NHL hockey camps are in full swing.
And with pre-season games and workouts starting to reach a peak, the older crowd among the kids might be finding it harder to keep up.
Shane Doan, to his credit and despite the Arizona Coyotes ham-handed handling of his contractual status (they didn’t offer the long-serving captain an extension) retired in August.
Drafted in 1985 by the original Winnipeg Jets, Doan played his entire 21-season career with the Jets/Coyotes franchise, scoring 972 points in 1,540 games. He was without a doubt the face of the franchise.
Realizing the jig is up, then, is one of the hardest things to do for a NHL warrior.
Many went out on top, like Wayne Gretzky, even though they probably could have stretched things out and made fools of themselves.
There are several long-in-tooth players still kicking around. They may still think they have something to offer, but should follow Doan into a retirement filled with golf and maybe NHL front office or TV analyst positions.
Here are 11 (with one pair) we put up for retirement candidacy.
10. Henrik And Daniel Sedin
It says a lot about the state of the Vancouver Canucks’ franchise that the Sedin twins are still an integral part of the team’s scoring fortunes. Both will be 37 next week and both have seen a steady decline in production the last couple of seasons. Sure, they might both still hit 50 points this coming season (they will each be paid $7 million on the last year’s of their contract), but we don’t see it happening. Henrik went from a respectable 73 points in 2014-15 to 55 in 2015-16 and 51 last year. Daniel’s numbers in those same years were 76, 61, 54. What it boils down to is the fact the Canucks haven’t drafted a scoring forward of consequence since Ryan Kesler, way back in 2003, which was four years after the Sedin’s names were called. Since Kesler, they have used first round picks on so-so forwards like Patrick White (25th, 2007) Cody Hodgson (10th, 2008), Jordan Schroeder (22nd, 2009), Brendan Gaunce (26th, 2012) and Jake Virtanen (6th, 2014). They aren’t going to win a Cup this year, so why bother?
9. Antti Niemi
He turned 34 in August, but for all intents and purposes, Antti Niemi might as well be 54. He was lit up like an aging beer league netminder last year and we find it weird that the Pittsburgh Penguins signed him to back up Matt Murray for one year. What, were pylons too expensive at Home Depot? Yes, we jest, but Niemi’s game is nowhere near what it was when he won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2009-10, his second season in the league. The Vantaa, Finland native sported a 26-7-4 record that year with the Blackhawks, along with a .912 save percentage and 2.25 goals against (his second lowest ever). Since recording a career low 2.16 GAA with San Jose in 2012-13, his average has slowly crept north to a career worst 3.30 with Dallas last season. His .892 save percentage was also miserable. The last straw for the Stars before they released him was probably a dismal effort against Edmonton in March, when he was yanked after surrendering five goals on just 20 shots in a humbling 7-1 defeat.
8. Francois Beauchemin
The geezer contingent in Anaheim just ballooned this off-season. Joining 36-year-old long-in-tooth rearguard Kevin Bieksa is former Duck and oldster Francois Beauchemin, who turned 37 in June. That officially makes the defenceman the oldest on the team, by 43 days on newly acquired goalie Ryan Miller. And it’s not like the Ducks don’t have a slew of 20-something decent defenders such as Sami Vatanen (26), Brandon Montour (23), Josh Manson (26), Hampus Lindholm (23) and Cam Fowler (25). Bringing back the declining Beauchemin for a third go around, even at a paltry $1 million, just seems like the Ducks felt the need to say thank you — again — for helping them win a Cup a decade ago. Beauchemin was a plus player right up to his last campaign in Anaheim in 2014-15, when he had 23 points in 64 games and a +17. With a more porous team in Colorado, he reverted to being a minus player like he was with Toronto, posting a collective -21 in 163 games, while mustering just 18 points in 81 games last season.
7. Chris Neil
For much of his 1,026-game career, Chris Neil defied the critics who said he was a one-trick, pugilist pony. Known as a big scrapper in junior with North Bay and the with Grand Rapids in the old IHL (he had 354 PIM in 2000-01), Neil proved he could also produce in a limited role. While racking up close to 200 minutes every year, Neil also scored in double digits five times and reached a high of 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in 79 games with Ottawa in 2005-06. That was then and this is now, though. The career Senator slipped miserably last season, scoring just four points in 53 games while logging a -11. A free agent now, Neil expressed a sentiment that he would play a 16th season, somewhere, but the 38-year-old fan favorite won’t be doing it in Sens red and black. He’s had an honorable career and now is the time to bid hockey adieu.
