL career as a point-a-game player with 989 points in 989 games. He was a two-time Lady Byng winner; seven-time All-Star game participant; a gold medalist at the World Junior Championships, World Championships and Olympic Games; and won the Hobey Baker Award and NCAA title for the University of Maine in 1993.

While he may not end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame despite his accomplishments, Kariya's legacy could be bigger than that. He joins the long list of NHLers who've had to walk away from the game not on their own terms; and with the large spotlight on concussions, a player of Kariya's caliber retiring could help change minds going forward.

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