Anyone who has laced up skates and passed the puck around understands the physical demands the game of hockey takes on the body. Whether you’re a weekend beer league warrior or a seasoned NHL professional, playing hockey only gets tougher the older you get. The NHL is getting younger and faster every year and with the rise of teenage stars like Connor McDavid and Austin Mathews the speed of the game is at an all-time high. All we have to do is look at the fastest skater competition to see this.
The average time of the last four winners is 13.200 seconds ( 2012 Carl Hagelin 13.218, 2015 Jonathan Drouin 13.103, 2016 Dylan Larkin 13.172 and 2017 Connor McDavid at 13.310) over a full second faster than the previous four winners. Their average is 14.243 seconds (2007 Andy McDonald 14.03, 2008 Shawn Horcoff 14.395, 2009 Andrew Cogliano 14.31 and 2011 Michael Grabner 14.238). The most recent four winners all beat the long-held record of 13.386 set by legendary speedster Mike Gartner in 1996. With speed like this becoming common place in the game, it’s a miracle that some of our favourite stars are still able to keep up.
The 2017-18 NHL season will see the introduction of the NHL’s 31st team the Las Vegas Golden Knights, a dynamic we haven't seen since the last expansion in 2000 where the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild joined the league. Will the expansion draft on June 21, 2017, spell doom or provide a lifeline for some of the league’s elder statesmen?
15 Shane Doan
The trade deadline came and went and Shane Doan remained a Coyote. Doan has spent his entire 21-year career with the same franchise after being drafted in the first round, 7th overall in the 1995 NHL draft by the Winnipeg Jets. The only remaining active player from the original Jets franchise, Doan played the 1995-96 season in Winnipeg before moving with the franchise to Arizona.
The 40-year-old Halkirk, Alberta native won back-to-back Memorial Cups with the Kamloops Blazers in 1994 and 1995, where he was also awarded the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as tournament MVP. The 2011-12 season would be the closest Doan would get to hoisting the Stanley Cup, losing out in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final to the Los Angeles Kings.
Tallying 968 points in 1530 regular season games and 28 points in 55 playoff games, it looks as though Doan will be missing the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. Surprisingly, nobody picked Doan up for this year's playoff run, and unfortunately, it looks like his great career will come to an end without a championship, like so many before him.
14 Shawn Thornton
With 1,096 PIM in 692 games, 39-year old Shawn Thornton took on anyone and everyone. The hard-nosed left winger has made a 14-year NHL career by going to the tough areas of the ice, terrifying many defensemen behind their net. An interesting fact about Shawn Thornton is that he is one of only three players to have played both 600 games in the NHL and AHL. He's also the only one who achieved his 600 AHL games prior to his NHL.
Thornton was drafted 190th overall in the 1997 draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Never playing a regular season game for the Leafs, he broke into the NHL in 2002-03 with the Chicago Blackhawks. A one-year stop in Anaheim during the 2006-07 season saw Thornton win his first of two Stanley Cups, winning again with the Bruins in 2010-11.
The two-time Stanley Cup winner has only suited up in 31 games this year for the Florida Panthers, tallying a whopping 3 points and 60 PIM. Thornton will become a UFA this summer and with all the front office changes the Panthers have made this season, Thornton’s future with the club looks questionable. He most likely won't make it past 2018.
13 Vernon Fiddler
Undrafted out of junior, Fiddler has managed to find a way to last 15 years in the NHL. After his time finished with Kelowna of the Western Hockey League, Fiddler signed in 2001 as a free agent with Roanoke of the East Coast Hockey League.
Not known for point production, it's the little things that have kept Fiddler around. A hard-skating forward able to irritate the most unflappable of opponents, Fiddler’s ability to draw penalties is just one of those little things he brings to a team. A strong two-way player, Fiddler is a solid face-off man and penalty killer.
Fiddler started his career in 2002-2003 with the Nashville Predators. After stops in Phoenix, Dallas and New Jersey, the 2016-17 trade deadline would see Fiddler return to where it all began for him. Acquired by the Predators on February 4, 2017, it seems he will end his career with the team that gave him his first chance.
A UFA in the summer, he will have one last chance at the Cup. With 870 NHL games to his credit, Fiddler will turn 37 in May and finding a place to hang his skates next year might just be in his garage.
12 Andrei Markov
At 38 years of age, the 6’0 200lb defensemen Andrei Markov still logs 20 min of ice a night for the Montreal Canadiens. Hailing from Russia, Markov was drafted with the 162nd pick in the 1998 draft by the Canadiens, the only NHL team he has played for over his entire 16-year career.
Markov returned to the Canadiens lineup on February 2nd after missing 19 games with a lower body injury sustained December 17, 2016, against the Capitals in Washington. This isn't the first time Markov has missed significant time due to injury. On November 13, 2010, he would receive a season-ending knee-on-knee check that resulted in him only playing 68 games over the next 3 seasons.
