The weekend before Christmas, Brent Seabrook celebrated the upcoming holiday with a classic Canadian winter retreat.
At that moment, life was good. The 35-year-old defenseman felt largely recovered from his trifecta of hip and shoulder surgeries 11 months earlier. He was excited to rejoin the Blackhawks for January training camp, continue his NHL career after more than a year off and disprove the endless criticism over his albatross contract.
“We [got] up Saturday and went up into the mountains with the kids,” Seabrook said. “A bunch of the dads from my son’s hockey team shoveled off a pond, and the kids skated. We did some ice fishing, made a fire and had a beer.”
Then, the morning of Dec. 21, life struck back, dealing a fatal blow to Seabrook’s determination to keep his 15-year Hawks career alive.
“I woke up, and I couldn’t walk,” he said. “I had no idea why. And it’s been like that ever since.”
After trying and failing over the last few months to regain any momentum toward an eventual return, Seabrook announced his retirement Friday.
In the official NHL lexicon, he’s not explicitly retiring. Instead, “it will not be possible for [him] to continue playing hockey.” He’ll spend the remaining 3½ years of his contract on long-term injured reserve, receiving all of his guaranteed salary while providing the Hawks some salary-cap relief — although that relief is complicated and Seabrook’s $6.875 million cap hit through 2024 will remain an obstacle.
But Seabrook made it clear that after 1,237 regular-season and postseason games, three Stanley Cups and three of the biggest overtime goals in Hawks history — Game 7 against the Red Wings in 2013, Game 4 against the Bruins in 2013 and Game 4 against the Predators in 2015 — this is definitely the end.
“It was a hell of a run,” Seabrook said. “I’ll never forget these last 15, 16 years.”
This 16th year might not be remembered quite as fondly. Seabrook said he considered retiring a month ago but realized he’d regret it later if he didn’t make one last push.
He skated on his own for several weeks, then tried practicing with the Hawks’ taxi squad last weekend. But he found it difficult to keep up, given he couldn’t push, pivot or turn on his right hip.
That prompted a talk with Dr. Michael Terry, the Hawks’ team physician, where it became clear his options were exhausted.
Seabrook first spoke privately and individually with longtime teammates Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews about his decision, then addressed the whole team this week before going public.
Terry said in a statement Friday that he and Seabrook “tried all available conservative treatments, and nothing has worked well enough for him to live life as an athlete.” Seabrook described the process as like “throwing darts at a dartboard.”
An X-ray revealed Thursday that Seabrook has no cartilage remaining in his right hip. A hip replacement might be needed eventually, he thinks, in order to achieve his newly set goal of being able to ski regularly with his wife and three kids.
“I told my body to screw off for 15 years, and it finally turned around and said, ‘Well, I’m not going to do it anymore,’ ” he said.
Seabrook’s final NHL game turned out to be Dec. 15, 2019 — a 5-3 win over the Wild at home. On Dec. 18, healthy-scratched for the third time in two months, he finally approached Hawks doctors about a multitude of physical ailments, which came as a shock to team management.
“He never mentioned anything, and then when he finally did mention it, we realized how serious it was and how he’d been playing with this for a long time,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “That goes to his personality. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of things. You’d see him block shots, and he could barely walk. We’d say, ‘You have to get that X-rayed.’ And he said, ‘I’m fine.’ That’s how he was wired.”
Seabrook’s bad contract and declining play — partially because of those undisclosed injuries — made him a frequent scapegoat in recent years.
But during his prime, he and Keith stood equally as the Hawks’ defensive cornerstones.
From 2007-08 through 2015-16, he missed only 13 of 786 games and played an average of almost 23 minutes per night, cementing himself as one of the NHL’s most reliable defensive defensemen. His offensive contributions were never as heralded, but he averaged a quietly impressive 35 points per season during that span.
And in the locker room, Seabrook’s unflappable demeanor and uncanny ability to always say the right thing at the right time — be it to a certain teammate or the whole team — was a driving force behind the Hawks’ three championships. His No. 7 sweater stands a good chance of one day rising to the United Center rafters.
Asked Friday how he hopes to be remembered in Chicago, Seabrook — his physical weathering having finally overcome his warrior mindset — characteristically demanded nothing.
“I played, I gave everything I had, I tried to do it the right way, and I wanted to be the best I could,” he said. “That’s a decision for people to make up on their own.”