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NHL Hall of Famers: A reminder that retirement comes when body and mind no longer agree

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Visnovsky's body is cooperating right now, but he knows that can change at any time.

Keepin' at it.
Keepin' at it.
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Among this year's Hall of Fame inductions is a familiar characteristic: Longevity. Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake, Mike Modano and Dominik Hasek retired from the NHL at ages 37, 40, 40 and 43. It's a testament to our expectation of today's greats that we see Forsberg's career as "short" because the injury that ended it really took hold at age 34.

Yet as long as their careers were, all of them would've played longer if they could have. Most retired while hanging on with teams that history will forget.

Blake ended up in San Jose. Modano was a healthy scratch in Detroit. Forsberg was back in Colorado, playing only two games in 2010-11 before his chronic foot issue finally won the war. Hasek returned to the Czech Republic while waiting for one more NHL call.

Dodging the Reaper

Anticipating the end has to be one of the hardest parts about star players' careers. They are used to being the featured player, the guy with his choice of teams, the guys for whom the game "comes easy" (even though we know they work their tails off too).

While the rank and file players see the writing on the wall when no one asks them back in their late 20s or early 30s, the stars are usually given a longer leash.

But whether a player is getting a farewell tour at each arena or he quietly disappears from NHL transactions lists one fall, one experience is the same: The body no longer keeps up.

Justin Bourne's recent Score Q&A with Jarrod Skalde -- who owns "hockey's most interesting resume" -- captured this dynamic perfectly:

I finished a season in Leksand, Sweden and you hit a point in your career where you mind thinks you can do it, but really, you're not the same player. I always enjoyed the game, but it gets frustrating when you can't do the same things you're used to doing.

Jaromir Jagr has reached that point, and yet there is still so much he can do thanks to his mind and still-impressive body, so he's still a valuable contributor at the NHL level.

Doug Weight reached that point in an Islanders uniform, where the hands and even the skating were still there, but an assortment of injuries kept him from "doing the same things you're used to doing." Weight, who had major pelvic, abdominal and shoulder injuries among his career list of ailments, called it quits after another injury-polluted season.

But many players who hang on to expend every last fume don't realize it until it's too late. Which, honestly, you can understand: For some, better to quit when you know it's time rather than quit to early wondering what might have been.

Blake was willing to go to a division rival to try to extend things. After a year as a (North) Star, Modano joined Detroit for a forgettable "Willie Mays as a Met" season where he scored four goals. (Neither team retired that player's number, because neither team is the Colorado Avalanche.)

When to 'Cut Bait' Cuts Both Ways

Anticipating the end poses a challenge for general managers too: Apparently no one has offered Jagr a multi-year deal the last few seasons -- he turns 43 in February! -- yet if a team had given him a three-year deal in 2012 they'd not be regretting it today.

But you see NHL general managers increasingly be wary of offering long-term deals to players in their mid- to late 30s. Islanders fans have seen Garth Snow do this with Mark Streit, who was seeking a four-year deal, while retaining Lubomir Visnovsky, who could be kept with a two-year deal. Both are risks -- Streit is a little more than a year younger -- but Visnovsky's deal carried theoretically less risk.

Indeed, we've seen the risk with Visnovsky in the form of a concussion that wiped out most of last season. (To be clear, concussions, like all injuries can happen at any age. But you get the idea.) Now he's back healthy, contributing and looking in fine form at age 38.

By the interviews, he's just happy to be healthy and still playing hockey:

"Some guys are lucky, they don't have to know what it's like to miss close to 60 games, to have the concussion and all those problems," Visnovsky said before last night's game. "I'm happy to be playing, my family is happy. All I think about is the game tonight. Game to game, that's it for now."

Game to game. As this week's Hall of Fame inductees have shown, at his age that's the only way to approach it.