Athletes are the epitome of physical greatness. Their existence revolves around a near perfect eating regime and daily workouts, sometimes more than once a day. They represent the closest thing to physical perfection, and because of that they're able to compete at the highest level in their respective sports. It's no easy feat, keeping your body that strong for so many years.
But what happens when age starts kicking in? When your speed diminishes and when getting hit starts becoming more and more painful. Even athletes are subject to the limitations that come with age, and after so many years of your body being put through constant strain, there comes a point when retirement seems the only viable option. Today, more than ever, the NHL appears to be a young man's game, with teams always trying to make their roster younger and older veterans playing fewer minutes as the pace of play is just too much for most over 35 to keep up. The season is just too long and grueling and the playoffs are like a second season, with the pace further increasing. Another thing about hockey is that every position requires you to be in tip top shape, whereas kickers in football can play well into their 40s, as well as some baseball pitchers, provided their arms can hold up. Whether you're a forward, defenceman or goalie though, you have to be have an elite level of conditioning, making it hard for players to hang on.
Of course, there are the exceptions. The freaks of nature, some may call them. The ones who keep playing, who keep competing at a high level whilst surrounded by younger people. Their tenacity, endurance, and willingness to keep competing is absolutely astounding, and is something to be respected in itself. Here are the oldest players to ever play in the NHL.
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15 Dominik Hasek - 43 years, 78 days – (2008)
You’d be hard pressed to find a hockey fan that hasn’t heard of arguably one of the best goalies to ever bless the world of hockey. The “Dominator” was in a class of his own. His style was unmatched, and most likely unplanned, because he would make some of the wildest saves you’ve ever seen. The Czech native spent his 16-year career mostly in Buffalo and in Detroit, where he won both his Stanley Cups.
Between 1993 and 2001, Hasek was an astounding six Vezina Trophies, earning himself “The Dominator” nickname. To top it all off, Hasek has the best save percentage in the history of the NHL as a goalie. At 43 years, he retired from the NHL, although he did make a comeback a few years later with HC Pardubice in the Czech Extraliga.
14 Jaromir Jagr - 43 years, 116 days – (Present)
Even after all these years, we still get to see the legend that is Jaromir Jagr. Going from team to team the past few years, the Czech forward just recently signed a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers that’ll keep him in the NHL for at least one more year. The Florida Panthers are also the eighth NHL team he’s signed a contract with. He’s the leading point scorer among active NHL players and is clearly nowhere near stopping.
Between 1981 and 2001, only three players won the Art Ross Trophy over this period of time. The first two are Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, and the third is Jagr. He’s won the award five times. He sits fourth on the all-time scoring list and would pass Gordie Howe for third with 49 points. He currently has 1,802 and will forever be considered one of hockey’s greatest players.
13 Igor Larionov - 43 years, 129 days - (2004)
For those who are not familiar with Igor Larionov, he’s a Russian hockey player that won three Stanley Cup championships with the Detroit Red Wings in the late 90s and early 2000s. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the class of 2008 and is widely considered to one of the greatest passers of all time.
Off the ice, Larionov was particularly instrumental in breaking the barriers that would allow Soviet players to play in the NHL. After years and years of voicing his discontent, he was finally allowed to join the Vancouver Canucks, where played for three years, ending his time there on the top line along with Pavel Bure. Today, he works as a player agent out of Michigan and is also director of hockey operations for SKA Saint Petersburg.
12 Mark Recchi - 43 years, 134 days - (2011)
When talking about class and respect in sports, Mark Recchi is always one of those names that always come up for me. The Canadian comes close to Jagr, playing for seven different NHL teams before announcing his retirement in style in 2011 after winning his third Stanley Cup with his third team, joining an elite club of players who have achieved the feat. To top it all off, he was the leading scorer in the Stanley Cup Final against Vancouver, increasing his legendary status. Recchi would finish his career fourth all-time in games played and 12th overall in points in the NHL.
11 Claude Lemieux - 43 years, 277 days - (2009)
A notch down from Jagr and Recchi, Claude Lemieux played for six different NHL teams, playing his last NHL game for the San Jose Sharks as part of his comeback after having announced his retirement in 2003. Lemieux has 80 career playoff goals, placing ninth all time in goals scored in the playoffs. The only reason Lemieux even makes it onto this list is because of his 2008 comeback.
In a recent TSN special, Lemieux was ranked second on a list entitled “top 10 most hated NHL players of all time,” only second to Sean Avery. Incidents with Jim Peplinski, whose finger he allegedly bit during a playoff game with Montreal, and Kris Draper, who he hit from behind into the boards, have really cemented this reputation.
10 Teemu Selanne - 43 years, 317 days - (2014)
Having announced his retirement just last year to my dismay, Teemu Selanne was one of the best players of his generation. The Finnish legend played 21 seasons in the NHL, finishing 11th all time in goals scored and 15th in points in NHL history. He is by far the most productive Finn to ever play hockey in the NHL. He won his only Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks.
Selanne broke into the NHL in his rookie season with 76 goals, breaking an NHL record for most goals in a season by a rookie. Don’t worry, you read that right; 76 goals as a rookie. I have no doubt in my mind that this feat will never even come close to being accomplished, and it’s just another reason Teemu Selanne was such a special player.
9 Tim Horton - 44 years, 39 days - (1974)
Tim Horton may be the best-known player on this list, but it wasn’t because of his NHL career. No, it is not a coincidence; this indeed is THE Tim Horton, co-founder of Canadian institution Tim Horton's, Canada’s favorite cup of hockey. He opened his first Tim Hortons in 1964 in Hamilton while he was still in the NHL. He would go on to win four cups from 1961 to 1967.
