The common narrative in the National Hockey League (NHL) these days is that the sport of hockey is increasingly becoming a young man’s game. That might be true when examining the average age of NHL players, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t older players still not only hanging on to a job, but playing quite well. Back in the day (with the day being the every era of the NHL up until the early 2000s), players could maintain their place in the lineup based on reputation alone. Because they were older, they had experience and smarts that younger players apparently didn’t. Now, with an emphasis on speed, players with less mileage on their legs are becoming more and more sought after. If you can’t keep up at 30 years old, you might find yourself out of the league, even if you were a frequent All-Star.
Yet, players who are committed enough to follow a strict workout and diet regiment have proved they can stay in the league into their late 30s and even 40s. One player you won’t find on this list is Patrick Marleau who, despite being 38 years old, is one of the best skaters in the league and is on pace for 30 goals with the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you can skate, you can keep your job; unfortunately for these 15 players, their days in the league appear to be numbered.
15. Ales Hemsky
If I told you Ales Hemsky retired earlier this year you would probably believe me, right? Heck, if I said he retired five years ago, you might even believe me. The truth is Hemsky was signed to a one-year contract by the Montreal Canadiens in July of 2017. For whatever reason, Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin felt Hemsky could provide offensive flair to the team that struggled to score in 2016-17, despite the fact that the 34 year old Czech Republic winger hasn’t produced more than 36 points since the 2010-11 season.
A closer examination of the numbers shows that Hemsky has only reached double digits in goals in two of the past six seasons. To make matters worse, he was coming off of a season in which he played only 15 games due to injury. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, he played only seven games with the Canadiens this season before suffering an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion. There has been little to no news about his return and it’s likely he’s already played his last game in the league.
14. Jason Chimera
A 38 year old native of Edmonton, Alberta, Jason Chimera is in his 18th season in the NHL and his second with the New York Islanders. It was slightly curious when the Islanders signed him to a two-year contract prior to the 2016-17 season, but he played quite well for the team that year, posting his second consecutive 20 goal season and finishing with 33 points in 82 games. It hasn’t gone quite as well this season.
The Islanders have given more ice time to its younger players and, as a result, Chimera only has two goals and six assists through 43 games. He’s still an adept penalty killer due to his above-average skating, but time is clearly running up on the veteran of 1,076 career games. It’s highly unlikely a team offers him a contract after this season, especially if his offensive production doesn’t improve.
13. Loui Eriksson
If you’re a fan of the Vancouver Canucks, you’re absolutely hoping this one is true, although it might only be a dream rather than reality. Nobody ever accused the Canucks’ management of being smart and they were far from that when they decided to sign Swedish winger Loui Eriksson to a six-year, $36 million contract in the summer of 2016. For context sake, the Canucks were better off starting a rebuild (which they have finally done) rather than attempting to compete for a playoff spot, while Eriksson was worth nowhere near $6 million per season, despite posting a 30-goal campaign with the Boston Bruins the prior year.
How did he do in his first season with the Canucks? He scored 11 goals and added 13 assists for 24 points in 65 games. That’s roughly $333,000 per point. He’s been quite the same this year with 13 points in 31 games. He probably won’t retire, but maybe the Canucks buy out his contract.
12. Tomas Plekanec
A 35 year old native of Czech Republic, Tomas Plekanec has been an effective player for the Montreal Canadiens for the past 12-plus years, but the end is clearly coming for the veteran of 963 career games. If he remains healthy for the remainder of the season, he will surpass 1,000 career games and, if the Canadiens are smart (they haven’t been, at least under General Manager Marc Bergevin), they won’t offer Plekanec another contract.
Plekanec is making $6 million this season and only has 16 points through 42 games. After posting 60 points in the 2014-15 season, his point total dropped from 54 to 28 in the next two seasons and he’s again on pace for less than 30 points. He might find a job as a fourth-line center somewhere, but it seems more likely that he’ll either retire or play in Europe.
