As a player, a Hall of Famer and owner, Mario Lemieux has meant so much for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team now presses forward after one of the most greatest players in NHL history retired for the second time.
The Penguins again play their first game with the most storied figure in their history when they meet the Washington Capitals.
Lemieux, the seventh-leading career scorer in NHL history, retired again Tuesday five weeks after what was his final game. He had been sidelined since early December after learning he has atrial fibrillation—an irregular heartbeat that can cause his pulse to flutter wildly and must be controlled by medication.
The 40-year-old was hospitalized with the problem in early December. He tried to come back on Dec. 16 against the Buffalo Sabres, but had a flare-up in the third period and has not played since.
“I have two main reasons for retiring,” said Lemieux, who had seven goals and 15 assists in 26 games this season. “The first one is I can no longer play at the level that I was accustomed to in the past and that has been, very, very frustrating to me throughout this past year.
“The second one is realizing that my health, along with my family is the most important thing in the world.”
Lemieux’s health has been his biggest nemesis throughout his career. He has dealt with back problems throughout his career and missed a month of the 1992-93 season with Hodgkin’s disease yet still won the scoring title with 160 points in just 60 games.
He retired after the 1996-97 season, but returned in 2000-01, drawing an assist 30 seconds into his first shift. Since then, he has fought two major hip problems yet still put up 91 points in 67 games in 2002-03.
The top overall pick in the 1984 entry draft, Lemieux also has been credited with turning the franchise around once as a player. He finishes his career with 690 goals and had 1,033 assists in 915 career games. He also won Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992, six scoring titles, three playoff MVP awards, and Olympic gold medal and a Canada Cup title against the Soviet Union in 1987.
Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997, Lemieux became the first major pro sports star to buy the franchise for which he played when he assembled a group that bought the Penguins from federal bankruptcy court in 1999.
Earlier this month, Lemieux said the franchise was for sale and may relocate with a new arena.
“If you add up all the stuff he’s gone through his whole life he’s faced so much adversity and overcome it,” Penguins rookie Sidney Crosby said. “For him to go through all that, yet still succeed and do everything he’s done on the ice is unbelievable…He’s one of the great ones.”
Lemieux indicated there was no chance of another comeback.
“This is it,” Lemieux said, “and it hurts.”
He also was the second veteran to retire from the Penguins in the past week after right wing Ziggy Palffy called it quits last Wednesday. Palffy signed a three-year, $13.5 million contract with Pittsburgh in August and was sought to bring leadership to a young squad.
The Penguins now must try to figure out a way to halt a 10-game losing streak—the team’s longest since an 18-game skid from Jan. 13-March 22, 2004. Rookie Michel Ouellet and Mark Recchi each had a goal and an assist in Pittsburgh’s 4-2 loss Monday to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Pittsburgh has been held to two goals or less in seven of its last eight games.
The Capitals had their season-high four-game winning streak end with a 3-2 loss Monday to the Boston Bruins. Brian Willsie and Brooks Laich each scored, but standout rookie Alexander Ovechkin was held to two shots and saw his eight-game points streak end.
The Capitals trailed 3-0 before rallying back.
“I don’t know if you can expect your team to outwork people every single night,” Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said. “You can’t. It’s impossible.”
Washington has lost three straight to the Penguins and have just five wins in its last 27 trips to Mellon Arena.