Well ... not always.
The number of younger players seems to rise every year, but that doesn't mean there's no place for players whose playoff beards include a few (or more than 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 Scott Niedermayer, 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
The winningest goaltender in NHL history shows no signs of slowing down. All he did last season was lead the League in games (77) and minutes played (4,499), wins (45) and shutouts (9), while finishing third in goals-against average (2.24) and leading the New Jersey Devils to another Atlantic Division title. Brodeur is at 602 wins and counting, and he added the NHL's all-time shutout record to his list of achievements last season. Time will catch up to him someday -- but by the looks of it, that day isn't coming anytime soon.
Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers
The calendar says he's 35 (he turns 36 in the season's first week), but Pronger, now with Philadelphia, is still one of the NHL's elite defensemen. With 10 goals and 55 points, he's one of the top offensive contributors on the blue line, and at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Pronger remains a physical force as well. Had the Flyers won the Stanley Cup, Pronger was likely the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
The best news the Detroit Red Wings received after being eliminated from the playoffs is that Lidstrom will return for another season. Though he wasn't a postseason All-Star in 2009-10, Lidstrom became a member of the 1,000-point club and was captain of a team that rallied from an injury-riddled first four months of the season to make the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. At 40, he still moves the puck better than almost any other NHL defenseman and put up 40 assists and 49 points while going plus-22.
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning
One of the first things Steve Yzerman did after becoming GM of the Lightning was to get St. Louis' name on a four-year contract extension -- hardly standard operating procedure for a 35-year-old. But St. Louis is no ordinary 35-year-old: He's coming off a 29-goal, 94-point season that earned him a Second-Team All-Star berth. St. Louis is still among the NHL's elite and figures to be a key to the Lightning's rebuilding efforts under their new general manager.
Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators
Ottawa's captain turns 38 in December -- and by then, he should be among the newest members of the NHL's 1,000-point club; Alfredsson begins the new season with 992, all with the Senators. Even at age 37, Alfredsson averaged a point a game (71 in 70 games played) and has had 70 or more points for nine consecutive seasons. He holds virtually every Ottawa scoring record and is likely to run up those totals for some time to come.
Andrew Brunette, Minnesota Wild
Brunette has been a consistent point producer since entering the NHL 15 years ago, and he's showing no signs of slowing down as he approaches his 37th birthday on Aug. 24. All he did last season was tie for the team lead in goals (25) and finish second in points (61), his highest totals in both categories since 2006-07. Brunette has never been flashy, but he's consistently productive (238 goals and 660 points in 950 games) and does the job regardless of the role he's asked to play.
Dwayne Roloson, New York Islanders
Why were the Islanders much-improved in 2009-10 after finishing last in the overall standings a year earlier? Much of the credit goes to Roloson, who doesn't seem to be slowing down as he prepares to turn 41 in October. Roloson went 23-18-7 with the underpowered Islanders and put on perhaps the best goaltending show of the season when he made 58 saves in a 4-3 overtime win at Toronto. He still looks -- and plays -- younger than his years.
Honorable mention: Tim Thomas 36 (Boston)
Sergei Gonchar, Ottawa Senators
How good is Gonchar? The Ottawa Senators were happy to sign him to a three-year, $16.5 million contract despite his age. Gonchar missed 20 games last season but was brilliant while he was on the ice, scoring 11 goals and finishing with 50 points in just 62 games. He's still an excellent quarterback on the power play and figures to give a big lift to an Ottawa blue line that needs a leader.
Brian Rafalski, Detroit Red Wings
To play defense at the NHL level when you're 5-10 and less than 200 pounds, you have to be skilled and smart. That's a perfect description of Rafalski, who put up 8 goals and 42 points for the Wings last season while finishing plus-23. Like Lidstrom, his running mate, he's smart, a good skater and very hard to hit cleanly, meaning that he should have a few more productive NHL seasons in his future.
Honorable mention: Kimmo Timonen (Philadelphia), 35; Adrian Aucoin, 37 (Phoenix)
The former stickboy for the Edmonton Oilers is heading for the desert this fall after five productive seasons in Carolina -- including a 21-goal, 58-point effort in 2009-10. Whitney has enjoyed the majority of his success since turning 30 and is coming off three consecutive 20-goal seasons since turning 35 -- not bad for a guy who didn't break the 20-goal mark until after his 26th birthday.
Jamie Langenbrunner, New Jersey Devils
New Jersey's captain is a better scorer at 35 (he reaches the milestone on July 24) than he was at 25. Langenbrunner had a career-high 42 assists last season to go along with 19 goals for 61 points, the third time in the last four seasons he's reached the 60-point mark after never scoring more than 55 points in his first 10 NHL seasons. He owns two Stanley Cup rings and is one of the NHL's best two-way players.
Saku Koivu, Anaheim Ducks
The former Montreal captain took to his new home in Anaheim like, well a Duck. After overcoming some early injury problems Koivu finished with solid offensive numbers: 19 goals (6 game-winners) and 52 points in 71 games as Anaheim's No. 2 center. The Ducks brought him back for 2010-11 and have no reason to doubt he can equal or better those numbers.
Honorable mention: Teemu Selanne 40 (Anaheim); Steve Sullivan, 36 (Nashville)