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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    Gretzky defends McDavid’s outburst after Manning incident

    WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23: Wayne Gretzky (L) and Dale Hawerchuk drop the puck in a ceremonial face-off between Blake Wheeler #26 and Connor McDavid #97 during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Fred Greenslade /Getty Images)
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    PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

    McDavid and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

    “I guess we can put the whole ‘if he did it’ thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that,” said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers’ loss.

    “I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player,” Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. “I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I’m a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that.”

    Gretzky didn’t mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

    “And Connor, he’s going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him,” Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. “He’s been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he’s always responded and done his part.”

    Related: McDavid accuses ‘classless’ Manning of injuring him on purpose

    Bishop trying not to let contract situation affect his play

    TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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    Ben Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, and that makes it particularly striking to see his numbers a quarter of the way through 2016-17.

    After 18 starts, Bishop is 8-10-1 with a .906 save percentage. He got the hook after two periods last night at Amalie Arena, where he surrendered four goals to the Vancouver Canucks in a 5-1 loss.

    Last night marked the third time in his last five starts that he’d surrendered at least four goals, and one of the goals he allowed looked like this:

    So, do things feel different this season?

    “I feel fine,” Bishop said today, per Lightning Insider. “We go back and watch the games and technically it’s all there. There is really no difference from the way I’ve played the last couple of years to now. I don’t like saying this, but it’s been a strange season with goofy goals on tips and bounces, goals off your own players. So I think if you took some of those away, the numbers would be pretty similar to years past. I would like to get the wins a little higher.”

    Bishop, of course, is a pending unrestricted free agent who is unlikely to re-sign with the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy appears to be the goalie of the future in Tampa Bay. On July 1, the 22-year-old re-signed through 2019-20.

    Vasilevskiy is also 6-2-1 with a .929 save percentage.

    So in that regard, it’s a bit like the situation we’re seeing in New York, where Henrik Lundqvist is struggling and Antti Raanta is thriving.

    The difference is Lundqvist isn’t going to be looking for a new team anytime soon. Remember that Bishop “was close” to being traded to Calgary in the offseason. He could still end up there in free agency, depending if Brian Elliott bounces back.

    Bishop says he’s trying not to let his contract situation affect his state of mind; however, he admits he’d “be lying if I said I never thought about it.”

    “It’s definitely there in the back of your head,” he said.

    The Lightning host the Penguins on Saturday.

    Expect Vasilevskiy to start that one.

    Pre-game reading: Leonsis has Ovechkin’s back on Olympics

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    — Up top, relive Carey Price‘s blocker attack on Kyle Palmieri, but this time in French!

    — Not for the first time, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has said he’ll support Alex Ovechkin if Ovechkin goes to the Olympics, regardless of what the NHL decides about the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. “Alex Ovechkin and his family and the Capitals and I are in it together. He’s given so much to our organization, and I would respect what he wanted to do and be very supportive of him. On this one matter I understand and I would support him.” Leonsis said essentially the same thing in 2013, before the deal to send NHLers to Sochi was struck. Granted, that was a bit different because the 2014 Games were in Russia and Ovechkin was going to be a big part of them, but Leonsis knows how badly his franchise player wants to win Olympic gold. (NHL.com)

    — Wayne Gretzky, who recently rejoined the Edmonton Oilers in an executive capacity, has some thoughts on the Olympic debate: “From my point of view, we play for one thing and that’s a Stanley Cup. There’s nothing more exciting than the Stanley Cup. The one spectacle that’s really remarkable is the Olympic games. I’m a big believer in the Olympic games. I happen to love everything about the Olympic Games. I think since ’98 when we first went to Nagano, the NHL players, not only promote our sport but they do a really nice job of being around the other athletes. It helps every sport in our country. I think it’s a positive but I’m not the only guy who has say in this. I happen to love the Olympic Games, but that’s my opinion.”  (Yahoo Sports)

