The average pro sports athlete’s career is over by age 33. NHL players aren’t much different; they usually retire before the age of 30. In fact, 28.18 is the average age. And since rookies are only about 20 years old when they hit the big leagues, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of playing time.
In many other professional sectors, older employees are considered wiser, smarter, more reliable, and – to put it simply – better. However, there is a huge difference between how the mind slows down and how the body slows down. As we all well know, keeping our bodies in prime physical condition isn’t a piece of cake, especially past, say, age 30. Most of us would rather eat cake than put in the work it takes to stay in shape. For many hockey players, though, staying in peak condition is essential in order to continue playing the sport they love.
There are more than a few NHL-ers, however, who scoff at retirement statistics and prove that age really is just a number. Maurice Roberts goaltended until he was 45. Chris Chelios played until 48. Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe, played until age 52. And nobody’s gonna say that Gordie Howe wasn’t a force to be reckoned with until the day he left the ice for good.
The well-known names listed below might not all be the oldest players still in the league, but they are most definitely the hardest playing, especially of those over 30. Each man included here has been able to beat father time well into their 30s. Can you say that about your career?
15 Marian Hossa
In 2010, at age 31, Hossa became the first NHL player to play in three consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs with three different teams. There haven’t been any young players who’ve done this, not before or since. He scored his 50th NHL playoff goal in 2016. His point count went from 56 in the 1999-00 season, to 80 points in 2002-03, to 100 points in 2006-07!
And he hasn’t slowed down yet. In 2014 he scored his 1,000th career point, and in 2016 he scored his 500th NHL career goal. In the 2014-15 season, at age 35, he played 82 games with an ATOI of 18.33, and he stated that he didn’t think he’d done that since he was 24. “As long as I feel healthy and I feel my game is on and no injuries, I’d like to play as long as possible,” he said. Which means, if he continues at this rate and finishes out his 12 year contract with the Blackhaws in 2021, he’ll be 42 years old.
14 Patrick Marleau
He might not be the oldest hockey player, but Marleau is definitely over the usual age of retirement for NHLers; he’s 37 and the average hockey player retires in his late 20s. Neither his speed, his strength, nor his determination have diminished since his first days as a rookie. He’s like the Energizer Bunny and just keeps going!
Since he’s spent his entire NHL career with the San Jose Sharks, it’s not really a surprise that he holds the title for the team’s highest ever goals, power play goals, even strength goals, points, shots, and games played. In 2016 he played his 1,400th NHL game, during a season where he averaged 19:02 minutes on ice. Ten years ago, during the 2005-06 season, his ATOI was 19:56. He is not slowing down!
13 Andrei Markov
In his third NHL season, Markov averaged 23:17 minutes on ice during each game. Fast forward 13 seasons and he’s still averaging 21:44 minutes. In fact, the only time he has dipped below 20 minutes was during the 2011-12 season, when he only played 13 games and was recovering from knee surgery. He may have been dubbed “fragile” after his knee injuries in 2010, but has earned the more appropriate term “iron man” since then. This season he’s earned 32 points so far, which is pretty darn good for an injured defenseman!
When he joined the Montreal Canadiens (and the league) in 2000, he was considered the best defenseman in Russia. His stats for last season prove that he’s still got what it takes: 57 hits, 142 blocks, and 38 takeaways. Now in his 16th season, Markov is looking like he can play into his 40s. That’s some serious longevity.
12 Joe Thornton
This San Jose centerman is 36 but plays just as well, if not better, than his first days on NHL ice in 1997. Some say he’s getting even better with age, actually. He might not have the facial hair of a young (man, that might be the bushiest beard ever seen on a hockey player!), but he sure has the stamina.
For a guy who started out as the number one draft pick, his stats are pretty surprising. In his first three years he averaged 72.3 games and 36 points each year. But in his most recent three seasons he’s played an average of 80.7 games per year and clocked 74.3 points. With 82 points last year, Thornton was the league’s fourth highest scorer and had the second highest number of assists for the season. Compares to his first year where he had 7 points and 4 assists? Yep, there’s no doubt, he DOES keep getting better.
11 Zdeno Chara
Happy birthday! “The Big Z” blew out 40 candles just the other day, on March 18, and hockey fans everywhere are sad to see his 30s go. In 2012 he was the All-Star team captain, a team on which he has played a total of six times. It was also in 2012 that he won the All-Star Hardest Shot competition with his record-breaking 108.8 mph shot – a competition he actually won a total of five times. HIs incredible skills as a defenseman have been recognized with five nominations for the Norris trophy, including one win at age 32 and once as runner up in 2014 at the age of 37. Three years ago he was also awarded the John Ferguson Award for being the toughest player in the league. He was 37 at the time. His 30s have been a crazy decade!