11. Radim Vrbata
It’s a wonder Radim Vrbata has remained in the league for this long given he’s been a fixture on awful teams throughout his career. He’s practically become the slightly better than average player bad teams sign to produce 20-30 goals year in and year out, but has a reputation for being a poor defensive player with a lack of commitment to the game. In fact, over the past three seasons, Vrbata has a combined minus-52 rating for the Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes, and Vancouver Canucks, all of which are complete jokes in the league right now.
Vrbata was part of the Coyotes team that reached the Western Conference Finals in 2012, but beyond that year his teams haven’t won a single playoff round. He still managed to score 20 goals on an awful Coyotes team last season, but has only five goals with the Panthers this year. His contract is up at the end of this season and it’s unlikely another team demands his services.
10. Mike Cammalleri
Once considered one of the NHL’s premier goal-scoring wingers, Mike Cammalleri is now a shell of himself, which isn’t all that surprising given he’s now 35 years old and has battled through multiple injuries. The second round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft scored a career-high 39 goals in 2008-09 with the Calgary Flames and has topped 25 goals a total of six times in his career, but he has only five goals through 38 games with the Kings and Edmonton Oilers this year.
Cammalleri was an effective player in each of the past three seasons given his speed, but he’s a stride slower this year and it has been noticeable. He needs only eight more goals to reach 300 for his career, but that seems a lofty goal given how his season has gone.
9. Daniel/Henrik Sedin
The Vancouver Canucks have a difficult situation on their hands, one in which they will likely be lambasted regardless of how they handle it. Both Henrik and Daniel Sedin will need new contracts following the end of the 2017-18 season and they’re universally loved in Vancouver, yet they are also not quite the players they once were and the Canucks are going in a different direction. Is it even worth offering them a portion of the $7 million they’re making this season just to appease them and their fans when it would take away roster spots from deserving young players? Probably not.
Henrik and Daniel have 29 and 28 points respectively through 43 games and, while it’s likely they can still contribute in the NHL, it makes no sense for the Canucks to bring them back. A contending team might want to sign one of them, but they’re an obvious package deal and the best place for them to play together might be back in Sweden.
8. Chris Kunitz
Unlike Radim Vrbata, Chris Kunitz has had the fortune of playing on multiple championship-contending teams. The 38 year old native of Regina, Saskatchewan has won one Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks and three with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning last offseason and, if the league plays out as many experts expect, Kunitz could win his fifth Stanley Cup. In addition to his 927 regular season games, he has played in 161 career playoff games.
That’s a lot of mileage on those legs and it’s sure to catch up to Kunitz at some point. He has 11 points through 43 games this season in a reduced role, but has been fairly effective. However, if the Lightning win the Stanley Cup, expect him to go out on top as a five-time Stanley Cup champion.
7. Henrik Zetterberg
Since debuting with the Detroit Red Wings during the 2002-03 season, Swedish winger Henrik Zetterberg has been one of the team’s most consistent players. He recorded 44 points as a rookie and has since produced at least 50 points in 10 of the next 13 seasons and that includes a lockout- and injury-shortened year. He has a career-high of 92 points and has also topped 80 points three times. However, he hasn’t done so since the 2010-11 season.
Still, Zetterberg is an effective playmaker. While he has only six goals in 41 games this season, he has 23 assists. It should be noted that most of his points have come on the power-play and that time could be distributed to younger players in his absence. The Red Wings are in a transitional phase, but Zetterberg is signed through the 2020-21 season. Last August, he said he has a two-year retirement plan, but the Wings may as well force him to expedite that seeing as they won’t be competitive next season anyway.
6. Joe Thornton
As much as we’ve grown to love the bearded-playmaking freak, it’s getting near the end for Jumbo Joe, despite the fact he remains relatively productive at 38 years old with 27 points in 40 games this season. In a league where speed is as important as ever, Thornton has been an anomoly – a slower player who has been able to use his size and playmaking ability to create space for himself on the ice. Yet, his production has dropped significantly in recent years and he’s without his good buddy Patrick Marleau in San Jose.
