Professional athletes are born and bred to be successful at their respective sport. They train six (sometimes seven) days a week rigorously for up to six hours a day weightlifting, running, and getting better any way they can. Some sports have it better than others. In baseball for example, a player can last as long as 20 years so long as injuries and personal issues don't get in the way. A sport like football doesn't have as much luck as the average career lasts five seasons and players can be out of the league around the age of 25. Of course there are the rare exceptions like Brett Favre, Tom Brady, and others that kept a relatively, clean bill of health to have long and successful careers. The most grueling sport of the major four sports arguably is hockey.
Hockey is a sport that is simply a grind from the time you are little. Waking up and going to the rink at five in the morning to do non-stop conditioning, puck handling, etc. can be a grind. Some of these athletes love it so much they continue to do it to a point where we forget they are still playing "the beautiful game". This list takes a look at guys that fans will scratch their heads as to why they are still playing or how they have stuck around as long as they currently are doing. Some of them might have a few years left, while others should have hung up the skates a while ago. Now, we give to you the top 15 NHL players you didn't realize haven't retired yet.
15 Antti Niemi
The first player that is still in the league that we can't believe hasn't retired is someone whose playing time seems to gradually decrease every year. He has been in the NHL for nine seasons now and has enjoyed success in spurts for the San Jose Sharks and recently, the Dallas Stars. Antti Niemi has enjoyed success as an NHL goaltender as he has a Stanley Cup with Chicago. He was the main goaltender with the Sharks before he took his talents down south to Dallas, Texas to play for the Stars. Unfortunately, he was splitting time; a role he is not accustomed to doing before.
Now, he will be fighting for backup time as he is now in Pittsburgh behind Matt Murray. It is hard to believe that Niemi has any good years left, and especially in a place like Pittsburgh where they have been successful over the past decade; he will struggle for time. Niemi is still hanging around, but only by a thread as he approaches his age 34 season.
14 Deryk Engelland
Some defensive players in the NHL take a beating. They have to endure rough hits, kill off power plays, and don't fill up the stat sheets with goals and assists. Sometimes, they are even forced to play the role of enforcer to be a true team player. This player got a little bit of a later start to his NHL career and still is finding a way to take the ice at age 35. Deryk Engelland has never been much of an offensive threat in his career. In eight seasons between the Penguins and the Calgary Flames, he has never registered more than 17 points in any season. Now he is playing for the Vegas Golden Knights, the newest NHL franchise set to hit the ice. He started his career at the age of 27, a lot later than the majority of players coming out of college and overseas leagues as well. The fact that he is still around is nothing short of amazing. He is lucky to be playing for the Golden Knights, otherwise he would probably be strongly considering retirement right now.
13 Jarome Iginla
Over 500 career goals, over 500 career assists; you would think that this next guy would consider leaving the game for good right? Wrong! This multi-time All-Star is one of the most decorated Calgary Flames players in the organization's history. Jarome Iginla has done well with his 20 year career. He has played for the Flames, Penguins, Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, and Kings. He is currently a free agent that is looking to have a few more good seasons out on the ice, no matter who he plays for. Iginla is entering his 40s and has shown he can still put the puck in the back of the net and provide veteran leadership to the younger players. Last season was not his best as he only recorded 14 goals and 13 assists.
But he knows he wants to do whatever it is possible to bring home the last piece of a well-executed career: a Stanley Cup championship. But still, it is hard to believe he hasn't retired yet, considering nobody's shown him any interest in the offseason.
12 Mike Cammalleri
Cammalleri has provided his services to the NHL for 14 seasons now. He has definitely traveled around, playing for teams such as the Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, and New Jersey Devils. He also has one of the most fun last names to say! Mike Cammalleri had some great seasons earlier on in his career. He recorded 34 goals and 46 assists to combine for 80 total points in the 2006-07 season with the Kings. He did a little bit better in his 2008-09 season with the Flames, recording 39 goals and 43 assists to combine for 82 points. He also has produced several 40 and 50 point seasons as well.
But lately, his production and spark he brought to the ice has gone down. He is approaching his 15th season in the NHL and definitely on the declining side of his career. He signed a one-year deal with his original team, the Kings this offseason, trying to revive his career. It is hard to believe he is still in the league, but maybe he can surprise us all with another 40, 50, or even a 60 point season out of nowhere!