Many will argue that Markov still has plenty to offer the Canadiens but with a salary of $5.75 million per year and becoming a UFA at the end of a season, The Canadiens will be hard-pressed to protect the smooth skating D-man from the upcoming expansion draft. Markov would look great in a Vegas Golden Knights uniform come September 2017, but will that be the stimulus needed to convince Markov to leave the game playing for the only North American city he has ever called home.
11 Mark Streit
When the Montreal Canadiens used the 262nd pick of the 2004 draft to select 5'11, 190lb defensemen Mark Streit from Switzerland, nobody would have ever of thought that he would end up playing 767 games in the NHL.
Streit wouldn't get drafted into the NHL until he was 26 years old after garnering attention from the scouts by polishing his game with Zurich SC of the Swiss-A league. He is an anomaly among NHL players, as he has the ability to play forward and defense at the NHL level, a claim only a few others could make.
The 2017 trade deadline saw Streit picked up by the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, helping to solidify the backend of a team very capable of making another deep run in this year's playoffs.
At 39 years old, and impending UFA status this summer, his time may be running out in the league, that is unless of course, The Golden Knights take a roll of the dice on him this summer.
10 Michal Rozsival
With 960 career NHL games under his belt, it’s unclear if Michal Rozsival will make it to the illustrious 1000 game mark. Originally drafted 105th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1996, Rozsival has seen stops in Pittsburgh, New York, Phoenix, and Chicago.
Rozsival would get his first chance to play hockey in North America with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League, where in his final season he would put up 69 points in 71 games.
Rozsival is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, winning both cups with the Blackhawks in 2012-13 and 2014-15. While playing for the New York rangers in the 2005-2006 season. he would win the NHL’s Bud Light Plus-Minus award with a +35 rating over 82 games
Only dressing in 19 contests for the Blackhawks this year and impending UFA status this summer, it appears as though Rozsival's NHL playing days are potentially behind him.
9 John-Michael Liles
36-year-old Indianapolis native, John-Michael Liles, has only managed to suit up in 31 games this season for the Boston Bruins. After being traded to the Bruins on February 29, 2016, Liles decided to sign with the Bruins for another year instead of testing the free-agent market this past summer.
A product of USA Hockey’s National Team Development program, Liles was a Hobey Baker award finalist in 2003, while a senior at Michigan State University. Liles was drafted with the 159th pick of the 2000 NHL draft by the Colorado Avalanche and had amassed 370 pts in 831 NHL career games.
Liles suffered a concussion on Nov. 29, 2016, and since returning from his injury on Jan. 8, 2017, the mobile puck moving defensemen has been a healthy scratch for 7 of the Bruins last 8 games. A UFA at the end of the season it seems that Liles days in Beantown are over, but another team may be willing to take a chance on him.
8 Matt Hendricks
Hendricks didn't play his first regular season game of the 2016-17 campaign until Nov. 19th against the Dallas Stars. Suffering a lower-body injury in preseason against Anaheim, Hendricks has battled to get back in the Oilers lineup on a regular basis, spending multiple nights in the press box as a healthy scratch.
Hendricks broke into the league with the Colorado Avalanche in 2008-09, 8 years after being selected 131st overall by Nashville. After a successful NCAA career at St. Cloud state, it would take Hendricks 6 years of playing in the minors honing his craft to the point where he could play full time in the NHL.
As a physical energy type player, Hendricks realized the only way he would stay at the highest level of the game was by doing the little things right. Known for playing a grinding, checking game where winning face-offs and killing penalties was the role his teams needed from him.
7 Chris Neil
With 2,522 PIM in 1,025 games, not much more needs to be said about the Ontario native, Chris Neil. Now in his 15th year with the Ottawa Senators, the only team he has played for, Neil has become synonymous with the Senators by making a career out of protecting Senators greats like Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson.
Drafted by the Senators in 1998, the 37-year-old right winger has seen the postseason 10 of his 15 years with the club, his longest run in 2006-07 where the Senators lost in the final to the Ducks.
A UFA on July 1, 2017, it’s very unlikely to see the Senators include Neil on their expansion draft protection list, knowing Neil’s pride and character it’s unlikely we will ever see him in another team's jersey. However, he may not be ready to retire after this season.
6 Brian Campbell
Signing a one-year deal with the Blackhawks for $1.5 million at the start of 2016-17 season, Campbell would take a big pay cut to come back and play with his former club. Making $7.1 million per year while with the Panthers, a contract he actually signed with the Blackhawks back in 2008, it was surprising to see him come back for one last crack at another championship.
In leaving the sunshine state for the windy city, it gave Campbell the opportunity to reunite with many of his former Stanley Cup-winning teammates from 2010, hopefully reigniting that winning chemistry.
