Golden oldies: The best seasons for players above the age of 35

Thumbnail image for gordiehowe.jpgI 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.

100 POINTS

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.

joesakic100.jpgKreiser 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.

martinbrodeurglance.jpgFinally, 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.

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    Bergeron may need surgery for sports hernia

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    Patrice Bergeron says he may need offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia that he dealt with all year.

    Bergeron missed the Bruins’ first three games of the 82-game schedule with a lower-body injury; however, he managed to play the next 79, plus six more in the playoffs as Boston fell to Ottawa in the first round.

    Typically, a sports hernia is first treated with rest and physical therapy. Then, if that doesn’t solve the problem, surgery may be required.

    It was a frustrating start to the season for the 31-year-old center. Bergeron had just 24 points in 49 games before the All-Star break, but he finished with a respectable 53 points in 79 games, including 21 goals.

    Bergeron could win his fourth Selke Trophy in June. He’s a finalist for the award, along with Ryan Kesler and Mikko Koivu.

    In other Bruins injury news, Brandon Carlo had a concussion and Torey Krug an MCL injury. Neither d-man was able to suit up for the B’s in the postseason, though Krug was close to returning.

    Defenseman Adam McQuaid, hurt in Game 2 against the Sens, had a neck injury.

    No Patrick Kane for U.S. at Worlds

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    Tough day for USA Hockey.

    After learning that prized Toronto rookie Auston Matthews was skipping the World Hockey Championships, the organization was informed Chicago star Patrick Kane would also be passing on the event.

    Kane hasn’t often been able to participate in the Worlds, given he and the Blackhawks have advanced past the first playoff round in five of the last nine years. In fact, the last time Kane played at the Worlds was in 2008, when Chicago missed the playoffs entirely.

    (Kane had 10 points in seven games for the Americans that year, en route to a sixth-place finish.)

    Matthews cited fatigue as one of the main reasons he passed on this year’s tourney, and it’s safe to assume Kane did the same. He appeared in all 82 games for the ‘Hawks this year, four more in the playoffs, and also represented the U.S. at the World Cup of Hockey.

    USA Hockey did manage to secure the services of two important players last week, however. Both Calgary sniper Johnny Gaudreau and Buffalo sophomore Jack Eichel agreed to come aboard.

    Gaborik has procedure for ‘chronic’ knee issue, questionable for camp

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    Yesterday, new Kings GM Rob Blake told reporters the club wouldn’t be buying out Marian Gaborik’s contract, because the veteran winger had undergone a medical procedure.

    Today, the club shed more light on the situation.

    L.A. announced that Gaborik recently underwent an “in-depth medical procedure for a chronic issue related to his left knee,” adding the 35-year-old would be questionable for the start of training camp.

    Gaborik’s had left knee problems dating back to 2013, when he was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He missed nearly 20 games during the ’13-14 campaign, then had more knee troubles at the tail end of ’15-16 (with the Kings).

    Since injured players can’t be bought out of their contracts, Gaborik could very well open the year on LTIR, providing the Kings with some much-needed cap space.

    And though Blake said next season would “be a clean slate for Marian to come in and prove himself,” there has to be some question if he’ll return.

    Gaborik struggled through this season, scoring just 10 goals in 56 games while missing extensive time with a foot injury suffered at the World Cup. Health issues have dogged him throughout his 17-year career, and he’s only dressed in 110 of 164 games over the last two seasons.

    Because of this, his contract has become an albatross. Signed by ex-GM Dean Lombardi, Gaborik’s seven-year, $34.125 million deal still has four years remaining, at a $4.875M cap hit. Gaborik would be 39 by the time the deal expires on July 1, 2021.

    In other L.A. injury news, three players also underwent medical procedures recently. Tyler Toffoli and Derek Forbort had knee surgery, while Alec Martinez had “a minor medical procedure for a chronic issue related to his groin.” All three are expected to be ready for camp, however.

    Blackhawks’ Anisimov suffered high-ankle sprain in mid-March

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    Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov was not himself in the playoffs, and by the fourth game against the Predators his ice time was limited to just 14:18.

    It turns out he had a pretty good excuse. Anisimov suffered a high-ankle sprain on March 14 against the Montreal Canadiens, and that’s a tough injury to overcome in less than a month.

    Anisimov missed the rest of the regular season with the injury. He returned for the playoffs but failed to register a single point in four losses to Nashville.

    “Being away for that time period and coming right back into the playoffs, obviously you’re not as sharp as you want to be,” Anisimov’s agent told the Daily Herald’s John Dietz.