NHL headlines have been dominated recently by the performances of the league’s youngest stars. The likes of McDavid, Eichel, and Matthews get all the attention they could ever want from fans and the media alike. It’s easy to forget that without experienced teammates, however, even the most talented crop of NHL prospects stand almost no shot at stardom.
The NHL is fantastic at offering proven players an opportunity regardless of their past. Some veterans have put up sensational numbers for decades while others have skirted around the edges of the NHL, making do with whatever playing time they get. Just because a player isn’t showing up on the score sheet or playing top-line minutes doesn’t mean he isn’t valuable. The opposite applies as well; just because a veteran has played well in the past it doesn’t mean he’s still got the talent necessary to stay on a NHL roster.
These NHL vets, all 35 years or older, have different stories, skills, and weaknesses. However, at the end of the day some players don’t belong in the NHL anymore, while others continue to thrive even towards the end of their careers. It’s important that we try to pick out the pretenders and put a spotlight on the players who can still make their team better. Remember, salary is a huge factor here, not just the ability of the player!
15. Still Got It – Matt Cullen
At 40 years of age, Matt Cullen has quietly continued his career this season as one of the NHL’s oldest players. Cullen is also one of the NHL’s most traveled veterans and has split his NHL career across eight different teams. He isn’t the most talented player on this list but Cullen is fantastic at what he does; a third or fourth-line grinder who wins battles in the corners, Cullen has put up at least 25 points a season for over a decade and doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
Cullen currently plays for Pittsburgh and he served as a key role player for the Pens during their Stanley Cup run last season. He’s gotten off to a hot start this year, averaging almost a point a game, and it’s safe to assume Cullen won’t be leaving the league any time soon.
14. Hang ’em Up – Mike Ribeiro
Mike Ribeiro has found a home the last few seasons as a center for the Nashville Predators, a team that has had trouble finding talent up the middle. Ribeiro is well-known for his smooth hands and consistently posts decent numbers in the assist column, but that’s about it. Ribeiro is a liability on defense and the 36-year-old centerman is one of the NHL’s worst when it comes to taking faceoffs.
Nashville now has two talented centers in Ryan Johansen and Mike Fischer and Ribeiro has fallen down the Predators’ depth chart. His $3.5 million cap hit comes off the books at the end of the 2016-17 season and it might be in Ribeiro’s best interest to call it quits while he can still take some pride in the playmaking ability he’s exhibited to this point in his career.
13. Still Got It – Justin Williams
The Capitals had a goal in mind when they signed Justin Williams to a contract last off-season: make a deep run in the playoffs. Washington didn’t have much luck, but Williams certainly held up his end of the bargain. After posting 52 points in the regular season, the perennial playoff performer put up seven points in 12 playoff games with the Caps.
Williams just turned 35 this past month but he’s still producing fantastic numbers as a sniper on the wing for the Capitals. The former Conn Smythe winner is exactly what Washington needs if they’re hoping to finally make a push for the Stanley Cup this season. Look for him to continue to make a big impact. He’s only signed through the end of the season but don’t be surprised if the Capitals try and bring Williams back in the future.
12. Hang ’em Up – Michal Rozsival
Michal Rozsival was an important member of the Blackhawks’ defensive core last season until he fractured his ankle back-skating during a playoff game against the Wild. Rozsival just recently made a return to action for the Hawks, but one has to wonder if it’s in his best interest to return to the game at all. The stay-at-home defenseman has proven he isn’t all that durable during his four seasons with the Blackhawks and hasn’t managed to produce all that much when he has been on the ice.
Already at 38 years of age, you have to wonder how Michal Rozsival is still justifying playing in the NHL. The veteran has already won two Stanley Cup rings during his time with Chicago and continuing to play only further increases the risk his career ends due to an injury. Rozsival’s contract expires at the end of the season and it would be a surprise if it ends up getting renewed.
11. Still Got It – Dennis Seidenberg
Dennis Seidenberg was actually playing without a NHL job when he represented Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey back in September. Seidenberg got a fantastic opportunity at the World Cup to prove he still has the talent to play against top-level talent and he took full advantage. The Islanders signed the 35-year-old defenseman to a contract following the tournament and Seidenberg is a key piece of the Islanders’ defensive core this season.
