So few hockey players ever make it to the biggest stage of them all, the National Hockey League. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, skill, luck, and money. On top of that, so few of the players that do make the NHL ever make enough of an impact to be considered a star player.
There is no true definition of what it means to be a star player. Just having a lot of skill does not necessarily make you a star player. You have to able to use your skill to produce at a high and consistent level year after year. A star player is often relied on to carry the team on their back.
A lot of pressure comes with being a star player. You are getting paid like a star, so the team expects you to play like one. The problem is as players go deep into their playing careers, it's just natural that their production will start to fall off. There are some rare cases where star players just keep on producing at a high level throughout their careers. Names like Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky come to mind. There also the rare cases where players don't have the chance to decline because of careers shortened by injury like Bobby Orr and Mike Bossy.
As you can see it's very rare for a player not to fall eventually. A player getting up in age is not the only reason for production falling. Sometimes a player's role can get changed on his team. He's no longer a top six forward, so with decreased playing time comes less production. Then there is the unique case of goaltenders. Once a goalie loses his status as a number one, he may be relegated to a backup role for the rest of his career.
Here is the top 15 NHL stars who will continue fall from here.
15 Leo Komarov
You might say having Komarov on this list is a bit of stretch, as he has been mostly known for his physical play, not for putting pucks in the net. This year has been a different story. Just over halfway through this season he has already scored a career high 16 goals and was recently named to the 2016 Atlantic Division All-Star team. The problem with him having such a successful season is that the expectations are going to rise to a level Komarov just can't reach. His point production has nowhere to go but down from here.
14 Jiri Hudler
Jiri Hudler is coming off a career year where he scored 76 points, which was good enough to be in the top ten for points in the entire NHL. Last season was an anmomly for Hudler as his previous career high was only 57 points during the 2008-09 season. At the age of 32, it seems highly unlikely that Hudler has found another level of offense and it's more of a case that everything went right for him last season. Expect Hudler to go back to his normal range of about 50 points a season, which is what he's on pace for this season.
13 MIke Smith
Smith is a veteran of ten NHL seasons and his career has definitely not been without its up and downs. He was a promising backup goaltender with the Dallas Stars when he was traded to Tampa Bay, a deal which sent Brad Richards to Dallas. The Lightning considered him the key player in the trade coming back to them. After four sub-par seasons with the Lighting, including a stint in the minors, Smith signed with Arizona in 2011. It was in his first season with the Coyotes that Smith gained his star status. He would finish 4th in the Vezina Trophy voting for the league’s top goaltender. In the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, Smith’s numbers slid slightly, but that was to be expected.
In 2013,he was awarded a with six year contraction extension. Since then, Smith has battled inconsistency and injuries. With Louis Domingue emerging as the possible Arizona goaltender of the future, Mike Smith may find himself as a possible buy out candidate this offseason. His future as a number one goalie in the NHL is in doubt.
12 Jimmy Howard
Up until this season, Jimmy Howard has been the unquestioned starting goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings for the past six seasons and he has put up solid numbers throughout his NHL career. This season, however, Howard has struggled at times while his teammate Petr Mrazek has played exceptionally well. Mrazek has played so good, in fact, that he is now starting the majority of games for the Red Wings. Howard still has three years left on his current contract and may end up being a very expensive back up, unless the Red Wings buy him out or trade him.
11 Jarome Iginla
Jarome Iginla has had a Hall of Fame quality career, as he je just recently scored his 600th NHL goal. He spent his prime years of his career with the Calgary Flames. When he was traded to Pittsburgh in 2013, he left as Calgary's all-time point leader. Even now in his late thirties, Iginla has showed he's still capable of scoring thirty goals a year. As great as shape that Iginla may be in, it's hard not to think father time will soon take its toll on Iginla. His days as a 30 goal scorer are most likely over.
10 Jonas Hiller
When Hiller signed with the Calgary Flames during the 2014 offseason, he was expected to be their starting goaltender and he was going to have to be at his best if Flames wanted to have a shot at making the playoffs. In his first season with the Flames, Hiller was rock solid as Calgary surprisingly clinched a playoff spot. His second season with Calgary has been a different story. Hiller has struggled mightily and it has been by far his worst season in the NHL. He eventually lost his starting job to Kari Ramo, who only earlier in the season was sent down to the minors due to his own poor play. Barring any injury to Ramo, it looks like Hiller's time as a starter with the Flames, and possibly for any other NHL team, may be over.
9 Marian Hossa
Marian Hossa is a veteran of 18 NHL seasons, where he's been a point per game player for most of his career. He even topped 100 points during the 2006-07 season while with the Atlanta Thrashers. In recent years, his production has been on a bit of a decline. The past couple of seasons he is scoring more towards a 0.75 points per game pace, with year being closer to 0.50 points per game. At the age of 37, the three time Stanley Cup winning Hossa is still under contract with Chicago Blackhawks until 2021. It's safe to say his scoring production will continue to decline with his age.
