Sami Kapanen could see the writing, like a figure eight on ice.
So rather than endure another season of decreasing playing time and further injury, the scrappy Flyers right winger retired from the NHL yesterday after 12 seasons, more than four of them in Philadelphia.
This season, he finished with five goals and three assists in 74 games and tallied two goals and no assists in 16 playoff games as the Flyers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
Kapanen plans to return to his native Finland to play a couple of more seasons of professional hockey for KalPa Kuopio, a team he co-owns. He got his start there in 1989 and played 10 games for Kalpa during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
"It seems that the past couple of seasons I have had a few injuries, so I cannot plan too much ahead, but the plan is to play over there," said Kapanen, who will turn 35 on June 14.
He said he started seriously considering retirement when he was a healthy scratch for the first playoff game, against the Washington Capitals.
"I don't want to leave the game on terms of disappointment and kind of bitterness," Kapanen said at a news conference at the Skate Zone in Voorhees. "I want to go out having fun and playing the way I grew up playing hockey.
"I would say this season wasn't something that I was looking for; it was disappointing. It was disappointing the way I played, and I just feel like I can't handle another season like that."
When Kapanen played on the fourth line in the playoffs, the former all-star was often on the ice less than 10 minutes a game.
"I do think that he had a little bit of trouble with his role on the team," general manager Paul Holmgren said, "and I think maybe some of our young skilled players passed him by, which is a natural progression of probably how it is supposed to be."
Kapanen had one year left on a contract that would have netted him $1.25 million. Holmgren said the Flyers' payroll for next season would not include the salary.
Kapanen and Holmgren said the veteran could have requested a trade, but the three-time Olympian said he wanted his wife, Petra, and four children to settle back in Finland.
"I think if I go back home and play there, no matter how you play, you are still going to stay there after hockey," Kapanen said. "That's easier for the family that way."
After close to eight seasons with the Hartford Whalers-Carolina Hurricanes organization, Kapanen was traded to the Flyers, along with Ryan Bast, for Pavel Brendl and Bruno St. Jacques on Feb. 7, 2003.
In 311 games for the Flyers, he notched 44 goals and 66 assists for 110 points. His best offensive seasons, however, were in Carolina, where he scored more than 20 goals in five straight seasons and won two berths in the All-Star Game.
With the Flyers, he was mostly known for his versatility and professionalism.
"He has a lot of grit and determination and blood and guts because he has literally spilled blood and guts for the organization," Holmgren said.