For a long time everyone in hockey thought Bobby Holik was underrated.
He was this hulking, 6'3" 220lb shutdown center, a fantastic faceoff man and one of the best defensive forwards in the game, shutting down the likes of Mark Messier and Eric Lindros. He was a serious hitter, applying bone jarring checks at times. He was a bull in a china shop with the puck, able to drive to the net and apply a bullet of a shot. He was a consistent two way player, better than his annual statistics ever suggested. He was a key player for the New Jersey Devils' Stanley Cup runs in 1995 and 2000.
His status as underrated changed greatly in the summer of 2002, when the New York Rangers grossly overpaid for Holik's services, offering him a $45 million contract over 5 years. $9 million, a whopping $6 million a year increase, for Bobby Holik? For a player who relied on Crash Line teammates Mike Peluso and Randy McKay to light a fire under him? For a player who lacked creativity and vision to ever be more than a third or fourth line defensive stop gap? For a player who in his best years scored 25 goals and 60 points? For a blunt and opinionated aging player who once sprained his ankle playing ping pong?
It's funny how money can make you look differently at a player. Certainly no one would ever blame Holik for taking the contract. He likely never had any offer like that one. And he was one of the most important members of a Devils' near-dynasty that also went to game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2001.
But try as he might, he looked like a fish out of water after he crossed the Hudson and played for the Rangers. After two seasons he would have his contract bought out.
Holik signed with Atlanta for three seasons, where I think he once again returned to an underrated role. He was captain of the Thrashers in 2007-08. The Thrashers have never been a good situation, but Holik's experience and savvy was appreciated by teammates and coaches.
Holik returned to New Jersey for one final season in 2008-09. The 38 year old was a shadow of his former self, like most aged players. But he went out on his own terms.
"The number one reason I'm retiring is to be with my family and see my daughter. That's too much to give up again. The number two reason is that I don't have to retire, so I'm very fortunate."
Holik wanted to just cash in and become a full time husband and father. Family was important to him. He came from a legendary sporting family back in the Czech Republic. His father, Jaroslav, and uncle, Jiri, were both legendary hockey stars in the 1970s and coaches well beyond that. Holik's sister, Andrea, was a professional tennis player who married former NHL defenseman Frantisek Musil.
He played 1,314 regular season games, going 328-421-747 with 1,423 penalty minutes and a plus-115 rating. He played 786 games with New Jersey, seventh all-time, and was 202-270-472, with 883 penalty minutes and plus-134-rating with the Devils. He played 124 playoff games for the Devils, 20-37-57, and 138 games total, 20-39-59.