Seidenberg has already put up a handful of points this season for New York, along with being a +8, and he looks to be a veteran presence on a team looking to take control of the Metropolitan Division. He won a Stanley Cup back in 2011 during his time with the Bruins and he has to be hoping the Islanders rise to the challenge and make a run at the Cup this season.
10. Hang ’em Up – Chris Neil
There’s little doubt that Chris Neil is good at what he does; the important question to ask is whether or not it’s in Ottawa’s best interest to keep him on the team going forward. Neil has been an intimidating force on the Senators for over a decade and a half and played an important role on the Senators’ playoff teams back during the aughts. That was a long time ago.
The Senators are a few seasons removed from any playoff success and for all intents and purposes can be considered a rebuilding team. You have to wonder how Neil fits in. It’s up in the air how much leadership Neil can actually offer the Sens and he’s certainly not knowing for his scoring touch. Neil has spent his entire career with the Senators and will likely retire with the team; it might be in the interest of both parties if that happens sooner rather than later.
9. Still Got It – Chris Kunitz
It’s pretty easy to believe that any player who plays on the same line as Sidney Crosby will produce, but Chris Kunitz has been doing it for the better part of a decade. The clutch forward has been playing on Crosby’s wing consistently since he came over from the Ducks back in 2008 and has not failed to put up fewer than 40 points in each of the last six seasons. Kunitz is the combination of skill and grit that most NHL teams would kill to have.
While he might not be the most gifted player on this list, Kunitz certainly plays an important role on the Penguins and it’s impossible to deny that he has a great deal of chemistry with Crosby. Even at 37, it’s difficult to imagine Kunitz leaving a Penguins team that just won a Stanley Cup any time soon.
8. Hang ’em Up – Andrei Markov
The Habs’ veteran defenseman used to play alongside one of the league’s most talented puck-moving defenseman in P.K. Subban. Subban was traded over the off-season by Montreal in a deal to acquire Shea Weber from the Predators, putting Markov between a rock and a hard place. Markov now holds the role of the Canadiens’ best offensive defenseman, in terms of creativity, as Shea Weber has one of the best slapshots in the league, but the 37-year-old lefty doesn’t possess anywhere close to the amount of explosiveness that Subban has.
Markov is a serviceable defenseman but the Canadiens will expect him to be far more than just serviceable this season and it’s tough buying that Markov will be up to the challenge. If he doesn’t meet expectations, Montreal media and management could turn on Markov really quick, as they did last year when he struggled. If he’s smart and he falters again this season, Markov should get out of Dodge and retire while he still has the chance. Canadiens management has proven they aren’t afraid to pick out a scapegoat and Markov could be it this season.
7. Still Got It – Jarome Iginla
It’s pretty easy to see that Jarome Iginla, a future Hall of Famer, doesn’t pack quite the same scoring punch he used to have back during his days with the Calgary Flames. Iginla can’t carry top-line minutes any more, but he’s still a solid depth forward for Colorado. Having said that, you’d think Iginla might be contemplating retirement at the age of 39. It’d be in his best interest to do otherwise.
The Avalanche aren’t one of the biggest contenders in the NHL right now, but they’re a young team and they have potential to improve over the next few seasons. Iginla lost his only real shot to win a Stanley Cup with the Flames back in 2004 and Colorado might be one of his last chances to get one. Iginla’s contract is up at the end of the season, but if he decides to sign a cheap deal with Colorado (or elsewhere with a contender), Iginla might have a chance yet to win a cup before the end of his career.
6. Hang ’em Up – Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller used to be one of the best goalies in all of hockey, posting elite numbers during his time with the Buffalo Sabres and leading America to the gold medal game against Canada during the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Like I was saying, he used to be great. Miller has spent the last couple seasons in Vancouver, but it’s pretty evident that his play has slipped over the past few years. He’s close to an average goalie still but Vancouver wants to make a playoff push, though they’re likely kidding themselves, and they’ll need more than the league average to get there.
Further exasperating the problem, Miller’s backup Jacob Markstrom still has a lot of potential and the Canucks might want to give him an extended look this season, limiting Miller’s playing time. Even the best goalies fade with age and, at 36, it might be Miller’s time to put away the pads at the end of this season, rather than stick around as a backup.