It’s obvious Thornton is still chasing that elusive Stanley Cup, but it doesn’t appear to be in the future for the Sharks. He only signed a one-year contract last offseason, indicating that this might be his final year in the league. If it is, he’s got our vote as a Hall of Famer.
5. Roberto Luongo
Lauded for his self-deprecating ways on social media, Roberto Luongo is actually still a top goaltender in the NHL, at least if you’re judging from the small sample size he has produced this season. The often-injured goaltender has played in only 15 games with the Florida Panthers, but boasts a 2.62 goals against average to go along with a .928 save percentage. That save percentage mark is his best since the 2010-11 season, but again, it’s an extremely small sample size.
The problem with Luongo is he will be 39 years old by the start of next season and, even if he’s playing in sunny Florida, the NHL travel schedule is still a grind. He’s expected to return to the Panthers from injury in February, but it would be too much to expect him to return to form. He’s signed through to the 2021-22 season (when he will be 44 years old), but the Panthers – and Luongo – need to move on.
4. Matt Cullen
Most hockey fans wouldn’t have been surprised if Matt Cullen announced his retirement last summer. The 41 year old had just won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and was actually a key contributor to the team’s success, recording nine points in 25 playoff games in a bottom-six forward role. It would have been the perfect way to cap off a great career in which he had played nearly 1,400 games. Yet, less than a month later, he signed a one-year contract with the Minnesota Wild.
Cullen hasn’t quite been ineffective this season, but he’s not exactly the defensive presence he was last year. He’s a minus-10 and, while plus-minus doesn’t tell the whole picture, he has only been a minus player in the past 13 seasons. It’s hard to imagine the Wild – or another team – pursuing him in free agency this summer.
3. Brooks Orpik
Brooks Orpik’s contract still has one more year left on it, but the Washington Capitals would be thrilled if the veteran defenseman retired following this season – and they might even push him in that direction with some off-the-book incentives. The former first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins has never been known for his offensive ability, but he failed to score a single goal in 2016-17 and has no goals through 43 games this year.
Beyond that, he has a minus-five rating after posting a plus-32 a season ago and it’s clear his skating has decline drastically in recent years. Upon his signing, one popular Capitals blog called his five-year, $27.5 million contract “insane,” and he certainly hasn’t done enough to warrant making that much money since. If you’re a Washington fan, you’re hoping he’s either retired or bought out come next October.
2. Zdeno Chara
Like Roberto Luongo and Joe Thornton, Zdeno Chara is actually performing quite well this season, but it seems unreasonable to expect the 40-year-old defenseman to continue his impressive play into next season, when he will be 41 years old. The six-foot-nine native of Slovakia is actually a decent skater for his size, but he’s mostly tough to beat one-on-one due to his long stick and physical play.
He could probably play until he’s 45 years old if he wanted, but his one-year, $4 million contract is up after this season and he might plan on calling it a career. After all, he’s already a veteran of 1,390 career games, has won a Stanley Cup, and is a one-time James Norris Trophy winner. It’ll be interesting to see what the Bruins do in July when his contract is up.
1. Jaromir Jagr
As of January 10th, it appears the writing might already be on the wall for Jaromir Jagr and, if that’s the case, the 45 year old has had a tremendous career. Not only is he among the league’s all-time leading scorers, he is only a handful of games played away from surpassing Gordie Howe as the all-time leader in the category. The Czech Republic winger had stated before that he wanted to play until he was 50 years old, but Father Time finally caught up with him.
He missed training camp with the Calgary Flames this year as the team didn’t sign him until just prior to the start of the season and he has been noticeably slower, unable to keep up with the pace in certain games. He has just one goal through 22 games and the Flames are reportedly working toward terminating his contract. Perhaps he plays in the Olympics and then officially retires.
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