Vancouver Canucks forward Derek Dorsett says he is devastated after deciding to follow medical advice and end his hockey career due to spinal problems.
Doctors have recommended he not return to the ice because of "long-term, significant health risks" associated with a cervical disc herniation, the Canucks said Thursday.
"It will take a long time for this to truly sink in," Dorsett said in a release. "As hard as it was to hear, (the) diagnosis is definitive. There is no grey area, and it gives me clarity to move forward."
Dorsett was shut down 14 games into the 2016-17 season when the numbness he often felt after delivering or receiving a hit became progressively worse.
The 30-year-old underwent spinal surgery a year ago and was cleared to play this season. But he recently began experiencing back and neck stiffness.
Dr. Robert Watkins, who performed Dorsett's surgery, said tests revealed that he has sustained a "cervical disc herniation adjacent and separate to his previous fusion."
Watkins and Canucks team doctor Bill Regan both advised Dorsett to end his pro career.
"His pre-existing conditions, combined with the recent surgery and the risks associated with continuing to play led to a recommendation that Derek seriously consider not playing again," said Regan.
Known more for his fists than his skill with the puck most of his career, Dorsett had exceeded expectations this season. Canucks rookie head coach Travis Green had upped his minutes and cast him in a shutdown role along with Brandon Sutter and Markus Granlund, where he registered seven goals and two assists in 20 games.
In 515 career NHL games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the New York Rangers, and the Canucks, Dorsett collected 51 goals and 76 assists. Undersized in the role he was cast at just six feet and 192 pounds, the Kindersley, Sask., native also finishes with 1,324 penalty minutes after twice leading the league in that category.
Dorsett, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2006 draft by Columbus, tops the NHL this season with 77 penalty minutes despite sitting out the last five games.
"He's an example of what you can accomplish when you persevere," said Canucks general manager Jim Benning. "He is a great teammate, a terrific role model and leader for younger players. This is truly unfortunate news for Derek, his family and our team."
While Dorsett said he was still processing the news, he was looking to the future Thursday.
"I have a healthy young family and a long life of opportunities ahead of me," he said. "Hockey taught me a lot and it will help me be successful in whatever I choose to do in the future."
The team said Dorsett would meet with the media soon.
"I still have so many thoughts to share and people to thank for all of their support," he said. "What I can say for certain right now is that I left it all out on the ice. I gave my heart and soul to the teams I played for and never backed down from a challenge, including this one. I am proud of the way I played. It made me successful and a good teammate. Most of all I am truly honoured and grateful to have lived the NHL dream."