There’s no denying that the NHL youth movement is in full swing. As you take a look at the birth years of the players on NHL rosters today, it’s becoming rare to find a player who was born before 1990. It can really make a guy feel old, and it’s depressing.
However, each team seems to have a grisly veteran or two still fighting the good fight on its roster, and today we salute them. You know the ones; the guys who have well over 500 games on their resumes, yet are still in a constant struggle to stay in the regular lineup thanks to all these young whipper-snappers coming up to take their jobs. GET OFF MY LAWN!
Sometimes you come across a player on a team’s active roster and think to yourself “damn, he’s still playing. Last season I remember how surprised I was to see Dainius Zubrus still playing in the NHL, wearing a San Jose Sharks jersey. He retired in 2016 after helping the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final, but there are a handful of players in the league today that I’m surprised to see still skating in the world’s best league.
Here are the top 15 NHL players you didn’t realize were still in the league:
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15 Nick Schultz
Stay-at-home defensemen tend to fly under the radar, and Nick Schultz is the poster boy of stay-at-home defensemen. He played his 1,000th NHL game last season as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, and many of you will likely be surprised to learn that he is indeed still an active member of the Flyers.
Schultz’s body isn’t what it used to be, and that’s starting to show. He’s a healthy scratch on many-a-night in Philly these days, and he’s found his way into just 16 games on the season so far (contributing four lone assists along the way). Schultz is on an expiring contract, and he’ll be 35 by the time his next one kicks in—if there even is a next one. Judging by his deployment so far this year, that’s looking unlikely.
14 Matt Stajan
Matt Stajan was one of the pieces that moved from Toronto to Calgary in the 2010 Dion Phaneuf blockbuster. It was a seven player deal, and Phaneuf and Stajan are the only two that are left in the NHL today; the rest have either retired or moved onto the friendlier confines of various European leagues.
I’d bet there’s at least a few of you who forgot that Stajan was still around. The veteran center is still plugging away in Calgary though, where he’s been overshadowed by the youth movement on that team over the past three seasons or so. He’s actually quietly having a decent season, as he’s already eclipsed last season’s point total of 17. Perhaps Stajan has a few more years in him yet.
13 Mark Stuart
Mark Stuart is the second veteran stay-at-home defenseman to show up on our list today, coming in at number 13. Stuart is a former Boston Bruins first round draft pick who’s played over 650 games at the NHL level for the Bruins and Thrashers/Jets. Stuart has battled some health issues so far in 2016-17, and he’s also been asked to sit with a clean bill of health a handful of times.
Stuart, who has scored one goal in 22 games so far this season, has another year after this one remaining on a contract that pays him $2.625 million per season. That’s a steep price tag, and I’d imagine Stuart is left unprotected at expansion by the Jets with hopes that the Golden Knights take on the final year of his deal.
12 Boyd Gordon
Boyd Gordon has been a steady fourth-line center for over a decade now, contributing adequately in that role in Washington, Phoenix, Edmonton, and finally this season in Philadelphia. Sure, Gordon has cleared waivers once already this season and is currently plying his trade with the Leigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL, but I bet you didn’t even know he was playing for Philly at all this season.
Offense has never been Gordon’s calling card, and nor has speed, and those are two of the biggest reasons that Gordon is likely in the twilight of his career at the age of 33. The Unity, Saskatchewan native should feel no shame because of his career’s imminent end; the guy played over 700 games and scored 161 points since breaking into the league in 2003-04.
11 Vern Fiddler
Vern Fiddler went undrafted out of junior, but eventually found his way onto the Nashville Predators roster in 2002-03. He continued to ply away at his trade, and soon he established himself as a regular on the Nashville roster. Flash forward to today, and the Canadian center has played in over 850 NHL games, racking up 260 points in the process.
The Edmonton-born pivot has spent time in Phoenix, Dallas, and New Jersey in addition to Nashville, and just last week he was actually traded back to where it all started. When the “story” of this trade broke (I barely saw a mention of it on Twitter or elsewhere), I had no idea that Fiddler was even in the NHL; I hadn’t seen him on the Stars, and that was the last place I remember seeing him. Either way, the end is likely nigh for the 36-year-old.
10 Chris Kelly
Chris Kelly played a key role for the Boston Bruins during the 2011 Stanley Cup run, and because of that I will always picture Kelly in a Bruins uniform. He lost all but 11 games in 2015-16 thanks to a broken femur, and many thought his career was at its end after such a horrific injury as a 35-year-old. In fact, I though his career HAD ended before noticing him back on the Sens roster a month ago.
Indeed, there’s Chris Kelly, in his familiar position, patrolling the fourth line pivot position in Canada’s capital city at the tender age of 36. Kelly recently passed the 800 game plateau, and although the Toronto-born forward hasn’t ever scored more than 40 points in a season, he should crack the 300 point mark before his career is over and done with.
9 Stephen Gionta
Although his brother Brian is a few years older, Stephen Gionta is the one I’m surprised is still employed by an NHL team. Stephen was a late bloomer, not even playing in his first NHL game until he was in his late 20s. I first remember seeing him play for the Devils during their run the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, when he registered seven points and kept confusing me, making me think Brian Gionta was back in Jersey.
Gionta has spent his time since then mostly in the NHL, though he has played some games in the AHL this season. He’s currently with the New York Islanders organization, which is also new information to me, learned just today. The winger will turn 34 this season, and it’s entirely possible that he’s on his last NHL contract.
