The news came out just yesterday from both Gulitti and Chere that Bobby Holik is retiring from hockey. After 18 years in the league, the man who kind of looked like Frankenstein, originally drafted by Hartford, became a Devil through a trade, centered the Crash Line, became a checking center par excellence, won 2 Stanley Cups with the Devils, represented the perfect example of the ridiculous spending the Rangers did prior to the lockout, frustrated opponents, Rangers, and Thrasher fans, provided countless quotes, and eventually returned to the Devils for a final season - he is done. At age 38, Holik is now retired.
While no one would consider Holik's final season to be a great one (or a good one); I will say he wasn't terrible and there were nights where one could see how effective he was. That said, his career should be best remembered for his first go-around wth the Devils. Holik was a player who always "got it" as a Devil. Where the team needed grit, Holik was more than happy to oblige. The guy was as strong as a bull, sometimes to a fault (as we saw this season). When the Devils needed him to shut down a player, Holik did his job and did it well. Anytime the Devils had a crucial defensive zone faceoff and had to protect a lead? Holik often won that big faceoff (and a lot of faceoffs in general), hold possession, and battle like a beast possessed to keep that puck. Holik knew what Devils hockey was all about then, especially in the days of Lemaire and his neutral zone trap.
While his exploits with the Crash Line remain legendary to this day, I'll best remember Holik's seasons in the late 1990s. You'll see that he was named to the All Star Game in 1998 and 1999 for New Jersey and that was no fluke. Holik wasn't just stopping the opposition from scoring, he was lighting it up himself while still checking like a third liner. He enjoyed his most productive seasons then, four straight years of at least 23 goals and 190 shots. He was more than a defensive player, he truly was solid in both ends.
Personally, that his performance suffered outside of New Jersey didn't surprise me too much. The Rangers didn't know what to do with him and so the ridiculous $9 million/year contract started to look more laughable. From that, Holik didn't really recover in terms of his numbers and overall performance. Still by this season, he knew he'd be on a fourth line role with minimal minutes. He accepted it and did what he could with it. Given what happened this year, I didn't think he warranted a return, but as he told Chere, Holik knew he wasn't returning anyway:
"I don't have to retire," he said. "I believe I'm very fortunate. Most athletes have to retire because of physical problems or they tell them, 'We don't want you anymore.' "
Would the Devils have taken him back?
"I never explored it," Holik said. "I knew when I saw you last I wasn't going to play anymore. I just wanted to leave town and, more than anything, I just wanted to get back home. My wife had known for a long time. I didn't tell my parents until recently."
Vintage Holik. He didn't give a "stock" answer or dodge the question, providing a bit of perspective to the situations. It is heartening that Holik is going out on his own terms which is unfortunately not too common in the world of sports.
So what now? According to Chere's and Gulitti's write-up, Holik made this decision namely because he missed his family in Wyoming. Presumably, he'll go be with his wife and daughter. As far as the Devils are concerned, I didn't expect Holik to be re-signed so that's a $2.5 million that's now freed up for the cap. With respect to what Holik will best remember, he told Gulitti the following:
Holik said winning the Stanley Cup twice were among the biggest accomplishments of his career, but there was more to it than that.
"It was great. No doubt about it," he said. "It was the only time I felt like, 'Wow. We accomplished something.' But my best memories are of playing the game, practicing. My memories are of competing. Everyone always thinks it's about the glamour or the glory. So, no matter how successful you are, it's such a few moments that if that's what you're do it for, then you're not happy. From my own experience, I was very happy to be a hockey player because I enjoyed practicing. I enjoyed playing the game.
"It's a game and sometimes in the locker room, off the ice, with all the travel, maybe I didn't come across as the happiest man. But when I was on the ice -- when I stepped on the ice for practice or games -- I was like a kid. Maybe I didn't play that way, but, boy, that's what I remember. Walking out of the locker room and taking that first stride, it was like, 'Wow. This is fun' every single day no matter how bad the team was that I played for."
The sentiment Holik shares is, I think, an important one to keep if one is planning to make a career out of anything - you have to enjoy what it is you do. Holik enjoyed playing hockey and because of this attitude, Holik is able to sum up his career as he told Chere:
"I always gave my best," he said of his career.
"I know one thing. I can walk away and not look back and wonder if I could have done more. Maybe I could have kept quiet at times."
Then he wouldn't have been Bobby Holik.
That last sentence, classic Holik. Thank you, Bobby Holik for what you have accomplished for the Devils and for not keeping quiet.
#16 / Center / New Jersey Devils
Jan 01, 1971
Career Stats: 1314 GP, 326 G, 421 A, 1423 PIM, 3345 SOG