The big sports story of the weekend: Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant announced that this will be his final season. He made the announcement Sunday, then went out and had the chance to tie the game on a dramatic, last-second shot. It did not go well.
That has led to plenty of talk about how Bryant has held on too long. You never want to say a player should have retired before he or she was ready -- after all, their job is to play. And if someone is still willing to pay them to do it, they're under no obligation to go out on our terms. But it's probably fair to see that some players' final years end up being, um, slightly below peak productivity. Yes, let's go with that.
That's true for the NHL too, of course. Sometimes, a legendary player ends his career with an exclamation point. And sometimes, the end comes as more of an ellipsis, trailing off into an awkward silence, followed by a shrug and a "never mind."
So, in an effort to make Kobe feel better about how things are ending, here are 10 examples of legends whose final seasons didn't quite meet the high standards they'd established over the rest of their careers.
It's fun to remember him as: Perhaps the greatest pure goal scorer the league has ever seen.
So let's forget the part where: ... he tried to hang on for one more post-lockout season with the Arizona Coyotes.
In his prime, Hull was the answer to the question, "What would happen if a guy with the goal-scoring skills and instincts of Alex Ovechkin played in an era where you could actually score goals?" That answer involved three straight seasons with 70-plus goals and a grand total of 741 career goals.
But none of those goals came with the Coyotes. Hull signed a two-year contract with the team as a free agent in 2004, then saw the first year of the deal wiped out by the lockout. When play resumed in 2005, a 41-year-old Hull didn't exactly look like a great fit for the new, faster NHL, and he lasted just five games before calling it quits.
Hull was all sorts of fun to watch for the better part of two decades. But when your retirement headline includes the words "effective immediately," you've probably held on too long.
It's fun to remember him as: One of the most decorated goaltenders of all time, a three-time champion and the league's ultimate can't-picture-him-in-any-other-uniform guy.
So let's forget the part where: ... he tried a seven-game comeback with the St. Louis Blues.
Brodeur spent 21 years with the New Jersey Devils, winning three Cups, earning a trophy case full or hardware and firmly establishing himself as a Devils legend. When he and the franchise parted ways after the 2014 season and he made it through the offseason without signing elsewhere, hockey fans celebrated a terrific career while breathing a sigh of relief that we wouldn't have to see the NHL's Willie Mays-as-a-Met moment.
But then came December and a call from the Blues. St. Louis already had Jake Allen, and Brian Elliott was on his way back from a knee injury, but they wanted another experienced goalie because, well, nobody was quite sure, but that's a story for another time.
Brodeur came in, started five games, and played fine. He wasn't good, but he didn't embarrass himself. But when Elliott returned a month later, Brodeur dropped to third on the depth chart and never played again. He retired midseason and took a front-office job in St. Louis.
It's fun to remember him as: Arguably the greatest Maple Leaf of all time.
So let's forget the part where: ... he came back and played that half-season with the Canucks.
After four good years in Quebec, Sundin built a Hall of Fame résumé over 13 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. But with the team struggling and fans demanding a rebuild, Sundin went through a messy breakup with the franchise in 2008. He refused to waive a no-trade clause at the deadline, citing loyalty and a refusal to be a midseason rental. He then hit free agency in the offseason, only to drag his feet on a decision over whether he even wanted to return to the NHL.
He eventually did, signing with the Canucks in December, and he went on to play better than you probably remember over a half-season in Vancouver. But age and wear and tear caught up to him in the playoffs; he missed several games with a groin problem, and the Canucks bowed out in the second round. Sundin retired for good in the offseason and later expressed regret about leaving Toronto.
It's fun to remember him as: The greatest defenseman, and quite possibly greatest player, in NHL history.
So let's forget the part where: ... he finished up playing two partial seasons over three years with the Blackhawks.
Over the course of 10 seasons with the Boston Bruins, Orr was a game-changer, redefining what a defenseman could do. He won the Norris eight straight times, collected three MVPs and -- maybe most amazing of all -- added two scoring titles from the blue line. And then his knees gave out.
Orr was still only 27 years old in 1975, when knee problems limited him to just 10 games in what would be his final season in Boston. He became a free agent in 1976 and went through a bitter divorce from the Bruins. He signed with the Chicago Blackhawks but could play just 20 games in 1976-77. After sitting out an entire season in hopes of getting healthy, he tried a comeback in 1978 but lasted just six games before announcing his retirement.
Years later, Orr expressed regret about leaving the Bruins and claimed to have been misled by agent Alan Eagleson.
