Long gone are the days when the NHL's most prolific players smoked between periods and played into their 40s. It's considered a slight modern miracle that Jaromir Jagr is still able to be so productive despite being 44-years-old, yet that's nothing compared to a 52-year-old Gordie Howe playing on the same team as two of his sons.
Superstars of the 70s, however, didn't have to play 82 games a year, nor did they have to deal with the travel schedule faced by today's players. And today more than ever, those factors are limiting the careers of one-time very good NHLers. Not to mention the game is much faster than it was back then, leading to bigger hits and more violent - and frequent - injuries. While it was once commonplace to keep a roster spot reserved for a 35-year-old veteran coming off of major rehab, the implementation of the salary cap has made keeping younger, cheaper options more appealing.
As a result, players who once deserved major headlines for retiring are struggling to earn contracts in their late 20s and early 30s. It happens every year, which is why we also have a 15 NHL players you didn't realize are retired list. Without further ado, here are 15 players on the bubble of making that list given their play in recent seasons.
15 Roman Polak
It's pretty bad when you're the worst defenseman on one of the youngest bluelines in the league. That's the case with Roman Polak, who typically anchors the third pairing and plays crucial penalty kill minutes for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He brings a much-needed element of physicality to the Maple Leafs, but not much else.
14 Andrei Markov
It feels wrong to group Andrei Markov with Roman Polak given the immense gap in skill between the two. Yet, despite being the Montreal Canadiens most reliable defenseman in decades, there's only so long Markov can keep up with the game. Though his minutes have dropped in the past few seasons, the 38-year-old veteran of 959 games has quieted doubters by continuing to be an effective power-play option. He even leads the Canadiens' defensemen in scoring this season with 21 points in 31 games.
13 Zdeno Chara
It has become apparent, in the sixth year of a seven-year contract, that Zdeno Chara has finally lost a step. Never a truly great skater, the 6-foot-9 Slovakian rearguard made himself a defensive force with a great first step and a long reach that could surprise even the fastest of skaters. Chara is still a beast in his own zone, especially on the penalty kill where he can overpower the opposition, but he's getting beat wide more and more this season.
12 Braydon Coburn
Once a potential elite defenseman, Braydon Coburn has struggled to meet expectations, but has put together a respectable career of 700-plus games between three teams - the Atlanta Thrashers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Tampa Bay Lightning. Unfortunately, it could soon be the end of the road for Coburn, despite not turning 32-years-old until February.
11 Brett Connolly
Unlike the first four names on this list (and most of the others), Brett Connolly still has youth on his side, but early returns on the 24-year-old aren't promising. Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning with the sixth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Connolly is already with his third team and has just 63 points in 229 career games.
10 Steve Ott
Many players will rejoice when Steve Ott announces he's hanging up his skates next season, assuming that happens. The 34-year-old pest with 1,522 career penalty minutes signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Detroit Red Wings in the offseason, which is typically the contract given to the aging veteran looking for one last shot to prove he can still play.
9 Brian Gionta
We now come to the 'How is He Still Playing?' portion of our list, where we meet Brian Gionta, the 37-year-old Buffalo Sabre who has been a surprisingly effective winger for the past five seasons. While it's confusing that he once captained the Montreal Canadiens, you have to give it up for the New York native who could reach 1,000 games by the end of this season if he stays healthy.
8 Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller was a dominant goaltender with the Buffalo Sabres, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2010, but the Michigan native has been rather pedestrian for the past three seasons as the starting goaltender for the Vancouver Canucks. This season, Miller is 7-10-1 with a .904 save percentage and a 2.96 goals against average, and while some of that can be attributed to the trainwreck that is the Vancouver Canucks, his declining skill set is evident.
7 Jordin Tootoo
Jordin Tootoo is the type of player that is becoming more and more scarce in the modern NHL. He can - or used to - skate like the wind and hit like a truck. But given the game's renewed emphasis on speed and skill over toughness and physicality, fighters and revered pests now struggle to earn permanent roster spots. Tootoo, however, has managed to hang on for quite some time now due to the fact that he can at least be an effective bottom-six energy player.
6 Chris Stewart
It seems strange that, despite the physical nature of hockey, bigger players often break down much quicker than smaller, undersized players. Cam Neely and Eric Lindros were both deemed unstoppable, but injuries limited their careers, while players like Martin St. Louis and Ray Whitney withstood the grind of being diminutive forwards. Chris Stewart is a prime example of a former first round pick who played his best hockey in his first three seasons as a power forward.
5 Drew Stafford
Winnipeg trading Evander Kane was the best thing to ever happen to Drew Stafford. A former first round pick, Stafford had 24 points in 50 games in his 10th season with the Buffalo Sabres before the team shipped him to Winnipeg in a February of 2015 seven-player deal. A pending unrestricted free agent, Stafford was excellent with the Jets, recording 19 points in 26 games and earning himself a two-year, $8.7 million contract.
4 Jiri Hudler
The resurgence of Jiri Hudler was a big story in 2014-15 when the Czech Republic native recorded a career-high 76 points and won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy as a member of the Calgary Flames. Hudler played alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan that season and the impact they had on his success is becoming more and more apparent.
3 Marian Gaborik
There was nobody faster than Marian Gaborik when he first broke into the league with the Minnesota Wild. The Slovakian winger scored 30-plus goals in seven of his first 11 seasons and was often good for at least one breakaway a night. He possessed a decent shot and had above-average vision, but above all it was his speed that made him an elite player. Turning 35-years-old in February, Gaborik doesn't have the legs he once had and it shows.
2 Mark Streit
It's amazing that Mark Streit has been able to play in more than 700 NHL games given he made his league debut as a 28-year-old with the Montreal Canadiens in the 2005-06 season. The Swiss blueliner has been a consistent point producer for 11 seasons now and currently leads Philadelphia Flyers defensemen in scoring with 16 points in 31 games. But he'll turn 40-years-old next season and we're counting on all those miles catching up to him.
1 Jarome Iginla
The cruel thing about the NHL is that players like Jarome Iginla can retire without having known what it's like to lift the Stanley Cup. The Calgary Flames captain reached the finals in 2003-04, his first time in the postseason since he was a rookie, but has failed to come close since. This is quite the shame, given his career point total of 1,282 and his incredible leadership qualities. Arguably the greatest power forward of his generation, the 39-year-old Iginla is still chasing Stanley Cup glory, though that isn't happening with his current team, the Colorado Avalanche.
He scored 22 goals for Colorado last season, extending his streak of 20-plus goal seasons to 16 (not counting the lockout shortened-year). But it has been a different story for Iginla this season; he has just five goals in 34 games for the disaster that is the Avalanche. In a perfect world, he gets traded to the Calgary Flames at the deadline and finally gets to taste from Lord Stanley's Cup. That's not likely, but maybe they can trade him to a real contender and get him the Cup he deserves.
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