It was announced yesterday morning on NHL.com and the New Jersey Devils website that Bryce Salvador would not be returning to the NHL in 2015-16 for his fourteenth season; instead, he will head home to Westfield, New Jersey where his retirement from the active roster will begin. His last couple of seasons were riddled by injuries and ineffectiveness, as the wear and tear of the game as well as his age started to catch up with him. While many Devils fans have been critical of Sal over the last few seasons (myself included), I still feel he was a good soldier for us at times and deserves a nice send-off; what follows this preamble is my attempt to provide that.
Bryce Salvador started his career as a sixth round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1994. He would be signed as a free agent by the St. Louis Blues in December of 1996; he wouldn't play an NHL game until the 2000-01 season when he made the Blues' roster. The Devils would acquire him in 2008 at the steep cost of a slightly used Cam Janssen.
Bryce's Devils career began fairly inauspiciously; he played 8 regular season games and 5 playoff games recording a mere goal in the playoffs; impressively, it was his only shot taken that postseason. He would go on to become a stalwart of the New Jersey blue line, posting a career high 16 points in the 2008-09 season. Notably, he would go on to miss an entire NHL season due to injury (which I'll discuss more in-depth in a moment), but would come back to aid New Jersey in a deep playoff run. His reward would be a new contract, and the obvious respect of his teammates when they chose him to be team captain.
Injuries began to pile up for Bryce again during his last couple of seasons as I mentioned above, and while he was not able to play one last game in front of the Prudential Center faithful, he leaves the ice with his health, which is the most important thing for any hockey player. The game, as we've all seen, can be very dangerous, sometimes to a life-altering point; for Bryce, said life-altering point almost became a reality.
Okay, so this is where everyone can plug in their jokes wondering which injury I'm talking about. In seriousness, I'm talking of course about the injury that forced Bryce to miss the 2010-11 season in its entirety; if you haven't done so yet, I recommend checking out this article by Bryce from The Player's Tribune, as before I read it, I don't think I really grasped HOW serious the injury was.
Everything that Bryce talks about in regards to that injury is some pretty scary stuff; I'm not a fan of the concept of having an injection directly into my eardrum, let alone all of the effects from the damage to his vestibular system. The article was really an eye-opener in terms of how hard he had to train just to return to normal, let alone play in the NHL again. His reasoning?'
But what fueled me even more was the thought that my kids didn't really understand what Daddy did for a living. They were just starting to understand hockey when I got hurt. Now I was just this grumpy guy they were stuck with all day. They had to see me back out on the ice in a Devils jersey, even if I had to go through hell to get there.
We're hockey fans; we're entitled to our opinions on how guys play because in the end it's due to our love of the game. Bryce Salvador the hockey player may have infuriated us at times as fans. I don't think after reading this that one person will have anything ill to say of Bryce Salvador the person; he could have easily retired then with his injury, but he didn't. Sal came back for 2011-12 and we got one hell of a run out of him and the team that year.
I have to be candid and honest and say again that I was never the biggest Bryce Salvador supporter, be it here on this site, or screaming expletives in conjunction with his name while watching games at home; however, I must say that I have always respected him, as I do all NHL players. I could never do the job that NHL players do; partly because I don't know how to ice skate and partly because I'm not sure I could put myself in front of a 90+ MPH slapshot as Sal did. It seems as though Bryce is leaving the game with his health and for that I'm thankful because he's had a bunch of serious injuries over the years, and it's never worth sacrificing your health for your job.
Speaking of sacrifice, Bryce did that on a nightly basis by stepping in front of pucks being shot at high speeds, and never once did he complain; he made some mistakes on the ice (who doesn't?) but knew he was being paid to block shots and provide a physical edge. His game deteriorated during the last few years of his career, but players who play a physical style tend to drop off quicker; just look at Ryane Clowe and Mike Richards. The fact that he was able to play through age 39 with the style he does is a testament to the man's toughness.
I also can't say that Bryce didn't have his good moments; let's take a trip back to 2012 again, shall we?
And to finish the clips, a nice check/tackle combo on James van Riemsdyk:
I have to say again after reading his article on The Player's Tribune, I have a whole new respect for Bryce Salvador after everything he went through. So I'd like to close by asking you to leave you thoughts, thank you all for reading, and if he ever reads this, thanks Bryce Salvador for putting your body on the line every night for Jersey's Team; I wish you nothing but happiness in the next chapter of your life.