It's fun to remember him as: A ridiculous offensive defenseman and quite possibly the best skater ever.
So let's forget the part where: ... he hung around long enough to play for, well, pretty much everyone.
It's always fun to play the Paul Coffey Game. It works like this: You start listing the teams Coffey played for at the end of his career, in reverse order, and see how far back you have to go before you can actually picture him in that uniform. Boston? Nope. Carolina Hurricanes? Sorry. The Blackhawks? That was only 10 games, so no. The Philadelphia Flyers? Maybe, yeah, kind of vaguely. The Hartford Whalers? Now you're making stuff up.
In all, Coffey ended up wearing nine different uniforms over the course of his 21-year career. He retired for good on the eve of the 2001-02 season.
It's fun to remember him as: A longtime Hab, Hawk and Red Wing who played more games than any defenseman in league history.
So let's forget the part where: ... he spent most of his final season in the minors before spending the last seven games of his career with the Atlanta Thrashers.
Does going from the AHL to the Thrashers even count as a call-up? I'm not sure it does. But I think we can all agree that this never happened. Let's never speak of this again.
It's fun to remember him as: One of the great goaltenders of the 1980s, a Hall of Famer with a reputation for rising to the moment in big games.
So let's forget the part where: ... he finished up with a half-season in Calgary.
Fuhr made his reputation over the course of 10 years with the Edmonton Oilers, playing on five Cup-winning teams. He then went on to stops in Toronto, Buffalo and L.A. before a strong stint in St. Louis that included that delightfully weird 1995-96 season when Mike Keenan tried to start him in every single game over an entire season. It was a really fun career.
But it ended in somewhat forgettable fashion, thanks to a trade to the Calgary Flames in 1999. Seeing an Oilers legend in a Flames uniform never felt right (especially on the nights when they looked like this), and Fuhr struggled through a season as a backup to Freddie Brathwaite. Fuhr won five of his 23 games and posted a .856 save percentage. Is .856 bad in the Dead Puck Era? I'll need to check with the analytics guys on that one, but I think it's bad.
It's fun to remember him as: A legendary setup man for snipers such as Hull and Cam Neely.
So let's forget the part where: ... he finished his career with the Oilers.
I'll admit, I have no recollection of Oates playing in Edmonton. I'm not sure anyone does. But according to the history books, it happened, and he recorded two goals and 16 assists over the course of the season.
Here's my question: How bad were the wingers on the 2003-04 Oilers that Adam Freaking Oates could manage only 16 assists? This is the same guy who went into Washington at the age of 37 and somehow turned Chris Simon into a 29-goal scorer. I'm pretty sure I could score 15 goals on a line with Adam Oates right now, and he's 53 and I can barely skate.
(As a fun side note: While Oates ended up finishing his career in Edmonton, he could have started it there, turning down an opportunity as a college free agent in the mid-1980s. Imagine him as a third-line center behind Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.)
It's fun to remember him as: The prototypical two-way forward, one who could contend for the Art Ross or the Selke while helping the Colorado Avalanche win two Stanley Cups.
So let's forget the part where: ... he tried to make a comeback in Colorado. No, the other one.
Forsberg's initial run in Colorado was spectacular despite various injuries that cost him one full season and limited him in others. His best season was 2002-03, when he won the scoring title and MVP. But that would be his last full season with the Avalanche; he missed half of the following season with injuries and became a free agent after the lockout.
He signed with the Flyers in 2005 and was good for a season and a half before a midseason trade to the Nashville Predators. That stint in Nashville seemed to spell the end of his NHL career, as a foot injury sidelined him for most of the 2007-08 season. With comeback rumors swirling, Forsberg initially denied that he'd be returning before signing with the Avalanche a week later. He looked great, racking up 14 points in nine regular-season games, before having surgery on his foot and retiring for good. Or so we thought.
Three years later, Forsberg stunned the hockey world by returning to the Avalanche. The comeback lasted just two games; Forsberg pulled the plug without even dressing for a home game.
Pretty much everyone who finished their careers with the Detroit Red Wings.
So let's forget the part where: ... they all spent one final season in Detroit.
It's kind of weird how often that happens, right? I'm pretty sure it's weird. It's the NHL's equivalent of the homing instinct in the animal kingdom. Giant sea turtles swim hundreds of miles across open oceans to return to the place of their birth; hockey players sign for one last season in Detroit.
I'm not even kidding, I think there's at least a 30 percent chance that Kobe changes his mind and spends next season playing on the Red Wings' fourth line.