- The Recap: Game 6 ECQF: Habs vs Rangers
- The Recency Bias: Round 1 – Game 6
- What Just Happened? Habs’ Season Ends at MSG
- The Recap: Game 5 – ECQF: Rangers vs. Habs
- The Recency Bias: Round 1 – Game 5
- What Just Happened? Rangers top Habs 3-2 in OT
- The Forum: The First Round… So Far
- Dwight King Not Proving His Worth
- What Just Happened? Rangers Even the Series
- The Recap: Game 4 – ECQF – Habs vs Rangers
Vanishing Act: What Happened To These Habs?
- Updated: August 1, 2015
The dogs days of the NHL’s summer are upon us.
It is not the most exciting time of year by any stretch of the imagination, but if you pay attention, you might find a strange story worth telling.
While some NHL players sign contracts and secure their jobs in North America, there are not enough roster spots league wide to accommodate every NHL hopeful. These misfit-NHLers find their way out of North America in order to pursue their dreams of being professional hockey players in some capacity.
But why them? In other words, why did these guys have to leave? They couldn’t be that bad, could they?
I have found a few former Montreal Canadiens that cut their NHL careers short in order to play in Europe, and I found something peculiar.
As I researched former Habs as a sort of “Where are they now?” piece, I found that each of the players I looked at left North American hockey after a strange incident.
To further explain this phenomenon, I will introduce Richard Zednik.
Slovakian winger Richard Zednik spent five seasons with the Habs after being acquired in a trade with the Washington Capitals. Zednik would join the Canadiens along with Jan Bulis and a first round pick in 2001 in exchange for Trevor Linden. Dainius Zubrus and a second round pick that would later be used by Tampa Bay. As far as the legacy of this trade is concerned, Washington wins it hands down, but at the time, Zubrus was not producing and Linden was getting older.
Zednik holds a permanent record in the NHL, as he scored the first ever game winning goal in an outdoor game when the Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers took the ice at the Heritage Classic in 2003. Zednik potted the first goal as well, making him the first Montreal Canadien to score a goal in the great outdoors.
In 322 games with le Tricolore, Zednik posted 183 points and was a reliable offensive weapon. Zednik would ultimately be traded back to Washington in July of 2006, only to be traded once again to the New York Islanders at the 2007 trade deadline. Zednik has since retired, playing his last professional season with AIK IF of the SEL in 2011.
So what happened to him?
While playing with the Florida Panthers in 2008, Zednik suffered a life altering injury. In a game against the Buffalo Sabres, Zednik was skating along the wall behind teammate Olli Jokinen. Jokinen was tripped by the stick of Clarke MacArthur, sending his skates into the air and into Zednik’s neck. Zednik’s external carotid artery was opened and he was rushed to an area hospital. It was later reported that Zednik had lost approximately five units of blood, which is roughly the equivalent to five pints. Zednik would miss the remainder of the 2007-08 season but would return the following year. For some reason, Zednik decided to leave the NHL after the 2008-09 season and while it has not been explicitly discussed, it is hard to imagine that his scary injury had no role in this decision.
Now review the trade that brought Zednik to Montreal. In that trade, Montreal managed to get a first round pick. Unfortunately, he is the next player who up and left the NHL for Eastern hockey.
Montreal used Washington’s first round pick to select a Russian forward by the name of Alexander Perezhogin. Just for reference, Derek Roy and Mike Cammalleri went in the second round. Perezhogin would spend just two seasons with Montreal from 2005-07. First joining the Habs’ former American Hockey League Affiliate in Hamilton, Perezhogin seemed destined for success. In his first season of professional North American hockey, the Russian scorer played in 77 games while chipping in 50 points.
Unfortunately for the Canadiens, Perezhogin’s success at the AHL and minor league levels did not translate to NHL success. In 128 total NHL games, all with the Habs, Perezhogin managed a measly 38 points, nowhere close to the production expected from a first round pick of his calibre.
What’s his story?
While participating in the 2004 AHL playoffs with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Perezhogin’s team squared off against the Cleveland Barons, the former farm team of the San Jose Sharks. Perezhogin received a crosscheck to the head from Barons’ forward Garrett Stafford. After some extracurricular activities by both players, Perezhogin did his best Paul Bunyan impression, landing a chopping blow to the head of Stafford. Stafford was knocked unconscious and convulsed on the ice. It would be reported later that Stafford would need 20 stitches while losing teeth and suffering a concussion.
Subsequently, Perezhogin was suspended for the remainder of the playoffs and for the entirety of the 2004-05 season. The Hamilton Police would get involved, charging Perezhogin for the on ice attack. He would later be sentenced to one year of probation, ordered to make a $5000 charitable donation, and forced to cover Stafford’s medical bills.
The Canadiens’ brass determined that they had seen enough and did not offer him a contract renewal. Perezhogin currently plays for Avangard Omsk of the KHL, alongside former St. Louis Blue, Vladimir Sobotka. If Perezhogin wanted to pursue an NHL job once again, he would need to go through the Canadiens first, as he is still considered a restricted free agent and property of the Habs due to games played even though he is now 31 years old.
In this final case, an on-ice mistake cost the Canadiens a regulation win and may have triggered the beginning of the end of an NHL career.
Ryan O’Byrne was selected 79th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. A bit of a late bloomer, O’Byrne promised to be a large stay-at-home defenseman with some offensive upside.
In 2007, O’Byrne broke into the league with a small sample of NHL games with the Canadiens. O’Byrne would spend the majority of the season with the Hamilton Bulldogs and would ultimately lead the Habs AHL affiliate to a Calder Cup championship.
Playing with the Canadiens until 2011, the Victoria, B.C. native would appear in 128 contests with the Habs, chipping in a mere 16 points.
Although, it can be argued that O’Byrne should have one more point added to his career totals for his actions in a game against the Islanders in 2008.
The Habs lead by a goal late in the third period.
Sean Bergenheim takes a penalty for holding but the Canadiens control the puck.
Carey Price vacates the net quickly for an extra attacker.
O’Byrne feels forechecking pressure from the Islanders as the Canadiens are looking to kill the clock.
With his head down, O’Byrne does the unthinkable and plays the puck back to his own net. As the puck travels through the blue paint into the lonely net, O’Byrne puts his hands on top of his head, like a child that had just broken his neighbor’s window.
Bill Guerin would receive credit for the goal and the Islanders would go on to win the game in overtime.
One of the biggest and most embarrassing mistakes a hockey player can make, O’Byrne would never fully recover from this blunder. O’Byrne never played a full season with the Canadiens and in 2011, the Colorado Avalanche would acquire him in a trade for Quebec-native Michael Bournival.
O’Byrne would be on the move once again in 2013 as the Avalanche traded him to the playoff bound Toronto Maple Leafs.
Unable to sign a contract in North America, O’Byrne eventually landed in the KHL and currently plays for HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League.
As a bit of a disclaimer, I am not implying that these on-ice events doomed these players to European jobs. I just think it’s strange to look back at players that we would see nearly every game, and see how one event seemed to define their careers: one life-threatening injury, one act of rage, and one humiliating mistake.
I’m sure there are more that I have neglected; in fact, I am nearly positive there are, but these three seem to stick out in my mind when headlines come across my phone of guys like Louis Leblanc that had some much promise, yet fall out of favor in the NHL rather quickly.
Take a good look at the Habs roster and prospect pool now. There just might be another Richard Zednik, Alexander Perezhogin, or Ryan O’Byrne in the making.
Follow Ian on Twitter @ihabs1995.