Well, not always.
While the number of younger players seems to rise every year, that doesn't mean there's no place for players whose playoff beards come in with a few gray hairs. No club would want a roster full of graybeards, but there's a sizeable contingent of over-35 players who are more than capable of keeping up with the kids. Even with the departures of older stars such as Jeremy Roenick, Teppo Numminen and Sergei Fedorov, the NHL's over-35 club is alive and well
Using the NHL's postseason All-Star team format, here's a look at the best of today's oldies but goodies:
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
Though he suffered the first major injury of his career in 2008-09, Brodeur shows no signs of slowing down in his late 30s. He missed 50 games with a biceps injury in his left arm that required surgery but came back without missing a beat, breaking Patrick Roy's record for regular-season victories and closing in on Terry Sawchuk's career shutouts mark. He figures to become only the second goaltender in NHL history to play in 1,000 regular-season games when he takes the ice for the Devils' season-opener on Oct. 3, and there's little to indicate that he's slowing down.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
Lidstrom is nowhere near ready to call it a career. The Detroit Red Wings' captain had another superb season in 2008-09, finishing third among all defensemen in scoring (16-43-59) and plus-minus rating (plus-31). He's still the engine that makes the Wings go, and was good enough last season to be a Second-Team All-Star and finish third in the balloting for the Norris Trophy -- an award he's won six times in the past eight seasons. Lidstrom is one of the hardest-to-hit players in the NHL, and while he has just one year left on his contract, he looks like he could play well into his 40s.
Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks
Age: 35 (turns 36 on Aug. 31)
The elder Niedermayer brother flirted with retirement after the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, but came back midway through the '07-08 season. He tied Lidstrom for the scoring lead among defensemen (14-45-59), and still has the wheels that have made him one of the greatest skaters of all time among defensemen. He re-upped for another season -- much to the relief of the Ducks, who still rely on him for scoring and leadership.
Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks
"The Finnish Flash" keeps debating retirement every year, but always seems to opt to play one more season. That's a good thing for the Ducks, who would be hard-pressed to replace the scoring they get from Selanne. Despite missing 17 games with injuries, he still scored 27 times (16 on the power play) and added 27 assists for 54 points in 65 games. Those numbers could go higher this season, when Selanne figures to play with fellow Finn Saku Koivu, an excellent setup man who should help him reach the 600-goal mark (he starts the season with 579).
Slava Kozlov, Atlanta Thrashers
Kozlov is the NHL's all-time leader in shootout goals with 23, but he's much more than an old guy who can score in a breakaway competition. Kozlov put up 26 goals and 76 points while playing all 82 games in 2008-09, and now has 348 goals and 827 points in 1,127 career games. He was the only member of the over-35 club to finish in the top 30 in scoring, and with an improved talent base in Atlanta, there's no reason he can't do it again.
Age: 35 (turns 36 on Sept. 2)
Talk about a late bloomer: Blake didn't play his first NHL game until he was 25 and didn't break the 20-goal mark until he was 29. Since then, though, he's had five seasons of 20 or more goals, including a 40-goal performance in 2006-07, and led Toronto in scoring last season with 25 goals and 63 points. Blake is one of the NHL's quickest skaters, and though he's just 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, he's more than willing to get into traffic to score goals. He was the Leafs' best forward for much of last season.
Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Thomas' theme song could be "I've Been Everywhere" -- the former University of Vermont star played in numerous minor-league cities and spent time in Finland and Sweden before coming home and winning an NHL job with the Bruins after turning 31. He's gone on to become one of the League's best goaltenders, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2008-09 after posting a 36-11-7 record and leading the NHL with a 2.10 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. The Bruins believed in him enough to sign him to a four-year deal.
Honorable mention: Nikolai Khabibulin, 36 (Edmonton); Dwayne Roloson, 40 (New York Islanders)
Brian Rafalski, Detroit Red Wings
Rafalski went home in the summer of 2007, signing with the Red Wings after seven seasons (and two Stanley Cups) in New Jersey -- and put up the two best offensive seasons of his career while helping the Wings win the Cup in 2008 and get to Game 7 of the Final last season. His 49 assists and 59 points were both career-highs, and he teamed with Lidstrom to make the Red Wings' power play the best in the NHL. Like Lidstrom, he's smart, a good skater and hard to hit, meaning that he should have several more productive NHL seasons.
Rob Blake, San Jose
Blake looked like he might be done last summer, but a move from Los Angeles to San Jose revived his career. He scored 10 goals and assisted on 35 others to finish with 45 points, his best season since 2005-06. He also improved from minus-19 in with the Kings '07-08 to plus-15 as a Shark. That was enough to convince San Jose to bring him back for another season. Blake still has enough of a physical presence to be valuable in his own zone, and his big shot remains a potent power-play weapon.
Honorable mention: Adrian Aucoin, 36 (Phoenix); Roman Hamrlik, 35 (Montreal)
Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina Hurricanes
Given Brind'Amour's skill in the faceoff circle, he could probably hang around for years just taking draws -- he led the NHL with a 61.0 percent success rate. But Carolina's captain is still a capable No. 2 center, putting up 16 goals and 51 points for the Hurricanes -- including a late-season spurt that helped them make the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Keith Tkachuk, St. Louis Blues
Tkachuk, once a 50-goal scorer as a left wing, has re-invented himself as a late-in-life center -- and made it work, scoring 27, 27 and 25 goals (including 14 on the power play) in the last three seasons. That was enough to earn another contract from the Blues, who value him not only for his scoring ability but for the experience he brings to a team that's loaded with young talent. He begins the season with 525 goals, more than any U.S.-born player except Mike Modano.
Mike Modano, Dallas Stars
The all-time NHL scoring leader among U.S.-born players may not be the scoring threat he was when he was younger, but he still has enough wheels and enough game to earn an invitation to this month's U.S. Olympic Team camp. He scored 15 goals and added 31 assists in 80 games on a disappointing Stars team last season despite not getting the same caliber of ice time he did in his glory days. This may be the final NHL season for the last of the Minnesota North Stars, so he'll want to go out with a flourish.
Honorable mention: Bill Guerin, 38 (Pittsburgh); Andrew Brunette, 35 (Minnesota)