8 Kari Lehtonen
Kari Lehtonen is the highest drafted European goaltender of all-time, as he was selected second overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2002 Draft. With being a high draft pick, a lot was expected out of Lehtonen and, for the most part, he has delivered. Lehtonen was traded to Dallas in 2010 and the Stars were hoping they had their goaltender of the future. When he's been able to stay healthy, he has put up some solid numbers for Dallas. The 2014-15 season has been one, however, that Lehtonen would like to forget, as he put up some of the worst numbers of his career. The Stars were so concerned that they signed former Stanley Cup winning goaltender Antti Niemi to split the starts with Lethonen. It looks like the time for Lehtonen to be a true number one goalie for a team has ran out.
7 Andrew Ladd
Andrew Ladd has been the captain of the Winnipeg Jets ever since they came over from Atlanta in 2011. He's had his best seasons of his career while with the Jets, including a career high 62 points during the 2014-15 season. He's spent most of his time playing a top six role, including time on the powerplay. Ladd's contracts ends after this current season and he may find himself playing elsewhere come next season. The issue for Ladd will be finding a team that will give him a consistent top six role. Prior to him to coming to the Winnipeg Jets franchise, he excelled in a third line role with Chicago. It's possible that a new coach and team would be more comfortable with Ladd in a third line role. If that's the case, Ladd's production will fall for sure.
6 Cam Ward
During the 2006 NHL playoffs, in Cam Ward's rookie season, Ward led the Carolina Hurricanes all the way to the Stanley Cup Championship. In the process, Ward won the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. That's a tough act to follow but Ward was up to the task. He has been the Hurricanes starting goalie for the past ten seasons. When healthy, Ward has proven he can be one of the best goaltenders in the league. The problem is that he's been injury plagued in recent years. Ward's contract with the Hurricanes is done this year and, at just 31 years old, he should have some good years left in him. The question is with his recent injuries, will the Hurricanes or another team have enough faith to rely on him as their number one goalie? If not, the best case scenario for Ward going forward is splitting starting duties with another goalie.
5 Eric Staal
Eric Staal has been a cornerstone of the Carolina Hurricanes ever since he broke into the league in the 2003-04 season. He was a keg cog in the Hurricanes 2006 Stanley Cup championship win and, at his peak, Staal was averaging around 40 goals per season. He even reached 100 points in just his second season in the NHL. However, in the last few years, Staal's production has been in a steady decline. He's now more likely to score 20 goals a season and around 50 points. A change of scenery might be the only thing that could halt Staal's current decline and the good news is that Staal's contract is up this summer, so it's possible.
4 Jaromir Jagr
At the ripe old age of 43, Jagr is still going strong. Although not the superstar he once was, he is still producing at a high level. Since returning to the NHL from a three year stint in the KHL, Jagr has averaged an amazing 0.73 points per game. With the shape that Jagr is in, it wouldn't be crazy if he continued to play until he's fifty years old. The question is whether he can keep up this production as he ages? He's set the bar so high for himself, its going to be tough to keep up his current production.
3 Ryan Kesler
At the peak of his career, Ryan Kesler was one of the toughest players to play against. He wasn't afraid to get into the dirty areas of the ice. He could get underneath a players skin, but he could also put up points on the score sheet. His best season was in 2010-11 where he scored a career high 41 goals. Arguably Kesler's best trait was always, and still is today, the way he seemed to step up his play come playoff time. Even with his current declining production, his ability to step it up in the playoffs was a key reason the Ducks resigned him to a massive six year contract extension in 2015. With the rough style that Kesler continues to play, he's bound to suffer more injuries as he gets up in age. The Ducks will probably start to regret resigning Kesler within the next couple of seasons, if they don't already.
2 Patrick Marleau
Patrick Marleau has been a staple of the San Jose Sharks since he played his first NHL game in 1997. Arizona Coyotes Shane Doan is the only player that been with his current franchise longer than Marleau. Patrick Marleau has never won any individual awards but has produced over a thousand points in his career. His production has slowed drastically the past couple of seasons. Once a point per game player, he will get you about half that production now. Marleau is still looking for his first Stanley Cup and, in order to win a cup, he might have to take a diminished role on a top Stanley Cup contending team.
1 Pavel Datsyuk
When Pavel Datsyuk finally decides to hang up his skates, he will definitely be in the discussion when it comes to the greatest Detroit Red Wings of all-time. He's a four-time Lady Byng award winner, as well as a three-time Selke award winner. More important than any individual award, Datsyuk is a two-time Stanley Cup winner. Even at the age of 37, he is still able to produce at a high level, along with still being one of the best defensive forwards in the game. Although his point totals have dropped in recent years, he's still puts up a more than respectable amount of points. For the better part of his career, he has been able to stay healthy. However, in the last few of seasons, Datsyuk has had trouble staying off the injury list. This might be a sign that his body is starting to wear down. As he gets closer to the age of 40, it's going to be even harder for him to stay healthy. It's getting difficult to picture Datsyuk surviving a full rigorous NHL season without suffering another injury.