The 2007 Hockey Hall of Fame class of Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens will go down as one of the best classes to be inducted. And there's a reason so many great players were eligible for induction the same year: the lockout.
When the NHL took a season off while the league and NHLPA battled over a new CBA, it pushed a few players into a retirement decision.
For Stevens, the year off proved he could live a life without hockey, something he wasn't sure was possible.
"I think the game is more mental than physical. You have to be in tremendous shape, but you have to want to do it in your head," Stevens said when he retired. He wasn't mentally ready to play again after taking a year off.
MacInnis missed most of the 2003-04 season with an eye injury, so when you added the lockout into the equation it was more time off than he could overcome.
"I just felt that after not playing competitively for two years that I could not reach that level of play again," MacInnis said at the time. "It was strictly time."
When Francis was weighing retirement, the labor dispute became the "writing on the wall" that it was time to go.
With the CBA expiring after this season, there remains the possibility that we'll see another lockout next season. I remain optimistic that it won't cost us another entire year of hockey, but until the two sides sit down and start talking, nobody knows for sure.
Here are six players who could be watching negotiations this summer closer than anyone while weighing retirement:
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings -- Lidstrom has shown no signs of decline this season after winning the Norris Trophy in 2010-11. He has consistently said he will continue playing if he can compete at an elite level, which he's been able to do in Detroit this season. He has nine goals this season -- only Florida's Jason Garrison has more among defensemen. He has helped rekindle partner Ian White's career, with White leading all NHL defensemen with a plus-25. Lidstrom is at plus-22.
I spoke with Lidstrom about the biggest physical challenge of playing in the league at 41 years old. "It's the wear and tear on your whole body," Lidstrom said. "Whether it's the groin sometimes or the back or sometimes the shoulders. Over the years, you've had different injuries on different parts of your body. Sometimes they're aching a little in the morning. That's what I noticed the most."
Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins -- Thomas is again in the mix for the Vezina Trophy and has shown no signs of slowing down at 37 years old. He turns 38 on April 15. "Tim wants to play until he's 50," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli joked this summer when we chatted about the future of the Bruins' goaltending.
But next season is the final one of the four-year, $20 million contract Thomas signed in 2009. If we lose another full season to a lockout, that means Thomas and the Bruins would have a decision to make when he's 39 years old heading into the 2013-14 season. As we've seen this year with Dwayne Roloson, the decline of a goalie can happen quickly.
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils -- This was widely expected to be Brodeur's final season, but on Tuesday, the New York Post reported that he was leaning toward coming back next year. "I'm having fun," Brodeur told the Post. "I feel differently about it now than I did last summer or at the start of the season." He turns 40 in May, but is starting to pile up wins after a slow start. He was 6-3-0 in December and is 3-1-1 in January.
Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks -- Selanne is another guy we penciled in for retirement this season until we watched him play. He leads the Ducks with 43 points in 44 games and has 15 goals this season. "The way he's playing, why should he retire?" Ducks GM Bob Murray told ESPN.com in December.
Selanne has battled a knee injury, so it's hard to imagine him coming back next season at 42 years old if there's a lengthy work stoppage.
Jaromir Jagr, Philadelphia Flyers -- The 39-year-old Jagr signed a one-year deal worth $3.3 million to return to the NHL this season, and he has been a revelation for the Flyers. Paul Holmgren knew what he was getting in skill but has been thoroughly impressed with what Jagr has brought the team off the ice.
Jagr has been a tremendous influence on the young players in Philadelphia with his relentless work ethic, and he's part of the reason Claude Giroux has launched into stardom this season. The two players' chemistry was immediate. Jagr turns 40 in February.
Ray Whitney, Phoenix Coyotes -- Whitney told Yahoo's Nick Cotsonika that an extended lockout next season would likely make the retirement decision for him. "If there is a lockout, that's probably going to be it for me," Whitney said.
There are certainly other factors besides a lockout that could play into Whitney's decision -- including which city the Coyotes end up playing in next season. Whitney is set to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and continues to produce for the Coyotes. He has 38 points in 46 games this season and is a plus-13.
• Brodeur said, if he plays next year, his preference is to remain with the Devils, who don't have a clear line of succession in goal following their future Hall of Famer. Backup goalie Johan Hedberg is 38 years old and set to again become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Their top goalie prospect is Scott Wedgewood (Plymouth Whalers), a third-round pick in 2010, but I spoke with an NHL scout who watches goalies closely and he said Wedgewood isn't close to being ready to play in the NHL. "He looks small sometimes, that's the thing," the scout said. "I'd say three years."
• Kyle Turris continued his strong start with the Ottawa Senators, scoring the game-winning goal Tuesday night in the Battle of Ontario. Ottawa is now 11-2-2 since acquiring Turris. It's amazing to look at the Northeast standings and see the Senators just one point behind the Bruins, but keep in mind that nobody has played more games this season than Ottawa's 48.
So is the Battle of Ontario back? Bruce Arthur says not just yet, but last night was a good sign.
• The Star Tribune's Mike Russo has covered his fair share of losing during his time as an NHL beat writer in Florida and Minnesota, and there's nothing quite like a Russo Rant when things turn sideways with the team's he's covering. Last night was a great example.
Read this post from Russo to get an idea of just how ugly things are getting for the Minnesota Wild, where players, according to Russo, are starting to snipe at each other in the locker room. The Wild lost again Tuesday night but remained in a playoff position only because the Stars lost.
Russo points out that there are plenty of indications that the Wild are headed out of the playoff hunt, including Dany Heatley's inability to create scoring opportunities, Marek Zidlicky's inability to contribute anything offensively and Cal Clutterbuck's inability to stay out of the penalty box. While reading, keep in mind that Russo may be concussed after hitting his head on the ceiling of a regional jet. It makes it that much more entertaining.