Winning a Memorial Cup in 1998-99 with the Ottawa 67’s and the Stanley Cup in 2010, there isn’t much left for the 2011-12 Lady Byng winner to accomplish. With 1,056 games under his belt and multiple accolades to his name, nobody will question his decision to retire whenever he decides to do so.
5 Matt Cullen
At 40 years old, Matt Cullen doesn't seem to be slowing down at all, he still averages about 15 minutes of ice a night on a very deep and skilled Pittsburgh Penguins team.
Drafted out of St. Cloud State University in 1996 by Anaheim, Cullen would only return to school for one more year before embarking on his lengthy NHL career. Having played 1,352 games over 21 years, Cullen has been the model of consistency averaging a half a point a game with 681 points to date.
A two-time Stanley Cup champion, first with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 and again in 2015-16 with the Penguins, Cullen becomes a UFA again at the end of the year. While he isn't a big cap hit at $1 million a year, Cullen most likely wouldn't have any trouble playing next year if he wants.
4 Brian Gionta
The quintessential small man at 5’7, what Brian Gionta lacks in height, he makes up for with heart. The three-time Hobey Baker finalist from Boston College was drafted 82nd overall by the New Jersey Devils in 1998.
Gionta made his NHL debut on Dec. 30, 2001, with the Devil’s against the Edmonton Oilers and it wouldn't take him long to register his first goal, which he scored 4 nights later while playing the Nashville Predators on Jan. 3, 2002.
The fiercely competitive 38-year-old winger has spent the last 3 seasons in Buffalo, only 119 km away from his birthplace of Rochester, NY. Gionta is only 10 games shy of the 1,000 game mark and with 584 points to his name. He has paved the way for many of the games smaller players like Johnny Gaudreau.
With a Cap hit this year of $4.25 million a season, it will be interesting to see what price tag teams will be willing to offer him when he becomes a UFA on July 1. Gionta may just decide to retire now or next year.
3 Patrick Marleau
Is there another name that identifies more with the San Jose Sharks than Patrick Marleau? 1,475 games and 19 years later the Sharks are the only team Marleau has ever played for.
Drafted 2nd overall in 1997 by the Sharks, Marleau would be joined in 2005-06 by Joe Thornton, the only player drafted ahead of him that year. Rarely do we see players of this quality and tenure in pro sports, but for them to have been drafted first and second in 1997, and then end up on the same team for the majority of their careers is something special.
Many thought that 2015-2016 would be the year that Marleau and Thornton silenced the critics, with multiple early postseason exits, a cloud of doubt has hung over these two superstars. As great as the two of them have been, they still haven't been able to deliver a Championship in San Jose.
Marleau in the final year of his current contract where he comes with a massive Cap hit of $6.6 million a season, becomes a UFA in July. The question is whether Marleau will give the Sharks a hometown discount to stay, look to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights or at 37 years old decide to retire.
2 Mike Fisher
At only 36 years old, it may seem unlikely that Mike Fisher is ready to hang up the skates just yet. Drafted 44th overall by Ottawa in 1998, Fisher would suit up in 32 games for the Sens the next season tallying 4 goals and 5 assists for a total of 9 points. Fisher would remain a Senator until being traded to the Nashville Predators on Feb. 10, 2011.
Perhaps Fisher’s most famous accomplishment was getting married to country music star Carrie Underwood, after meeting backstage at one of her concerts in 2008. The couple would get engaged shortly after on Dec 20, 2009. The star-studded couple would then tie the knot in July of 2010. Many speculate Fisher’s trade to Nashville was at his request so he and his new bride could be closer together.
Fisher becomes a UFA at the end of the season and with a lot of young talent on the Nashville roster, it’s unclear if the Predators will be able to protect Fisher from expansion.
Nashville’s hottest couple became parents for the first time in February of 2015 and with Underwood having an estimated net worth over $55 million, it's unlikely they will want to uproot their new family for the bright lights of Vegas unless of course, Underwood accepts one of those big nightly shows Vegas is so famous for.
1 Jarome Iginla
With too many accolades to list, Jarome Iginla should need no introduction to any true fan of hockey. Drafted 11th overall by Dallas in 1995, Iginla would be part of a trade between the Stars and Flames which saw his rights go in exchange for Joe Nieuwendyk.
Iginla has won multiple Olympic Gold Medals and Memorial Cups but the NHL’s top prize has alluded this aging superstar. After 16 great years with the Flames, he has seen stops with Pittsburgh, Boston, Colorado and finally the LA kings over the past 6 seasons all in an attempt to get one of the games greatest of all time a championship.
With 1,291 points in 1,537 games it looks as though the 39 year old from Edmonton, AB will make LA the final stop on his quest for hockey’s holy grail. Only time will tell if the Kings have what it takes to put a storybook ending to Iggy’s outstanding career.