5. Still Got It – Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo, unlike Ryan Miller, has sustained his play well into the back end of his career. The Panthers’ draft pick made his return to Florida three years ago after an extended stint in Vancouver and has posted superior numbers since he returned to the Panthers. Luongo posted a .922 save percentage last season in front of a very young Florida team that only looks to get better. Unless Luongo has a sharp drop-off, which hasn’t happened so far this year, it’s safe to assume his numbers will stay right up there.
Luongo is both consistent and can be spectacular at times, which makes the 37-year-old netminder a perfect fit for a flashy Panthers team looking to make a splash. Luongo has extensive playoff experience from his time in Vancouver, but has never backstopped a team to a Stanley Cup victory. He might finally have a shot to do so in Florida, so it’s safe to say Luongo isn’t going anywhere.
4. Hang ’em Up – Marian Hossa
Marian Hossa sets himself apart from the rest of the players on this list that need to retire because in almost any other situation, Hossa is talented enough to keep playing in the NHL. However, despite being a good defensive forward, Hossa’s scoring output has really slipped the past year and he’s playing third-line time on a Blackhawks team that’s got a plethora of talent up front. That’s not good enough considering what Chicago is paying him. Hossa is inked to a deal with a cap hit over $5 million for the next FIVE seasons (including this year). Hossa is signed to that deal until he turns 42.
Hossa might prove the doubters yet after coming out of the gate strong, but it’s safe to assume that at 37 years old Hossa might start to slow down as the season wears on. If he does, it’s tough for the Blackhawks to justify the former star’s presence on a team that’s trying to work around cap issues. You have got to wonder if Hossa might be pressured into retiring at the end of this season by Chicago, or if the team might try and buy the Slovakian winger out of his contract.
3. Still Got It – Shane Doan
Shane Doan could easily be considered one of the best leaders on this list, on the Coyotes, and perhaps even in the whole NHL. The captain is entering his 22nd season with the organization, dating back to when they were still the Winnipeg Jets. What’s even more spectacular is that the 40-year-old is hardly showing signs of slowing down. Doan put up 28 goals last season on a very young team that can only get better with time.
Doan hasn’t suggested that he’ll be done with the Coyotes any time soon and it’s almost guaranteed that the Coyotes will keep the consummate professional on the roster as long as he wants to be there. Only one thing is noticeably lacking from Doan’s resume; a deep playoff run and a shot at a Stanley Cup. If Arizona gets hot (see what I did there), it’s safe to imagine that Doan would play his heart out in the playoffs.
2. Hang ’em Up – Zdeno Chara
There was a point in time where some people would consider Zdeno Chara as one of the best defensemen in the NHL. Chara is massive and has one of the strongest slap shots in all of hockey, even now. Having said that, the Bruins’ vet is slowing down with age and that’s fatal for his career. If Chara can’t keep up with smaller, quicker forwards anymore, he can’t use his strength and his effectiveness is reduced to that of a turnstile on defense.
You had to figure this would happen to Chara sooner or later, but it’s happening now and it’s not pretty. The Bruins have Chara under contract through the end of next season but if Chara’s play continues to decline at the rate that it puts the Bruins in a tight spot, they might want him to retire. Chara is getting paid like an elite defenseman and if he can’t produce to that level, it might make the most sense for him to retire and save himself some embarrassment.
1. Still Got It – Jaromir Jagr
Honestly, what do you want me to say about Jaromir Jagr that hasn’t been said yet? Jagr has been playing hockey at an elite level since he joined the league back in 1990. That’s 26 years ago. Half the NHL is younger than Jaromir Jagr’s career. Jagr put up 66 points for the Panthers last season and by all accounts he won’t be slowing down any time soon. The Panthers are looking to contend for a Stanley Cup now and for years to come, and it’s difficult to imagine Jagr won’t be around for that.
Last season, Jagr told The Hockey News that he wanted to play hockey until he was 60 years old. He might have been joking, but do you really doubt whether or not he could? His conditioning is immaculate and, barring injury or some other freak circumstance, Jagr will likely play in the NHL as long as he wants to. That’s great news for the Panthers and horrible news for everyone else in the National Hockey League.
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