He was this generation's Mr. Hockey. But the time had come for Stevie Y to say farewell.
The speculation about his future ended yesterday when Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman announced his retirement after a 22-year NHL playing career.
"I've had a wonderful career and I really will miss it," the 41-year-old Yzerman told a news conference at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
The Nepean native, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, is leaving behind a legacy of greatness, but he decided his body could no longer handle the wear and tear of another season.
Yzerman will long be remembered for leading the Red Wings to three Stanley Cups. It will only be a matter of time before the centre's No. 19 hangs in the Joe Louis rafters alongside the No. 9 worn by the legendary Gordie Howe.
It was fitting that Howe and another Red Wings great, Ted Lindsay, shook hands with Yzerman before he said goodbye yesterday.
"He's been a great Red Wing," said Lindsay. "He's been a humble Red Wing. He's been a leader by example."
Yzerman admitted it was a day of mixed emotions.
"I know there's a lot of referees doing cartwheels," said Yzerman, who is now preparing for a role in the club's front office. "I have enjoyed my career immensely in Detroit. We have been through a lot together. I was drafted in June, 1983, and immediately took great pride in being part of this organization and this city.
"I was hoping to have one last run and win the Stanley Cup (last season). I had a really enjoyable year. It ended in disappointment, but I thought a lot about coming back and playing. This was the right decision for me at this time."
Flanked by Red Wings owner Mike Illitch, GM Ken Holland and vice-president Jim Devellano, Yzerman choked up a few times yesterday as he revealed his reasons to end his brilliant career, which included 19 seasons wearing the 'C'.
"I want to thank the Red Wings fans everywhere because I always felt like a little boy trying to step on the ice and trying to please his parents when I stepped on the ice in front of these fans," he said.
Yzerman departs after collecting 1,755 points -- sixth all-time in the NHL -- in 1,514 career games, all with the Red Wings.
"The bigger the game, the better he played," said Wings centre Kris Draper, who played with Yzerman for 12 years. "You could always count on Stevie, that he was going to score a big goal."
A 10-time all-star, Yzerman was voted the league MVP in 1989 and was a key part of Canada's gold-medal squad at the 2002 Olympics.
"It's a difficult thing to retire ... you look back at all the great memories. The players who I have played with have made it so much fun," he said. "I have been a hockey player since the age of five. I played hockey all winter and then spent the summer. School was only killing time for me until I could play hockey again."
Yzerman talked to his family about his future, and last week held heart-to-heart chats with Holland and coach Mike Babcock. Both wanted him to keep playing, but he would have had to accept finishing his career in a fourth-line role.
"I am proud of what we accomplished," said Yzerman. "But I'm very comfortable with this decision. This is the right time for me. We didn't get everything we talked about 23 years ago, but we got a lot of it. (Holland) almost had me convinced to come back this year, but I took another option."