We have updated our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the NHL’s online services, you agree to these updated documents and to the arbitration of disputes.
Welcome |Account|Sign Out 
NEW! SIGN IN WITH YOUR SOCIAL PROFILE
OR
Username or EmailPassword
 
SHARE

You're never too old for a big season

Tuesday, 08.02.2011 / 9:00 AM / NHL Insider

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Share with your Friends


You're never too old for a big season
A look at some of the best NHL seasons by players who have passed their 35th birthday.
Though the NHL seems to be getting younger every year, the kids don't have a monopoly on big seasons.

Landmark achievements like seasons with 50 goals and 100 points, or winning the Norris or Vezina Trophy, usually belong to younger players. But players who have reached their 35th birthday have made plenty of history as well.

Here's a look at some of the best seasons by the NHL's 35-and-over crowd:

FORWARDS

100 points
Gordie Howe, 1968-69 (age 41)
Johnny Bucyk, 1970-71 (age 35)
Jean Ratelle, 1975-76 (age 35)
Wayne Gretzky, 1995-96 (age 35)
Joe Sakic, 2006-07 (age 37)


No athlete in the history of professional sports is comparable to Gordie Howe. "Mr. Hockey" was a great player when he was young and when he was old enough 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.

Howe finished the season with 103 points (44 goals, 59 assists). After two more seasons with the Wings, he went on to play six more in the World Hockey Association before returning to the NHL with Hartford in 1979-80 -- scoring 15 goals as a 51-year-old.

Bucyk had enjoyed a long and productive career before becoming a key part of the "Big Bad Bruins," who rewrote the record books for offense while winning a pair of Stanley Cups in the early 1970s. Bucyk had just turned 35 when he became only the fifth player in League history to reach the 100-point mark by scoring a goal in Boston's 6-3 win against Vancouver.

Ratelle is the only 35-and-over player to reach triple digits in points while splitting his season between two teams. The New York Rangers dealt him to Boston in November 1975 after he had 15 points in 13 games; he added 90 points in 67 games after the trade to complete the second 100-point season of his career. Ratelle went on to average better than a point a game for five more seasons in Boston.

Gretzky was 35 when he hit triple figures for the 15th and final time in his career in 1995-96 (he turned 35 in January 1996). Gretzky recently had been traded from Los Angeles to St. Louis when he earned an assist during the Blues' 4-4 tie with New Jersey for point No. 100. He finished with 102, including 79 assists. Gretzky signed with the Rangers that summer and barely missed another 100-point season in 1996-97 (97 points). He also had 90 points in 1997-98.

Perhaps the most surprising 100-point season by anyone 35 and over belongs to Joe Sakic, whose 36th goal and 100th point in 2006-07 came in Colorado's season finale against Calgary, April 8, 2007. It was the sixth 100-point season of the 37-year-old center's career, but the first since he had 118 in 2000-01. It also was something of a last hurrah -- injuries limited Sakic to just 59 games and 15 goals in the next two seasons, and he announced his retirement in July 2009.

Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis just missed joining the club this past season. At age 35, St. Louis piled up 99 points, finishing second in the scoring race behind Vancouver's Daniel Sedin.

50 goals
Johnny Bucyk, 1970-71 (age 35)
It's rare enough to find a 50-goal scorer older than 30 (the last one was Jarome Iginla in 2007-08), let alone 35. In fact, it only has been done once.

Three days after reaching the 100-point mark in 1970-71, Bucyk became only the fifth player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season when he beat Roy Edwards in the Bruins' 11-4 victory against Detroit on March 16, 1971. It was the only 50-goal season of Bucyk's Hall of Fame career.

Since then, the oldest 50-goal scorer has been Jaromir Jagr, who scored 54 times in 2005-06, his age-34 season. It was the third 50-goal season of Jagr's career. After Bucyk, the oldest first-time 50-goal scorer was Joe Mullen, who turned 32 during the 1988-89 season when he scored 51 goals for Calgary. Iginla, 33, led all players 30 and over last season with 43 goals, two more than 30-year-old Daniel Sedin.

DEFENSEMEN

Norris Trophy
Nicklas Lidstrom, 2005-06 (age 35); 2006-07 (age 36); 2007-08 (age 37); 2010-11 (age 40)
Who's been the NHL's best position player in the 21st century? You certainly can make a strong case for Lidstrom, who won the Norris Trophy in 2001, 2002 and 2003, missed in 2004, and then won three straight after turning 35 before finishing third in 2009. He wasn't among the three finalists in 2010, but won it again last season, giving him seven in a career that eventually will land him in the Hall of Fame.

Lidstrom is the prototypical 21st-century defenseman -- a smooth puck-mover who's solid in his own zone, makes a good first pass, can carry the puck, runs the power play and eats up minutes. Though he's not a big hitter, he's so positionally solid that his man rarely gets free, and although he's on the ice for 23 to 25 minutes a game, opponents always have found it difficult to get a solid hit on him.

At age 41, Lidstrom remains one of the NHL's elite players. Happily for the Detroit Red Wings and their fans, Lidstrom has decided to play another season. If 2010-11 is any indication, he could go on for a few more years.

