Hockey at the NHL level is a sport for the young, right?
Well … not always.
The number of younger players in the NHL seems to rise every season, but that doesn't mean there's no place for guys whose playoff beards include more than a few gray hairs. While no club would want a roster full of graybeards, there's a sizeable contingent of talented players 35 and over who are more than capable of keeping up with the kids.
Using the NHL's postseason All-Star team format, here's a look at the best of today's over-35 crowd:
It would be fair to call Thomas a late bloomer -- he didn't become an NHL regular until after he turned 31 and had spent more than seven seasons in Europe and the minor leagues. But after becoming the first goaltender since Bernie Parent to win the Stanley Cup, Vezina Trophy (his second in three years) and Conn Smythe Trophy in the same season, there's no doubt that Thomas stands at the top of his profession. At age 37, he's the best in the world at keeping the puck out of the net.
For the second year in a row, the best news the Wings received after being eliminated from the playoffs is that Lidstrom will return for another season. After missing the postseason All-Star teams in 2009-10, Lidstrom had his best offensive season since 2007-08, scoring 16 times and adding 46 assists for 62 points, second among all defensemen. He won the Norris Trophy for the seventh time in a career that ultimately will end with induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Boyle isn't flashy, just productive. He had 50 points for the Sharks last season, the third time in as many seasons with San Jose that he's reached the 50-point mark, and then he led all defensemen in playoff scoring with 16 points. Despite not becoming an NHL regular until after he turned 24, Boyle has played more than 750 games, scored 116 goals and is likely to reach 500 career points this season.
Like Thomas, his former teammate at the University of Vermont, St. Louis took a while to establish himself as an NHL player. But at age 36, he's at the top of his game. St. Louis was second in the NHL last season with 68 assists and 99 points. That was good enough to earn him Second-Team All-Star status for the second year in a row, as well as make him a repeat winner of the Lady Byng Trophy.
The all-time list of over-40 players who averaged a point a game grew by 50 percent this past season. Selanne's 80 points (eighth in the scoring race) in 73 games made him just the third point-a-game player among 40-year-olds; the others are Gordie Howe and Johnny Bucyk. Selanne will join them in the Hall of Fame one day, but the Ducks hope that day isn't for a few more years -- they want him back in the fall. Selanne, who had offseason knee surgery, hasn't said whether he'll return. If he opts to call it a career, it's not because his skills have diminished.
The one-time stick boy for the Edmonton Oilers changed teams last season, leaving Carolina for Phoenix, but continued to put points on the board with 17 goals and 40 assists. "The Wizard" has enjoyed the majority of his success since turning 30 and has scored at least 55 points in six straight seasons. Not bad for a player who didn't break the 20-goal mark until after his 26th birthday.
While 2010-11 arguably was the worst season of Brodeur's career -- he finished with a sub-.500 record (23-26-3) for the first time, and his 2.45 goals-against average was his highest since 2005-06 -- most of his (and his team's) problems came in the first half. After the All-Star break, he looked every bit like the player who will be in the Hall of Fame soon after he retires and owns the NHL record for wins (625) and shutouts (116).
Honorable mention: Dwayne Roloson, Tampa Bay, 41
Age: 34 (turns 35 on Aug. 11)
Visnovsky doesn't get the attention he deserves as the highest-scoring defenseman in the NHL last season. His career-high 68 points were best among all blueliners, and his 50 assists were in the top 10 among all players. The native of Slovakia has been a solid player for a number of years, but is one of those rare talents who appears to be getting better as he gets older. He's a perfect fit for the high-powered Ducks, especially on the power play.
The calendar says he's 36 (he turns 37 in the season's first week), and he was limited to 50 games last season due to injuries. But make no mistake -- Pronger remains one of the NHL's best defensemen. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, he's still a physical force and a solid puck-mover in his own zone. With former captain Mike Richards dealt to Los Angeles, Pronger figures to be the face of the Flyers when they head for camp this fall.
Brunette, who will turn 38 before training camp opens, has been a consistent point producer since entering the NHL 16 years ago, and he's showing no signs of slowing down. Despite playing for the offensively challenged Minnesota Wild last season, he was third on the team with 18 goals and 46 points. That was enough to attract the interest of the Chicago Blackhawks, who signed him on the first day of free agency. Brunette never has been flashy, but he's been productive consistently (256 goals and 706 points in 1,032 games) and does the job regardless of the role he's asked to play.
Knuble isn't going to wow anyone with his speed, but he's more than able to get to where he needs to be -- in front of the net. His 24 goals in 2010-11 marked the eighth consecutive season he's scored 20 or more, with all eight coming after his 30th birthday. After a slow start to his career (only 50 goals before age 30), Knuble has amassed 268 career goals and figures to get plenty more chances playing with the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
He's not the All-Star he was in Vancouver a few years ago, but Bertuzzi has found a home in Detroit as a reliable third-liner who still can contribute offensively -- he had 16 goals last season, and his 45 points were the most he's had since 2005-06. Bertuzzi still has the size and hands to be a contributor, and he's been a good fit with the Wings in the last two seasons.