When the NHL suspended last season in March, Deryk Engelland spent four months around his family and saw the things he’d usually miss while at the rink or travelling around North America.
Even though the Vegas Golden Knights wouldn’t be bringing him back, Engelland had opportunities to play elsewhere. He thought back on his experience in the spring and ultimately decided to retire at age 38, becoming the latest veteran to step away from hockey before players report to training camps to prepare for a shortened 2021 season.
“It was a really tough decision,” Engelland said on a video call. “It took a long time obviously. This season’s about to start here in a couple weeks, so waited right down to the end.”
Engelland is moving on after 11 seasons to take a role with the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation. Engelland was the Golden Knights’ first local player, selected in the expansion draft after living in Las Vegas for most of his career.
Owner Bill Foley called the rugged defenceman a “no ego, selfless, hardworking player who has an unwavering commitment to protecting those who are unable to protect themselves.” Engelland was part of Vegas’ Stanley Cup Final run in its inaugural 2017-18 season. He declined offers from the front office to be traded at the 2020 deadline when it was clear he wasn’t going to be a regular part of the lineup.
Engelland appreciated that and ultimately decided he wanted to retire with the Golden Knights.
“It comes down to if I wanted to go put another jersey on,” Engelland said. “With the uncertainty of this season until a week ago, it made it a little easier to make that decision.”
Last week, St. Louis Blues forward Alex Steen announced his retirement because of a back injury, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said a heart condition would prevent him from playing. Lundqvist signed a one-year contract with the Washington Capitals in October after a lengthy career as the face of the franchise for the New York Rangers.
“After lots of discussions with doctors around the country, and finally receiving the last results earlier this week, I unfortunately won’t be able to join the team this year,” Lundqvist said. “It’s still very hard for me to process all of this.”
Steen spent the past several months processing the situation after feeling back pain while in Edmonton, Alberta, for the NHL’s bubble playoffs. Unlike Engelland and Lundqvist, who reached the final but never won it all, Steen lifted the Stanley Cup with St. Louis in 2019 and realized he accomplished everything he wanted as a player.
“There’s no exact day or anything when that decision was made,” Steen said. “It was just something that I had good contact with our team doctors and our management with (general manager Doug Armstrong) and everybody and just talking about how it was progressing. … Ultimately I just couldn’t get my body to respond the way I had been able to before.”
New York Islanders defenceman Johnny Boychuk retired last month with an eye injury. Steen, Boychuk and Lundqvist will be considered injured players and paid for the season. Those teams can use long-term injury relief to save against the $81.5 million salary cap that’s remaining flat in light of revenues lost to the pandemic.
Engelland’s contract was up. Questions still remain about another free agent defenceman: 43-year-old Zdeno Chara, who could return for a 15th season with the Boston Bruins team he led to the Stanley Cup in 2011.
“We still have to flesh that out,” Bruins president Cam Neely said Monday. “I think Zee was waiting to see what the schedule looked like, how it may impact his decision.”
The NHL is expected to release its schedule for a 56-game 2021 season Wednesday. It includes a one-time realignment into four divisions to reduce travel and eliminate U.S.-Canada border crossing concerns.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press