11 Brooks Orpik
Once again, the defensemen in the NHL really have the toughest jobs of the main positions. The goalies can't get hit, the centers and wings are usually fast enough to avoid bone-crushing hits, which leaves the defensemen to endure the pain. Another 14 year veteran, this man spent the majority of his career in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization; winning a Stanley Cup along the way and then ended playing for the Washington Capitals. Brooks Orpik has enjoyed the taste of winning.
With the Capitals, he hasn't recorded more than 19 points in the a season and doesn't show any signs of picking up the pace. Orpik is entering his 15th season at the age of 37, which is the end of the line for a lot of professional athletes. Orpik could be a veteran presence in leadership that could help the Capitals come postseason time (if they can ever get rid of the monkey off of their back that they cannot win in the clutch).
The Capitals better hope they win a Stanley Cup in the next couple of years or else Orpik might actually retire very soon. For now, fans can wonder how he hasn't hung up the skates yet considering what he has already done!
10 Greg Rallo
When a professional athlete gets sent to the minor leagues in the later part of their career, it is usually the writing on the wall saying to give the game up and call it a career. This center has had an interesting career to say the least and he is going into his age 36 seasons. Greg Rallo has played two seasons in which he recorded one career goal and zero career assists for the Florida Panthers. He then signed a contract to play with the Dallas Stars. The only problem is he is playing for the Texas Stars, which is the AHL affiliate for the Dallas Stars! Rallo is not just entering the league or a player that is coming off of a significant injury. He is 36 years old!
He is definitely running out of time to have any sort of career. He has three years at the most to make any sort of impact in the league. This is one truly puzzling case and confusing process trying to figure out why Rallo hasn't pursued another career path. He still has the dream of making good money and winning a championship. But sometimes, you just have to know when to hold them, fold them, and walk away. It is bizarre Rallo hasn't gotten the message yet.
9 Henrik Zetterberg
Usually in a players season totals when he hits the age 30 mark, their production starts to drastically suffer. This guy is proving that he still makes an impact when we all thought he might be enjoying the retired life on a tropical island somewhere. Henrik Zetterberg has been a left winger that has shown that age is only a number. In his age 36 season last year with the Detroit Red Wings, Zetterberg had a great final statline. He finished with 17 goals and 51 assists, ending up with 68 points which is a great year for most players.
Considering Zetterberg has put up 70, 80, and even a 90 point season previously; this last season to him might seem to be lacking. He has spent his whole career in Detroit since he burst onto the scene during the 2002-03 season. Zetterberg could be one of those cases where time is moving slower for him than others. Fans have to wonder if he wants to be like Jaromir Jagr, and just keep playing until his legs literally give out under him and the Red Wings jersey is ripped off of his back!
8 Marian Hossa
When you talk about consistent success over the past decade, one of the first teams to come to mind is easily the Chicago Blackhawks. Think of the players they had during their championship runs! Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, and others are just a few of the leaders that helped Chicago win multiple Stanley Cups. This player gets a little lost in the shuffle as he is now entering his age 39 season. Marian Hossa has been an essential piece to the Blackhawks success over the past eight seasons he has been with them. He has scored over 500 career goals to add to his thrilling career. Even this past season, Hossa recorded 26 goals and 19 assists to contribute 45 total points to the Blackhawks. This man has even recorded a 100 point season during the 2006-07 campaign with the Atlanta Thrashers while they were still in the league!
The only reason people would think he is retired is because of his age and that he won't be playing this season due to irritations from a skin allergy.
7 Willie Mitchell
Another defenseman on this list is not currently with an NHL team, but that doesn't mean he has shut the doors on the possibility of playing again just yet. Willie Mitchell is another journeyman that has traveled around to different organizations for a stable career. He has made stops with the Devils, Vancouver Canucks, Minnesota Wild, Stars, Kings, and Florida Panthers. He hasn't put up much offensive production.
He is an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team he wants. But the downside is he is about to turn 40 and he also didn't play this past season. It looks like the clock is ticking down on Mitchell's career. It is hard to believe he doesn't just give his final curtain call to a successful, long NHL career.
6 Michal Rozsival
The next man is no surprise, another defensemen! It seems like a lot of defensemen have made this list despite the beating they sometimes take from physical play. This is a tip of the cap to you guys for doing it for so long and still can fly around the ice like you can! The Blackhawks once again are at the center of attention with a guy that stuck around through the good years of success. Michal Rozsival has played for a number of teams such as the Blackhawks, Penguins, Coyotes, and the New York Rangers. He had a 40 point season back in 2006-07 with the Rangers with 10 goals and 30 assists to account for his best season yet. He has also been a part of two Stanley Cup championship teams in Chicago, so he's had the chance to kiss the cup a few times.
