Hockey at the NHL level isn't exclusively a young man's game.
The number of young impact players in the NHL seems to rise every year, but that doesn't mean there's no place for guys whose playoff beards include a little gray. There are still a number of top-level players who are more than capable of keeping up with the kids despite passing their 35th birthday.
Using the NHL's postseason All-Star team format, here's a look at the best of today's over-35 crowd (ages as of the start of training camp):
Nabokov was one of the keys to the Islanders' return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a six-year absence. He finished with a 23-11-7 record and a 2.50 goals-against average -- but more important was his play during the 10-2-1 streak in the final month of the season as the Islanders rallied for a playoff berth. New York has several promising young goaltenders in their system, but general manager Garth Snow wasted little time bringing back Nabokov for another season as the starter.
Zdeno Chara, Boston
The Boston Bruins' captain just keeps rolling along. Chara remains among the best defensemen in the NHL after leading his team to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three seasons. He put up seven goals and 19 points to go along with a plus-14 rating in 48 regular-season games, then had three goals and 15 points -- tops among all defensemen -- during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He also averaged 29:31 of ice time in Boston's 22 postseason games, the most by any player whose team got past the first round. Chara is still an offensive threat, a defensive force and the leader of one of the League's top teams.
The top scorer among active defenseman (217 goals, 775 points) signed a two-year contract with the Dallas Stars during the summer after three seasons with the Ottawa Senators. He was arguably the Senators' most important blueliner last season, putting up 24 assists and 27 points to help Ottawa make the Stanley Cup Playoffs despite a host of injuries -- one of which sidelined Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson for two months. Gonchar is still held in such regard as he nears his 40th birthday that he was invited to Russia's Olympic camp and is likely to make his fifth appearance at the Winter Games.
St. Louis put himself into the NHL record book last season by becoming the oldest player in League history to win the Art Ross Trophy as the top scorer -- nine years after he won the scoring title while leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004. At 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, St. Louis' size belies his accomplishments; he has averaged more than a point a game during the past nine seasons, played 22 minutes per game last season and is a major reason why linemate Steven Stamkos is the NHL's top goal-scorer in the past five seasons.
The Detroit Red Wings obviously don't think Datsyuk is losing anything as he gets older -- they wasted no time this summer getting his signature on a three-year extension. The master of the Datsyukian deke was 10th in the NHL with 49 points (15 goals) last season while finishing with a plus-21 rating -- the eighth consecutive season he's been at plus-11 or better. Datsyuk is also a master of the shootout; his 33 goals are the most by any player in the history of the tiebreaker.
The Boston Bruins wanted to acquire Iginla from the Calgary Flames at the NHL Trade Deadline, but they had to wait until the summer to actually get him. Iginla opted to join the Pittsburgh Penguins at the deadline and wasted no time in showing he had plenty left in the tank; he had 11 points in 13 regular-season games with the Penguins and chipped in with 12 points in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Don't be surprised if Iginla reaches the 30-goal mark for the 12th time in 13 seasons.
Backstrom didn't come to North America from his native Finland until he was 28, but he's been a solid performer for the Minnesota Wild since then. He went 24-15-3 for Minnesota last season with a 2.48 GAA and a save percentage of .909, helping the Wild end a four-year playoff drought. The Wild thought enough of Backstrom to give the winningest goaltender in franchise history a three-year contract this summer
Timonen has been one of the NHL's most consistent defenseman during his six seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, contributing offensively (29 points in 45 games last season, 37 to 44 in the previous five) and playing well over 20 minutes a game (21:45 last season) while missing just 24 games in the past nine seasons. He's been the focal point around whom coach Peter Laviolette has been able to build his defense and has shown little sign of slippage.
Boyle, a teammate of St. Louis on the Lightning's 2004 Cup-winning team, is another player who continues to produce as he ages. He scored seven times in 45 games for the San Jose Sharks last season and finished with 20 points, then added three goals and eight points in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He should reach 900 games played and 400 assists this season -- not bad for a guy who entered the NHL as an undrafted free agent in 1998-99.
The highest-scoring European-born player in NHL history will be asked to fill at least part of the offensive void after Ilya Kovalchuk left the New Jersey Devils this summer to return home to Russia. The top regular-season and postseason scorer among active players isn't going to add to his trophy collection (1 Hart, 5 Art Ross, 3 Lester B. Pearson), but he's still productive (16 goals, 35 points in 45 games for the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins last season, 10 assists for Boston in the Stanley Cup Playoffs) and should fill at least some of the void left by Kovalchuk's departure.
Whitney is a classic late bloomer -- a player who's been much better during the later stages of his career than he was at the start. The Dallas Stars signed Whitney to a two-year deal last summer, and although a broken foot cost him 16 games, he continued to put up points -- 29 in 32 games with a team that missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. With an improved cast around him, there's no reason Whitney shouldn't continue to put up 65-70 points, his average in the six seasons before 2012-13.
Patrik Elias, New Jersey
The leading scorer in the history of the New Jersey Devils' franchise just keeps on putting up points -- 36 in 48 games last season, 78 in 81 games in 2011-12. The Devils thought enough of Elias to sign him to a three-year contract last month. Elias has very quietly amassed 375 goals and 930 points in 1,090 games, all with New Jersey, and shows no signs of slowing down. He's been an above-average player for a very long time.
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