    — Hockey is an expensive sport to play, and that means a lot of kids don’t get to enjoy it. Former NHLer Jamal Mayers is trying to change that in Chicago’s inner city. “I think it’s about kids here seeing that it’s actually possible. They’ve never seen a hockey stick before. It’s the same principles as any of the ‘ball’ sports, like soccer and basketball. You’re creating two on one’s all over the place. It’s important that we did this the right way. We can’t just put kids on the ice and say ‘Let’s play hockey.’ They have to get comfortable holding a stick.” (Rolling Stone)

    — The Blue Jackets’ power play was bound to slow down. It’s still the NHL’s best, converting at 24.6 percent, but opponents have started to defend it differently. “What we’re doing is not revolutionary,” said assistant coach Brad Larsen. “But teams have made adjustments, and now we’ve had to make little tweaks here and there to answer what they’re doing.” The Jackets went 2-for-6 Monday against Arizona, but that was after four straight games without scoring a power-play goal. (Columbus Dispatch)

    — The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted 11 players in 2016, but not all of them were 18 years old. Take Regina Pats center Adam Brooks, who went in the fourth round. He was 20, in his third year of draft eligibility, when he finally heard his name called in June. “It comes down to opportunity. I just didn’t have a chance to get a lot of ice time in my first couple of seasons.” Whether or not this strategy pans out for the Leafs remains to be seen, but general managers across the league will be watching. Brooks, by the way, has 47 points in just 21 games for the Pats this season. (Sportsnet)

    Enjoy the games!

    Goalie nods: With Lundqvist struggling, Raanta goes back-to-back

    NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 29: Antti Raanta #32 and Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers celebrate the Rangers 2-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden on February 29, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    No shortage of storylines at play when the Rangers take on the ‘Hawks at the United Center this evening.

    First, the big one — Antti Raanta, fresh off stopping 17 of 18 shots in a win over Winnipeg last night, will get back-to-back starts in place of the struggling Henrik Lundqvist.

    “Of course you want to play, but Antti’s playing well,” Lundqvist said, per NHL.com. “I know I need to raise my level a little bit.”

    Lundqvist is 3-4-1 with a 3.05 GAA and .902 save percentage in his past eight starts and, as Brough wrote about this morning, admitted some “bad decisions” have been costing him.

    Raanta, meanwhile, is 6-1-0 with a 2.05 GAA and .932 save percentage in his last eight starts.

    From a personal perspective, there’s a big narrative at play for Raanta as well. This will mark the first time he’s faced Chicago since being traded to New York in 2015. The Finnish ‘tender made his NHL debut for the ‘Hawks and spent two seasons with the team, but was supplanted by Scott Darling as the club’s No. 2 behind Corey Crawford en route to the ’15 Stanley Cup win.

    (Raanta’s time in Chicago ended oddly, you may recall. A Finnish-language publication ran a piece in which Raanta appeared to be critical of the ‘Hawks, followed by Raanta denying he said what was reported. The writer that conducted the interview said the quotes were legit, but needed context — and then, just to put a bow on it, Raanta’s name was left off the Stanley Cup. Chicago insisted that decision had nothing to do with his remarks, though.)

    For the ‘Hawks, Darling gets the start.

    Elsewhere…

    Braden Holtby gets a night off, as the Caps will start Philipp Grubauer (for the first time since Nov. 25) in Buffalo. Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres.

    — No surprises from Columbus, who will start the in-form Sergei Bobrovsky yet again. The host Red Wings have Jimmy Howard back in the fold but will continue to ride Petr Mrazek, who made 31 saves in a win over Winnipeg on Tuesday.

    Cory Schneider played last night against Montreal, so Keith Kinkaid goes for the Devils. He’ll face off against Jake Allen and the Blues, who also played last night.

    — After Jonas Gustavsson was beaten six times in last night’s loss in Philly, Cam Talbot is in for the Oilers. He’ll face off against Devan Dubnyk, who continues to play lights-out for the Wild.

    Martin Jones will start for the Sharks in an all-California battle in Anaheim. The Ducks will give Jonathan Bernier a shot at redemption, as he’ll start for the first time since allowing eight goals in a loss to Calgary on Sunday.