Hall of Famer Ray Bourque also was an elite player after 35, but won the last of his five Norris Trophies when he was 33.

Doug Harvey, 1960-61 (age 36); 1961-62 (age 37)
Harvey's offensive numbers don't even begin to tell the tale of his greatness. He could control the tempo of a game like few players before or since, and he was a key to the Canadiens' record five consecutive Stanley Cups from 1956-60.

But after the Canadiens had their streak ended by Chicago in 1961, they were content to let Harvey move along, even though he was coming off his sixth Norris Trophy-winning season in six years. He went to the New York Rangers, who hadn't made the playoffs since 1958 -- and showed that he was anything but washed up.

With Harvey solidifying the blue line, the Rangers outfought Detroit and made the playoffs -- their only trip to the postseason between 1959 and 1967. Harvey's numbers (6 goals, 24 assists) weren't spectacular, but his performance was enough to earn him his seventh Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman.

Harvey played another full season with the Rangers and then spent several seasons in the minors before playing 70 games with the St. Louis Blues in 1968-69 -- and helping the second-year franchise to the Stanley Cup Final.

GOALTENDERS

Vezina Trophy
Tim Thomas, 2010-11 (age 36)
Thomas was, to say the least, a late bloomer -- he played four years of college hockey at Vermont (where he was a teammate of St. Louis), then spent eight seasons in the minors and Europe, earning only a four-game trial with the Bruins in 2002-03. He starred with the Bruins' AHL team in Providence and Jokerit of the Finnish League in the next two seasons, then finally got a chance to play with the Bruins in 2005-06 at age 31 after injuries wiped out Boston's top two goalies.

Thomas won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender in 2008-09 at age 34, but lost the starting job to rookie Tuukka Rask the following season while dealing with a hip injury. He rebounded last season to lead the NHL in goals-against average (2.00) and save percentage (an NHL-record .938), then led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup since 1972 and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP with 16 wins, a 1.98 GAA, a .940 save percentage and four shutouts.

Dominik Hasek, 2000-01 (age 36)
Like Thomas, Hasek's NHL career got a late start -- he didn't come to North America from Czechoslovakia until he was in his mid-20s and didn't become a full-time starter until he was nearly 30. But Hasek quickly made up for lost time; he became the NHL's dominant goaltender in the late 1990s and in 1997 became the first goalie in more than 40 years to take home the Hart Trophy as League MVP (he won again the following season).

Hasek still was at the top of his game for Buffalo in 2000-01, the season in which he turned 36 -- winning 37 games with a 2.11 GAA and a League-high 11 shutouts. That was enough for him to win the Vezina for the sixth time in eight years. He was traded to Detroit that summer and led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2002. At age 43, he also combined with Chris Osgood to win the Jennings Trophy and was part of a second Cup-winner with the Wings in 2008. After taking a year off, he's played the last two seasons in Europe.

Martin Brodeur, 2007-08 (age 35)
Brodeur probably will own all the major goaltending records when he finally puts away his pads -- he already has the marks for wins (625) and shutouts (116). Brodeur was as good as ever in 2007-08, when he edged San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov to win the Vezina Trophy for the second year in a row and fourth time in five years (he was second to Miikka Kiprusoff in 2005-06). He went 44-27-6 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in a season that concluded just before he turned 36.

It's not unthinkable that Brodeur 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. Though he struggled for the first half of 2010-11, he looked sharp after the new year.

First-Team All-Stars (prior to 1981-82, the Vezina Trophy was awarded to the goaltender[s] on the team that allowed the fewest goals)

Tony Esposito, 1979-80 (age 36)
Like Hasek and Thomas, Esposito's career got off to a later-than-usual start -- he didn't play his first NHL game until he was 25 and had to go from Montreal to Chicago to become a starter. But 10 years after posting 15 shutouts and winning First-Team honors as a rookie, Esposito was again the best goaltender in the new 21-team NHL, going 31-22-16 with a 2.97 GAA and six shutouts for Chicago.

Glenn Hall, 1968-69 (age 37)
The Blackhawks let Hall, then age 36, go to St. Louis in the 1967 expansion draft, thinking he was too old to carry the load in an era that still saw many teams give the vast majority of work to one goaltender. But the combination of Hall and another old-timer, Jacques Plante, worked perfectly for the Blues, who made it to three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals.

Hall became the first member of an expansion team to be named a First-Team All-Star, in 1968-69, when he went 19-12-8 with a 2.17 GAA and eight shutouts for the Blues.

Gump Worsley, 1967-68 (age 38)
The Montreal native was coming off a poor season in 1966-67 (3.18 GAA in only 18 games), but was almost flawless in 1967-68. The Gumper went 19-9-8 and posted a 1.98 GAA and six shutouts in the regular season, then went 11-0 in the playoffs with a 1.88 GAA as the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup for the third time in four years.
Quote of the Day

He seemed to thrive on his own and didn't really need any push from me. I certainly don't want to get in the way of the coaches. You see how that goes sometimes. I never really worried about it and just enjoyed the ride.

— David Ekblad on his son's [Aaron Ekblad] journey to the NHL, signing with the Florida Panthers