He didn't play a lot last season, and only registered one goal and two assists on the season. Rozsival is entering his age 39 season, so he might be seeing the writing on the wall. He still hasn't retired which is amazing, but if he chooses to do so after another season or two; he will have had a winning legacy to be remembered by!
5 Matt Cullen
There are some athletes that are just blessed to be on good teams in their careers. In the MLB for example, Jonny Gomes found himself on two championship teams with the Red Sox in 2013 and Royals in 2015. Going back to the NHL, this guy has won several championships because he found himself in the right place at the right time. Matt Cullen is a center that has won three Stanley Cup championships in his career. He won one with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 along with two more in 2016 and 2017 with the Penguins. He also put up steady point production with eight 40 point seasons during the course of his career.
Cullen is turning 41 very soon with three opportunities to kiss the cup. Sure, the Minnesota Wild are an up and coming team. But, do they really want someone like Cullen whose production is going down now as he is skating toward the "final minute" of his career. Cullen still playing is truly something to behold, but he cannot have those three Stanley Cup championships taken away no matter what happens!
4 Joe Thornton
Jumbo Joe, Big Bird, whatever you want to call him; he is still around. Joe Thornton graced us with his presence into the NHL in 1998 when he was drafted by the Boston Bruins. He played seven and a half years before he was traded mid-season to the San Jose Sharks where he has played every since. He is part of the 1,000 point club. Some think he could retire right now and could be a potential candidate for the Hockey Hall of Fame. But he still hangs around in San Jose to pursue a Stanley Cup trophy he has dreamed about since entering the league. Some people are astonished when people realize he is still skating around in sunny California.
The man has even had several 100 point seasons which is unthinkable now. You have to give credit when credit is due; Joe Thornton is still skating for that Stanley Cup championship and you can't help but root for a guy like that. But, we can't help but wonder how hasn't considered giving up the dream of the title and retire in luxury.
3 Mike Smith
The Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes have gone through a lot of change over the past decade. They have had different coaches and a different location to start. One thing that hadn't changed was their goaltending situation with this individual. Mike Smith was one of the steady pieces that comforted Coyotes fans. Smith had a standout season for the Coyotes during the 2011-12 season as he led the Coyotes to their only Western Conference Finals appearance. He will be competing for time this season with Eddie Lack for the Calgary Flames. It is safe to say that Smith's services will be missed in the Coyotes organization. He has also been playing for more than a decade, which is amazing to think about given how physical hockey can be. Then again, he is also a goaltender so how often is he getting hit and banged up? Smith's good days might be behind him looking forward into his Flames career. It is a huge surprise that he is still going and not retired yet.
2 Zdeno Chara
This man may be one of the tallest to ever lace up his skates. He is 6'9 in real life, but in skates; he is rumored to be 7'1. He has played with the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators before spending the last 10 seasons with the Boston Bruins. He is also currently their captain. Zdeno Chara has been a spark plug for the Boston defense since his arrival in 2006-07. He has been known as a big, physical, left handed shooter with one of the hardest slap shots in league history. For a movie comparison, consider Chara to be the NHL's version of Fulton Reed from the Mighty Ducks movie series. He also has won a Stanley Cup championship in 2011 along with several hardest slap shot competitions at NHL All-Star weekends in the past.
Fans and analysts have noticed Chara's speed decrease a bit lately, so what reason does he have to stay in the league? He really doesn't have any reason to stay which makes it surprising that he hasn't retired yet. But the number one player on this list really makes fans scratch their heads as to why he is still around!
1 Jaromir Jagr
We told you we would get around this guy at one point or another in this list. This right winger is literally beating Father Time as we speak as he continues to be taking the ice at age 45! Jaromir Jagr that has played for a lot of teams throughout his long NHL career. The list includes the Penguins, Capitals, Rangers, Flyers, Stars, Bruins, Devils, and most recently Panthers. He has over 1,900 total points in his 23 year career. It is truly remarkable what Jagr is doing by continuing to play. He is playing because of his pure love for hockey. Some fans probably thought he was going to retire before the 2010 seasons started. He showed during the prime of his career he was one of the best to ever play with five seasons of over 100 points and four seasons of over 90 points.
Surprisingly, despite his production, no team decided to sign him this offseason, until the Flames did so just as the season was starting.
How Jagr hasn't retired yet is beyond words.