During his second year in the NHL, his ATOI was 18:54. After that, he improved to 22:52 in the 1999-00 season, and it’s held pretty steady since then. So far this season he plays an average of 23:12. The man is a beast. A hockey stick wielding beast who could no doubt give any smirking teen a run for their money.
10 Henrik Zetterberg
The 36 year old Swede is a member of the Triple Gold Club; he’s won the Stanley Cup, the Ice Hockey World Championships, and the Winter Olympics. With 988 games played, 895 points, and an attitude that won’t quit, chances are that Zee will see the 1,000 points milestone long before his NHL days are over.
He may have only been 5’11” and 180lbs at draft time in 1999, and although most expected him to be a solid fourth-liner, Zetterberg surprised everyone with his speed and skills, playing a solid third line. These days he averages 19:34 minutes per game on the ice, played 82 games last season, and spent 24 minutes in the penalty box. Pretty sure this proves he’s still got serious strength and stamina.
9 Henrik Sedin
We all know that Henrik is one half of the Sedin Twin Phenomenon. He was a third place draft pick in 1999, placing behind his speedy brother, Daniel. The older twin is 36 years old now, has played with the Canucks since the beginning, and is showing no signs of taking it easy any time soon. During his first season he played 82 games and had an ATOI of 13:31. These days he plays every game, for an average of 19:08. His TOI has pretty much done nothing but climb since his rookie days.
In fact, he’s made such an impact on the Vancouver team that they awarded him the Hart Trophy for the 2009-10 season, cementing that he is the player “most valuable to his team.” Really, he grows more and more dependable every year, and this was recognized when he was awarded the King Clancy Trophy last year. Oh, and there’s the little matter of his 1,000th career point this year. At the age of 36, he puts most men half his age to shame.
8 Daniel Sedin
This Sedin brother was drafted 2nd overall, ahead of his big brother, and has just about the same intense work ethic. His first NHL goal was scored during his third ever game with the Canucks in 2000, a shot that was assisted by his brother and a tie game – when they won 5-4 in overtime. For his first four seasons, he averaged only 12:45 minutes of ice time per game. Not a bad start for a rookie, but not spectacular either.
Fast forward a few years – say, 12 more seasons – and Daniel is playing an impressive 18:27 per game, and is just 20 points shy of the 1,000 point milestone. Like his brother, he’s played every game this season, and on the front line at that, averaging 2.68 shots per game. Last year he rang in at 28 total points, the best he’s had in four years, and this year he’s already at 13. There’s no denying that this guy will continue to go places and impress people, and to prove that age is just a number.
7 Mike Fisher
It’s been said that athletes who date or marry celebrities find that their game performance suffers. Not so with Fisher and his country music star wife, Carrie Underwood. He may have originally accepted Nashville’s offer so he could be closer to his wife, but his skills and stats have remained strong. And when the Nashville Predators star played his milestone 1,000th game, the wife and infant son were there to offer affection and support. Go Team Fisher!
Fisher has been a strong and steady player from the start. He was nominated for the Franke J. Selke trophy back in 2006 for his skills on defense with the Ottawa Senators. Ten years ago he ended with 48 points for the 2006-07 season, while in the currently unfinished season he already has 41 points. He’s team captain now, and these days he averages 16:47 minutes on ice, a stat made more impressive by the fact that he’s missed five games this season. As for goals, he’s registered 17 so far, all while centering the Predator’s 2nd line and 2nd power play line. If he stays as dependable and steadily improves as he has been, this 36-year-old could easily play well into his 40s.
6 Radim Vrbata
The Arizona Coyotes’ right winger may only be a few months shy of his 36th year, but you’d never know it by watching him play alongside the 21 year old Christian Dvorak and 22 year old Max Domi. Prior to his professional days, he played for the winning Czechs in the World Junior Championships in 2001. He’s since won the 2005 IIHF World Championships with the Czech Republic, has 46 game-winning NHL goals, and has participated in 42 NHL playoff games. This may be his first year playing with the Arizona Coyotes, but he’s already earned his place on the front line. He averages 17:08 minutes of play time per game, recently played his 1,000th career game, and at 2.90 shots per game and 52 points this season, is only 12 shy of his career best.
