Joe Nieuwendyk won an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada in 2002. ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))

Persistent back and knee pain hastened Joe Nieuwendyk's retirement from the NHL. But hehung up his skates without regret.

"These things accumulate over the years," Nieuwendyk told reporters Thursday in announcing his retirement.

"It's a rough game. I really don't have anything to be upset about."

Nieuwendyk remained a productive player for the Florida Panthers this season, his 20th in the NHL.

The 40-year-old veteran posted three goals and five assists for eight points in 15 games, but chronic back pain sidelined him for 14 games and finally forced him to walk away.

"I've gone as hard as I can," he said.

Nieuwendyk was one of the most respected players of his generation, an elegant forward with a knack for scoring key goals and winning faceoffs.

Most importantly, he was a winner, withthree Stanley Cups rings and a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games.

"Joe was a great player and a class act and I really enjoyed being around him, both on and off the ice," Dallas Stars forward Mike Modano said.

"As great a player as he was, he was an even better teammate," said retired forward Brett Hull, Nieuwendyk's trigger man with the Stars. "He got along with everybody, was very classy, unbelievably skilled and clutch."

"He brought a different aspect to our team," said New Jersey Devils and Team Canada goaltender Martin Brodeur. "He was one of the great centremen I played with, a leader who blended in right away."

Nieuwendyk was equally inspired by Calgary Flames teammate Lanny McDonald, who capped his Hall of Fame career by hoisting the Stanley Cup in 1989.

Nieuwendyk, who claimed the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie the year before, was a key cog for the Flames, with 51 goals and 82 points in 77 games.

"Seeing what it meant to somebody like Lanny McDonald to go out the way he did, that was inspirational," Nieuwendyk recalled. "Then, to see a franchise build like we did in a city like Dallas, where hockey wasn't the most popular things in the papers, that was a great thrill."

Top playoff performer

Nieuwendyk won the Conn Smythe Trophy as top playoff performer when the Stars captured the Stanley Cup in 1999 and helped the Devils win it all in 2003.

The Whitby, Ont., native aspired to win a fourth Stanley Cup with Toronto in 2004, but the powerhouse Maple Leafs were ousted in six games by the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the playoffs.

"We had a good group of guys and a competitive team," Nieuwendyk said. "It was disappointing.

"Sometimes, there is a fine line between winning and losing and it was close with Philadelphia that season. It was one of the greatest experiences in my career, having grown up in the Toronto area and getting to play there.

"It was a thrill to have the excitement of the [Air Canada Centre crowd] every night. You felt everybody living and breathing hockey in southern Ontario, so it was a great experience."

Nieuwendyk was drafted in the second round (27th overall) by Calgary in 1985 and had 559 goals and 1,118 points in 1,242 NHL games.

"He was an all-around elite player," said Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey, Nieuwendyk's boss in Dallas. "He was the kind of player whose accomplishments merit consideration for the Hall of Fame."

With files from the Associated Press