Another NHL career has been cut short by the concussion epidemic.
Andy McDonald, the Anaheim Ducks’ eighth all-time leading scorer, called it a career last week after suffering from post-concussion symptoms. The 35-year old forward spent 12 years in the NHL, splitting time between the Ducks and St. Louis Blues. He amassed 187 goals, 307 assists and 489 points in 685 games, including an 85-point season in 2005-06 that placed him just five points behind team-leader Teemu Selanne.
All of those numbers were overshadowed by one medical statistic: McDonald suffered five documented concussions in his career.
“The last few years, too much of the focus became worrying about the next hit. I was always thinking about it.” McDonald told Andy Strickland of TrueHockey.com. “I’m fortunate to get out now. I know I could play two or three more years and I love the game of hockey, but healthwise I know I shouldn’t be playing.”
McDonald battled with concussions throughout most of his entire career. In February 2003, during his third NHL season, McDonald suffered his first concussion as a member of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. He missed the rest of the regular season and the entire 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs. He was forced to watch from the press box as his team went to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
McDonald’s most recent documented concussion was suffered on October 13, 2011 when teammate Nikita Nikitin bumped McDonald from behind and was then accidentally hit in the head by Dallas Stars forward Vernon Fiddler. He missed 60 games before returning on February 29, 2012.
McDonald was set to become an unrestricted free-agent this summer. The undrafted Colgate University product’s future with the Blues’ roster was cloudy at best after going scoreless in six playoff games. This was on the heals of posting just six points (3G, 3A) in his final 13 regular season games. Factor in that the Blues’ offense seems to get younger every season and the cards do not stack in McDonald’s favor.
Although McDonald was slightly coveted amongst a mostly pedestrian list of free-agents, this was a solid career move. McDonald and his wife, Gina, have two young children and plan to remain in St. Louis to raise them. Uprooting a family during the steady decline of a career always proves to be difficult.
McDonald’s former Anaheim teammate, Chris Pronger, has seen the ugliest side of concussions imaginable. He has faced depression, fatique and chronic headaches along with every other symptom you read about that come with concussions. He has been forced into retirement as many have before him. Some of the players that also struggled with these long-term effects include NHL greats Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau, Paul Kariya and Pat LaFontaine.
Lauren Pronger, Chris’ wife, has been very open about wishing for “good days” for her husband. This is not a recent injury for Pronger, either; he has not played in an NHL game since November 19, 2011.
The hope is that McDonald can begin the second portion of his adult-life without long-lasting, lingering effects. Had he decided to play a few more seasons, chances are that he would not be able to say that.
McDonald has won a Stanley Cup. He had a successful professional career despite going undrafted in the OHL and NHL. He has even been a major factor in the rebuild of a broken St. Louis franchise.
All careers come to an end but McDonald did it in a fashion that allows him to live a normal, post-NHL life.