In 2001, when he played his first game with the Colorado Avalanche, he was 20 years old, and he ended up playing 52 games that season. 76 games the next season. Want to know how many games he plays now? 16 years later? He’s at 72 this season. Take that, kids.
5 Roberto Luongo
Oh man. This goalie. After playing for Team Canada at the 1999 World Junior Championships and being named the tournament’s best goalie, he signed with the New York Islanders. He was only 20 years old. Since he started late in that first season, he only played 24 games and made 660 saves. But! He basically doubled both games and saves in his second season: 47 games and 1,226 saves.
Last year, Luongo was 4th in line for Top Goalie and the Vezina Trophy. This year, at age 37, he has a 0.915% save rate and a 2.68 goal against average. This is all with the Florida Panthers, a team that has been slammed with injuries this year (Alex Petrovic, Jonathan Marchessault, Denis Malgin). He currently leads the league in wins by active goalies, and with 453 career wins under his belt he’s a shocking 5th of all time. The 500 game peak, reached by only the great Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur, isn’t far off! Sidenote: he’s also been known to use Twitter like a teenager, including tweeting a pic of his Halloween costume.
4 Henrik Lundqvist
Speaking of the active wins list for goalies… Luongo may be first on the active wins list, but 35 year old “King Henrik” Lungvist is a close second. He has 404 career wins, and has the best winning percentage of goalies who have won 300 games: 54.89%. Looking for more impressive stats? He has a 0.913 save percentage, a 2.65 goals against average, and 30 wins (8th best in the league, by the way) out of his 51 starts this season for the Rangers. A team that is, in no small part thanks to their starting goalie, headed to the playoffs.
Before all of this, when he played for the Frolunda Hockey Club in Sweden, he wasn’t anything to write home about, and was actually booed off the ice a few times. His time with the Swedish national under-20 team changed that, though, and by the time he donned that giant pads for the Rangers in 2005, he was a machine. The world watched in wonder as he won 30 games his first year, 37 the second, and 37 again after that. How the heck did this guy only get the 205th draft pick?
3 Jarome Iginla
Edmontonian Ignila is currently 39 years old and has been playing in the NHL since 1996 – that’s 21 years. He started with the Calgary Flames during the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs, and by 1998 he was skating with the Flames’ first line. During that 1998-99 season, Ignila’s handiwork accounted for a whopping 13% of the team’s total 211 goals!
Since those first years he’s won numerous awards and recognition, including both the Ted Lindsay Award and the Art Ross Trophy for the 2001-02 season. In 2016 he became the 19th player to score 600 NHL career goals, and this year his TOI was 14.45 with Colorado and 17.10 so far with L.A. That’s a pretty impressive average, especially for a guy who is more than 10 years older than the average hockey player.
2 Craig Anderson
The 35-year-old Anderson has been, basically, the heart of the Ottawa Senators since he was traded from the Colorado Avalanche in 2011. He has won 21 of the 31 games he has played this year, which is an fantastic 65.63%, and an astonishing accomplishment when we consider that his wife Nicholle was diagnosed with cancer last fall. Despite having this personal tragedy on his mind, he’s managed to achieve 4 shutouts, a .928 save percentage, and a 2.30 goals against average. This may just be his best year yet, statistically, which is outstanding for a 35 year old athlete of any sport, really.
Prior to his NHL days, Anderson played with the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League. He was drafted by the Flames in 1999 but didn’t sign, instead playing with the Storm again and ending the season with a GAA of 3.59 and a .903 save percentage. Later, in his first season with the Blackhawks, he achieved a not-so-super GAA of 4.00. Luckily, there was a drastic improvement in his 2003-04 season, and he ended with a goals-against average of 2.84. Overall, it seems his early days were not his best. Age is power!
1 Jaromir Jagr
The Florida Panther from Czechoslovakia his worth is salt, no question. I mean, just a few days ago he scored his 269th point, which means he is one point over Gordie Howe’s record for the most points by a hockey player over age 40. At 45 years old, he’s currently the NHL’s oldest player, and he says he plans to play into his 60s. Right now he’s the fourth leading scorer on the Panthers team, with 39 points this season and 1,907 total in his career so far.
He’s been playing in the NHL for 27 years, and even though this is a sport that sees exciting rookies each year, veterans like Jagr are where the true inspiration lies. So along with his famous hair and the famous kicking of the sugar habit, Jagr has nowhere to go but up. Not just in years, but in the record books.