Nieuwendyk calls it a career

Joe Nieuwendyk, a two-time 50-goal scorer with the Calgary Flames in the 1980s, has been forced to retire from the NHL due to persistent back problems.

Joe Nieuwendyk, a two-time 50-goal scorer with the Calgary Flames in the 1980s, has been forced to retire from the NHL due to persistent back problems.

The veteran centre made the announcement Wednesday on the advice of doctors, thus ending his 20-year career.

"I have the reached the stage where structurally my back isn't going to get any better. It's not the way I intended it, but I have to be realistic as well," Nieuwendyk, who visited a back specialist in Cleveland on Dec. 1, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Nieuwendyk, 40, played through pain in recent years but managed to dress for only 15 of 29 games this season with the Florida Panthers.

A native of Whitby, Ont., Nieuwendyk informed his teammates of his decision in what he described as a "pretty emotional meeting" before practice Wednesday.

Nieuwendyk played 10 of his NHL seasons in Canada, including nine in Calgary, where he scored 51 goals in the 1987-88 and 1988-89 campaigns.

The 1987-88 rookie of the year also reached 45 goals in each of the following two seasons and notched 39 in 1997-98 with the Dallas Stars.

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

"He is a very close friend, and I'm sorry to see him hang up the skates. But I'll know he'll succeed in whatever he does following his career."

However, the six-foot-two, 205-pounder hasn't topped the 30-goal plateau since and hasn't played more than 65 games the past two years.

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

A four-time all-star, Nieuwendyk won Stanley Cups with Calgary (1989), Dallas (1999) and New Jersey (2003). He also won a gold medal with Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.

"Joey was a great player and as great a player as he was, he
was an even better teammate," said Brett Hull, who played with Nieuwendyk in Calgary and Dallas. "He got along with everybody, was very classy,
unbelievably skilled and clutch."

Nieuwendyk notched 564 goals and added 562 assists for 1,126 points in 1,257 career NHL regular-season games for five teams. He also played for New Jersey and Toronto.