8 Kyle Brodziak
This list really seems like it’s predominantly made up of two types of players: depth forwards and stay-at-home defensemen. That makes sense, as they play “quieter” games, so to speak, and Kyle Brodziak has done just that for over a decade in the NHL. His career began in Edmonton, moved onto Minnesota, and then finally to St. Louis where he—surprisingly—is still a roster player.
Though currently sitting on the IR, Brodziak has played pretty much the whole season with the Blues to date, and he’s just one point shy of matching last season’s total of 11 points. He’s actually on a contract that lasts through 2017-18, so we still haven’t heard the last from the 32-year-old Albertan. Who knows, maybe he’ll get one more contract after this.
7 Jay McClement
Another fourth line plugger shows up on our list in the form of Jay McClement. He’s slowly but surely racked up the games played in the world’s best league, and he should pass the 900 game mark this season (barring injury or an unprecedented demotion). Nonetheless, if you asked me earlier this week if McClement was still playing, I wouldn’t have known the answer.
He started his career in St. Louis, and made stops in Colorado and Toronto before finding his current home in Carolina. Perhaps it's because he plays for the small-market Hurricanes he flies under the radar, or maybe it’s because he hardly produces any offense (just six points in 51 games so far this year). If he can manage eight more points in the last 30-odd games of the year, he’ll reach 250 for his career.
6 Shawn Thornton
Shawn Thornton is yet another fourth line grinder who shows up on our list. He’s still toiling away in Florida, which was a surprise to me, as I was under the impression that Thornton was spit out the bottom of the league retired after leaving Boston a few years ago. In reality, Thornton has been plying his trade in Florida, chipping in one goal in each of the last three seasons.
The pugilist has achieved two career milestones over the past year; last season, he recorded the 1,000th penalty minute, and earlier this season he notched his 100th point. His NHL days are certainly winding down, as he’s dressed for less than half of the games so far in 2016-17, and with the speed of the game increasing and the fact that he turns like a train, he’s likely not going to last much longer in this league.
5 Rene Bourque
Rene Bourque had a couple of solid seasons about six years ago with the Calgary Flames, registering back-to-back 27 goal seasons. Since 2010-11, Bourque has only scored more than 10 goals in a season once, and I quite honestly thought he’d stepped away from the game. In my research for this article, I discovered I was wrong and that he’s currently employed by the Colorado Avalanche.
Bourque’s offensive game has all but disappeared, and since that was all he pretty much brought to the table anyway, it seems more than likely that the 35-year-old is playing out the final contract of his professional career. He signed a one year deal with the Avalanche this past offseason for right around the league minimum.
4 Michal Rozsival
Michal Rozsival joined the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012, with the shortened lockout season being his first with the club. Although he’s only played 14 games so far this season thanks to a combination of injuries and healthy scratches, but he’s still active on that Chicago roster. His role in the Windy City has slowly but surely dwindled over the years, and the one-year deal the 38-year-old defenseman signed in the offseason is likely his last in the NHL.
The Czech native will likely finish just shy of the 1,000 game mark, as he currently sits at 955. That’s a hell of a career for the fourth round pick from the 1996 draft. He even won the Bud Light Plus-Minus Award in 2006 (I know, a bogus trophy, but still), finishing the year with a plus-35 rating.
3 Devin Setoguchi
At 30 years old Devin Setoguchi is one of the younger players to appear on our list, and he actually comes in pretty high at number three. Setoguchi sort of disappeared a few years back, and it was later revealed that he’d struggled with alcohol abuse as his career was in a full-on tailspin. Reports had him drinking two bottles of Jameson per day for a while, which is a disturbing amount and we're all glad he got the help he needed.
After a stint in rehab, Setoguchi set about to have one last crack at an NHL career. After spending 2015-16 in Davos, the L.A. Kings decided to take a chance on the winger, and they signed him to a one-year deal near the league-minimum. He’s put up 12 points in 45 games so far, which is right around what you’d expect from him at this point.
2 Matt Greene
Matt Greene established himself as an NHLer with the Edmonton Oilers, joining the club for the latter part of the regular season and the playoffs. He was sent to L.A. in a trade that brought Lubomir Visnovsky to Edmonton, and that’s where he’s been ever since. Most of you probably thought he was no longer in the league because he’s only played 29 games since the end of 2014-15.
Greene finds himself back on the IR right now, and it’s entirely possible that he’s on his final NHL contract. His current deal lasts through next season and pays him $2.5M a year, but judging by his dwindling involvement with the team on a day-to-day basis, the Kings won’t likely be re-upping Greene. Perhaps the Vegas Golden Knights grab Greene in expansion, who knows.
1 Jordin Tootoo
That’s right, Jordin Tootoo is still an active NHL player. Even though the signing was reported over the summer, you and I both forgot all about it (unless you’re a big ‘Hawks fan, but even you probably let it slip your mind sometimes). The 34-year-old Manitoba-born winger has yet to find the scoresheet in 36 games this season, but he did recently play the 700th game of his career.
It hasn’t been a smooth ride for Tootoo, who has spent time in the AHL as recently as 2014. He was with the Red Wings organization then, and to be honest I hardly remember that. Tootoo doesn’t exactly log a lot of minutes wherever he plays, so it’s easy to miss him out there. But, he’s there, and who knows, perhaps another team will sign him for a bargain one-year deal this summer.
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