Horton played 24 seasons in the NHL with four different NHL teams. In 1974, driving from Toronto to Buffalo, Tim Horton was killed in a car crash. His widow accepted a million dollars for all her shares in the company, something she would definitely come to regret.
8 Jacques Plante - 44 years, 78 days - (1973)
We all knew Jacques Plante as one of the most important innovators in the game, advancing the game of hockey in an incredible way. Not only would he often play the puck outside the crease to his defenceman, but he was the first goalie in the history of the NHL to wear a goalie mask, testing different versions through a period of time with some of the league’s experts to create the first goalie mask.
Although most of his success was with the Montreal Canadiens, winning six Stanley Cups, including five of them consecutively, he actually played for five other NHL teams. He originally retired in 1965 but would return in 1968 to join the St. Louis Blues in their first year as an NHL team.
7 T-7. Doug Harvey - 44 years, 100 days - (1969)
Doug Harvey was a Montreal native who played the bulk of his playing career with his hometown Canadiens, before jumping around the league and playing for another seven teams over the course of his career. Starting in 1951, he would make the All Star team 11 straight times, and would also go on to win seven Norris trophies as the league’s best defenceman. He would win his six Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, but was also the cause of a Stanley Cup losing goal when he tipped the puck with his glove into his own net to give the Detroit Red Wings the Cup.
Harvey was an innovator in the fact that he played in the league at a time where defencemen simply did not get that many points, and he was a huge factor in the Canadiens becoming such a high scoring team using his speed and ability with the puck.
6 T-7. Lester Patrick - 44 years, 100 days - (1928)
We’ll need to back a few pages in the history books to find out more about Lester Patrick. Winning six Stanley Cups as a player, coach, and manager, the way Lester Patrick gets on this list is very dramatic. At the exact age you see in the headline, when he was coaching and managing the Rangers, he would insert himself into the game as starting goaltender after their starter got injured, breaking a record that stands to this day as the oldest goalie to ever play a playoff game in the Stanley Cup Final.
He and his brother Frank were also responsible for starting the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, and were also responsible for creating major hockey rules, including the red forward line on professional hockey rinks.
5 Gump Worsley - 44 years, 323 days - (1974)
Referred to as Gump most of the time because of his striking resemblance to comic strip character Andy Gump, the Montreal native shared his long NHL career between the Canadiens, the Rangers and the North Stars. His first year in the NHL with the Rangers, he would win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.
He was particularly known for his eccentricities off the ice and his sense of humor. When accused of the Rangers coach of having a beer belly, he replied that he only drank Johnnie Walker Red. He was the second to last goalie to adopt a goalie mask, being quoted saying “my face is mask.” Other than that, he was known for having a ridiculous fear of flying, having missed games because of this fear. When he signed with Minnesota, he would be assured that the team that traveled the least because of their geographical position.
4 Johnny Bower - 45 years, 32 days - (1969)
Here’s a sad one for Leafs fans. Johnny Bower is actually the last goalie to win the Stanley Cup for Toronto (oh so many years ago). Nicknamed the China Wall, he’s a Hall of Fame goaltender that is of Ukranian descent. He had to change his last name from Kiszkan to Bower in order to make it easier for sports writers.
He would win the Cup three consecutive years from 1962-64 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and then another in 1967. On April 6, 1969 at 44 years of age, he became the oldest goalie to ever play a playoff game. He was named number 87 on The Hockey News’ list of 100 greatest hockey players, which came out in 1996.
3 Maurice Roberts - 45 years, 345 days - (1951)
Maurice “Moe” Roberts is not only the oldest player to ever play the position of goaltender in the NHL, but he was also the youngest to ever play the position at 19 years old. He’s since then been surpassed, although he was the youngest at the time.
He broke the record when, as assistant coach of the Chicago Blackhawks at age 45, he was forced to into nets for the injured Lumley. At that point in time, he was the oldest player to ever play an NHL game, until surpassed by the next two legends on this list.
2 Chris Chelios - 48 years, 71 days - (2010)
This man needs no introduction. Known as a freak of nature and a physical god for having played the game for so long, Chris Chelios is one of the best defencemen of all time. He played the bulk of his hockey career with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. He was originally drafted by the Montreal Canadiens and finished his career with the Atlanta Thrashers, where he earned the title of the second oldest player to ever play in the NHL.
Chelios retired from quite a career. He appeared in the playoffs 24 times, an NHL record. He’s tied with Gordie Howe for most seasons in the NHL with 26, is first in games played by a defenceman and fifth overall in the NHL. To be able to play that much hockey and keep the quality in his game in his late 40s is a feat in itself.
1 Gordie Howe – 52 years, 11 days – (1980)
There’s a reason Gordie Howe was dubbed Mr. Hockey. It’s because he’s played 1767 NHL games in the NHL through five decades. He’s on the NHL's Mount Rushmore with names like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, and Mario Lemieux as best hockey players to ever live. He even held many scoring records in the NHL until Gretzky entered the league and made minced meat of many records.
Howe would win the Stanley Cup four times and the Art Ross trophy six times in his illustrious career. Although already retired, he joined the Hartford Whalers in 1979 at age 51 for what would be his final NHL season. Howe also had the chance to play on the same line as both his sons for the Houston Aeros of the WHA in 1973.
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