The NHL is a young man’s league. Unrestricted free agency at 27, the salary cap and the sheer speed of the game under post-lockout rules have conspired to change the league’s demographics. No longer are grizzled veterans paid to stay around for their leadership abilities and past performances.
You have to scroll all the way down to No. 40 in the scoring leaders before you find a player aged 35 or older, but don’t think the greybeards aren’t still front and center throughout the league. Only four teams – Columbus, Edmonton, Tampa and Toronto – don’t carry at least one on their roster.
There are 69 guys 35 or older on NHL active rosters as of Wednesday morning. With only 600 jobs available on any given night, that means almost 12 percent of the workforce was born on or before March 10, 1975, when Hollywood was making movies with the letters MCMLXXV in the credits, the Watergate scandal was worldwide news and Wheel of Fortune was a brand new NBC program.
Some of these players won’t be around as soon as next season, so as an ode to their aching bodies, scarred faces and greying playoff beards – and with apologies to Tim Thomas and Ray Whitney – we present the THN.com Top 10 35-and-over NHLers.
10. Mark Recchi, Boston, 42
Recchi is currently third on the B’s in scoring with 13 goals and 34 points and no Bruins forward has more total ice time this season. Recchi is an effective high-energy guy with hands, even though he’s the same age as teammates Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand combined.
9. Jason Arnott, Nashville, 35
Now in his 16th NHL campaign, the seventh pick of the 1993 draft is on pace for his 11th-straight 20-goal season. Arnott is Nashville’s captain and leads Preds forwards in average ice time. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, he’s a still an imposing figure down the middle and one of the league’s harder guys to handle in front of the net.
8. Teemu Selanne, Anaheim, 39
Selanne is beginning to break down physically and has been cursed with some bad luck the past couple of years, but 19 goals and 31 points in just 40 games translates to 39 and 64 over a full season; that goal total would be the eighth highest of his 17-season NHL career.
7. Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh, 35
Like Selanne, Gonchar has battled injuries lately. But he’s still deadly on the power play and his calm, cool and collected play with the puck reverberates throughout the Penguins lineup. He’s a leader and a tested performer.
6. Brian Rafalski, Detroit, 36
Named top defenseman at the Vancouver Games after potting four goals and eight points in six games for the silver-winning Americans, Rafalski returned to his day job as the Red Wings’ No. 2 blueliner. He has averaged nine goals and 55 points the past four seasons and although he’s off that pace this year, the smooth skater with vision, hands and intelligence is still one of the league’s best.
5. Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim, 36
The closest thing the NHL has to Steve Nash is still not just one of the league’s most effective blueliners, but overall players. Yes he’s having a down season stats-wise (despite being top 10 among scoring D-men and third in average ice time) and is on pace for the worst plus-minus rating of his career, but the Olympics showed he can still get it done in crunch time, no matter how old – or young – the competition.
4. Chris Pronger, Philadelphia, 35
A somewhat poor Olympics aside, Pronger is a beast; on pace to finish the year with 10 goals, 60 points, 84 penalty minutes and a plus-29 rating. Not too shabby. And when THN assembled a panel of NHL team executives and scouts to vote on the top defensemen by category for our Nov. 16 edition, Pronger was named the ‘nastiest and most intimidating,’ the ‘best corner man,’ the No. 2 ‘shutdown player’ and the third-best blueliner at making the first pass on breakouts. He also received votes in the point shot and mentor categories.
3. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa, 37
Alfredsson is the highest-scoring 35-and-over NHLer with 17 goals and 54 points in 55 games. He’s the heart and soul of the Senators and, not coincidently, it was his return from injury Jan. 16 that sparked Ottawa’s 11-game win streak and rise to a firm place in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
2. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit, 39
The greatest European NHLer of all-time is still a Norris Trophy candidate – even if his team is having an off year – and is on pace for his fifth 50-point campaign in a row. In THN’s defenseman issue, Lidstrom was named best point-shooter, best first-passer, best shutdown player and top mentor.
1. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey, 37
Arguably the greatest goaltender of all-time, Brodeur is still one of the world’s best, despite being usurped by Roberto Luongo at the Olympics. Brodeur is third in the NHL in wins, eighth in goals-against average and has a .913 save percentage for the ninth-overall Devils. He’s on pace for his record-extending eighth 40-win season and just keeps on keeping-on.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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