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Voluntary Retirement: Not an Option | February
It's a very strange dynamic, another one of the many reasons you and I will never understand what it's like to be a professional athlete. Maybe if our jobs closer resembled one of our childhood pastimes we'd stop checking our 401k balance and occasionally guessing what it would be like to actually just walk out and never come back.

For the professional athlete it's an entirely different case. I follow the news fairly closely and I can only think of 3 players who have retired this offseason - Chris Chelios, Arron Ward, and that guy from the Canadiens. I should clarify - retired because they were old. Riley Cote also retired this summer, but he retired in a blaze of glory the likes of which the professional sporting community had never seen. I've never heard of a 28 year old retiring from anything except shots or one-night stands, but Cote made what might turn out to be the best move for himself in the long run by bowing out of the game while his brain was in relatively decent shape.

But think about how many guys have played in the NHL over the past two, three, four years, and how few you ever hear of retiring. Guys take their demotions, head to Europe, or take a professional tryout, basically anything to avoid that underwhelming news conference. And even if a PTO doesn't pan out they stay in shape and wait for the trade deadline, hoping to catch on with a team that's looking to fill some holes that injury will inevitably create. And, when you look at it, as if money weren't good enough reason, why would these guys retire?

Poets and the Discovery Channel would have you believe that Spring is the season of rebirth. You, however, know this is not true. From the time you were 5 or so, when did everything start up? Breakfast? No. Now that you're apparently an adult, when do people stop taking vacations at work? When do sports get interesting? When does tv come back? Everything starts in September. For 16 years, your formative years, you were programmed to hit the restart button in September. You got new clothes, new notebooks, you swore to do better. And that doesn't just got away. It has become embedded in our DNA. Even as we get older it will still be there, and I imagine, when we (you and I) have kids it gets even worse, because you can't wait to shove their little chubby faces and Bieber hair onto the bus so that when they poop their pants doing push ups it's someone else's problem.

Excuse me.

Now imagine that the arrival of Fall had meant the beginning of training over the past 35 years. You don't think your mind and body might have gotten used to that? How do you just turn it off? Every Autumn for the past 35 years you would have begun the routine. You had a definitive goal you were working towards. Now that's gone. You had a real reason you needed to get on that bike and kick your own ass. Now that's gone too. You had a coach telling you what to do all day. Now you're free to do whatever you want, kind of like Brooks Hatlen from Shawshank Redemption. Where you used to rejoin the brotherhood of the locker room, escaping all the formalities and buzz kills of the real world, you now watch Ellen. The comrodary is also, now gone. Like a soldier who kept pretending that the Civil War never ended you got to ditch your responsibilities at home and go do whatever you wanted. That is definitely gone now, as it's time for you to pay the piper in regards to house work and fatherly duties.

You're going from flying in a chartered plane, drinking beers on the road with 30 of your best friends, being able to bench press buildings, having people wear your jerseys, women and gay men fawn over you, and enjoying the life of the only recognized when you want to be celebrity to scouring the aisles for baking powder and coming home with baking soda.

And now the money. Dan Ellis said it in the wrong way the other week, but when you only have 6 years to make your life's fortune I guarantee that weighs on you a bit. If you can pick up an extra $500k and maintain the lifestyle you trained yourself to expect, where's the choice in that? There is none, you just do it. If you can live, for free, in Switzerland and be a superstar for the first time in your life as your kids become Olympic skiers and learn the importance of timeliness and precision while you smoke cigarettes on the bench then you do it. You always move your family to a continent loaded with decently paying hockey clubs in some of the world's most beautiful cities when they offer you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Write that down so you don't forget.

Jonathan Cheechoo, Wayne Primeau, Bill Guerin, Miroslav Satan, Brendan Morrison, Manny Legace, and all you others - never let go. Because Kevin Weekes and Matthew Barnaby (or is that Michael Peca, I always confuse those two. I actually think it might be both...) already took the analyst positions. Riley Cote really cut you off at the knees on that assistant coaching job. I know that there is pain, but you hold one for one more day and you, break free from the chains - or get a deal when someone eventually gets hurt. And if you're the one that gets hurt then maybe that's even better. Because if you don't pull a Rathje you can end up with a job in the front office, a la Derain Hatcher.

I think that professional athletes have learned that there's no upside to gracefully bowing out of a profession like this - that's a move for suckers. In this life, in this world, when there's a chance that someone will pay you assloads of money to do what you kind of want to do anyway, you take it. Never announce anything unless your new role requires it. Never committee to something off the ice unless you can't perform on it. Just stay busy. As I flip through the history books and see careers that span from 1970-1979 or 1982-1993 I have to wonder if these guys don't have some regrets. There's no need to hurry into the turtleneck and sports jacket club willingly. At some point they'll come for you like the demons from Ghost, and you'll have no choice.