Another Retirement Marks The Slow Sunset Of Sports Video Games’ Greatest Roster

Today, the four-time Stanley Cup champion and seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom retired. All of Lidstrom’s 1,564 games were played for a single team, the Detroit Red Wings, and all but one of his 20 seasons were spent on NHL ’94, one of the greatest console sports video games ever.

Popularly known thanks to the scene in the cult-hit film Swingers (in which Trent makes Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed), NHL ’94 still stands among the best licensed sports titles ever made — so good that the series, on the current generation, named a simplified set of controls for it. NHL ’94 captured the league in one of its most talent-rich times, with once-in-a-generation performers such as Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Ray Borque, Steve Yzerman and Patrick Roy all appearing during their active careers. And Jeremy Roenick, the player who made Gretzky bleed in that famous scene, is regarded as one of the greatest video game athletes ever, in the discussion with Michael Vick in Madden NFL 2004, Ken Griffey Jr., and the greatest of all time, Tecmo Bo Jackson.

Last year, Doug Weight, Mark Recchi, Alexi Kovalev and Mike Modano were NHL ’94 alumni who said goodbye. Lidstrom joined them today. Who’s left?

The game released in March of 1993. Comparing players who had NHL tenure at that time against those who were on the game, there are just three: Teemu Selanne, Roman Hamrlik, and Jaromir Jagr.

Hamrlik is under contract and almost certain to play next year. Selanne keeps re-signing the kind of one-year deals that Lidstrom played under as his tenure in Detroit closed out. Jagr, after a three-year stint in Russia, returned to the Philadelphia Flyers this year, and has expressed confidence that he can play until 50.

Others of note: Martin Brodeur — appearing now in the Stanley Cup Final — was not in the league in 1992-1993, which would have been the basis for the NHL ’94 roster. San Jose’s Ray Whitney likewise was not on the game’s roster, probably because he was a rookie that year, having appeared in only two games the season before.

It’s possible we won’t see any further losses from the NHL ’94 in the next season. After that, who knows. They could all be gone forever.

I’d like to thank reader James daSilva for bringing this up. It calls attention to a ritual of sports — the end of a hall-of-fame career — in a way that is peculiar to the video game era. We’re seeing the full retirement of the first generation of athletes who began and played their entire professional careers alongside a representation of themselves in a video game.

These games, as much as any record book or any reel of film, are a permanent archive of the days when they shone the brightest, and a means to forever know the glory of their times.

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