I discussed NHL.com’s list of the best teenage debuts yesterday, so it only makes sense that the site’s master historian/genius filler creator John Kreiser came up with the polar opposite post today. He listed the best seasons for players above the age of 35, something that player agents may someday want to point to when people assume a player won’t play into his 40s.
(Not to oversimplify the reasons behind why Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract was rejected, of course.)
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of another great summertime diversion from the league’s official Web site.
Gordie Howe, 1968-69 (age 41)
Johnny Bucyk, 1970-71 (age 35)
Wayne Gretzky, 1995-96 (age 35)
Joe Sakic, 2006-07 (age 37)
No athlete in the history of North American professional sports is comparable to Gordie Howe. “Mr. Hockey” was a great player when he was young and when he was old enough (almost) to be the father of some of his teammates. But his best NHL season, in terms of points, was in 1968-69. One day before his 41st birthday, Howe scored a goal in Detroit’s 9-5 loss to Chicago (the Red Wings’ 76th of 78 games) to reach the 100-point mark for the first (and only) time in his NHL career.
The coolest part of the Howe legacy is that he managed to play high-end hockey in his mid-40s, with his sons in the World Hockey Association. Whatever a naysayer might say about diluted competition, it’s still astounding that he compiled 100, 102, 99 and 96 point seasons at ages that go well beyond the 43-year-old mark Kovalchuk’s rejected contract would have expired at.
Kreiser points out that Gretzky managed to hit that 100-point mark at age 35, the last time he would accomplish that goal in his ridiculously storied career. Kreiser also points out how unexpected Joe Sakic’s 100 point season was in 2006-07 as the great goal scorer hadn’t hit that mark since the 2000-01 campaign. Finally in the forward group, Kreiser points out that Johnny Bucyk was the only 35-plus hockey player to hit the 50-goal plateau in the 70-71 season.
He moves on to Norris Trophy winners over the age of 35, mentioning Doug Harvey, one of those historic game-changers whose impact couldn’t properly be measured by statistics. He then mentions a player who may very well have been the best player of the ’00s.
Nicklas Lidstrom, 2005-06 (age 35); 2006-07 (age 36); 2007-08 (age 37)
Who was the best position player in the first decade of the 21st century? It’s hard to argue with Lidstrom, who won the Norris Trophy in 2001, 2002 and 2003, missed in 2004, then came back and won three more in a row after turning 35 before finishing third in 2009. He didn’t make the final three in 2010, but that may have been a reflection of the injuries that decimated Detroit more than any slippage in his play.
Finally, Kreiser mentioned the Vezina Trophy winners beyond the age of 36. Dominik Hasek made up for lost time (he didn’t become a full-time start until he was around 30) while Martin Brodeur has been quite possibly the most consistent goalie ever despite an insane amount of mileage throughout his record breaking career.
Though Brodeur sustained the first major injury of his career (a torn biceps tendon) in 2008-09, it’s not unthinkable that he could win another Vezina — after all, he led all goaltenders in wins (45) and shutouts (9) in 2009-10 and was a finalist for the award.
Read on for full summaries of the great golden-oldies seasons in the NHL, from those previously mentioned players and categories as well as guys who were named to First All-Star Teams at such an advanced age.