6. Brian Gionta
There is a place for the little guy in the NHL, but maybe not for vertically-challenged players nearing 40. As last reported, nearly two weeks ago, Gionta was mulling offers to play with other clubs after spending three seasons in Buffalo. The soon-to-be 39-year-old hasn’t made a decision, but is training like he wants to play. The signs, though, indicate that while he may yet have something left in the tank, most teams would rather get 30-plus points out of someone half his age and maybe half his salary, which was $2 million in 2016-17 with a cap hit of $4.25 million. The tiny (5’7″) winger had 35 points in 82 games with the Sabres last year (-11) but still wasn’t offered any kind of extension or contract with the team. After 1,006 NHL contests and 588 points, it might be best for him to go out on top and call it quits.
5. Patrick Sharp
The Stars have improved this off-season and we think they got better by jettisoning 35-year-old winger Patrick Sharp. Once a stud in Chicago, a broken down version of the three-time Stanley Cup winner is heading back to the Windy City on a one-year, $800,000 deal. It hardly seems worth it for a guy of his once proud stature to grovel back to the team he played 679 games with and scored 511 points with (as well as 80 playoff points). It was a miserable and injury plagued 2016-17 season for the seasoned left winger that saw him score just 18 points in 48 games, along with a career worst -22 rating. The only thing working in his favor is the fact the Hawks are thinner down the left side, considering the Artemi Panarin trade with Columbus. We think he should go out on top and call it a day.
4. Chris Kunitz
The dismantling of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins began in earnest mere days after they hoisted their second straight mug. They bid adieu to a slew of veterans, not the least of which was Chris Kunitz, who won three titles with the team and scored 388 of his career 580 points with the team. The Tampa Bay Lightning were only too willing to pick up a portion of Pittsburgh’s aging table scraps. But, was a one-year, $2 million deal worth it? The Regina native will be 38 next week and by all accounts, his skills are in decline, at least where a full regular season is concerned. After reaching highs in goals (35) and points (68) during the 2013-14 season, Kunitz had two straight seasons of just 40 points, followed by his worst output in a full season last year at just 29 points. He did pick it up in the playoffs, scoring 11 points in 20 games. What remains to be seen, though, is whether he’ll be enough of a boon to a team that missed the playoffs and wants desperately to get back.
3. Jarome Iginla
All old warriors carry battle scars and 40-year-old Iginla has more than most. The four-time all-star and former scoring champ has had appreciable skill fade the last two seasons playing on a bad team (Colorado) and then a mediocre one (Los Angeles). As late as 2014-15 he was a 59-point man with the Avalanche, however, He slipped to 47 points and a career worst -22 in 2015-16. Things got worse in a season split between the Avs and Kings last year, where the durable right wingers mustered just 27 points in 80 games and was -30. The only thing that has eluded Iginla in a career that has seen him score 525 goals and 1,095 points in 1,219 games is a Stanley Cup. However, he is not alone in that department and with no one willing to sign him at this juncture, he should do the honorable thing and retire. He was a great player who should be remembered for greatness, not for looking two steps slower in middle age.
2. Zdeno Chara
It was tough call putting the venerable Bruins captain here, since he’s been a defensive warrior with and Stanley Cup champion with the club. Yet, the seven-time all-star and Norris Trophy winner was at times a step slower last year. He’s 40 and on the last year of a seven-year contract, which Bruins’ GM Don Sweeney has said he’s open to extending. Chara did help get the Bruins back into the playoffs last year (after two straight seasons out of the post-season), registering 29 points and a +18 while logging nearly 23 and a half minutes of ice time per game. However, in a six-game opening-round series against Ottawa, he wasn’t near as effective, garnering an assist and finishing -3. The future of the Bruins defence looks fairly bright with youngsters Brandon Carlo, Jeremy Lauzon, Charlie McAvoy and Jakub Zboril looking to fill significant minutes soon. The Big Z will either have to take a cut in minutes to remain relevant, or consider the next chapter outside hockey.
1. Jaromir Jagr
Up until 2016-17, Jiggy had been playing the NHL longer than most of the current players have been alive. It is a testament to his fitness and considerable hockey gifts that the 45-year-old was still near the top of the Florida Panthers scoring ledger last year with 46 points in 82 games. Currently second to only Wayne Gretzky in career points (1,914 in 1,711 games), Jagr is without a contract heading into the 2017-18 season and with just two weeks to go before the openers, it looks less and less likely he’ll be tendered anything. We believe he is probably still fit enough to play, but as he approaches 50, it is even more likely his skills will fade more in a young, fast league. Jagr has seen and done it all, from the two Stanley Cups, a Hart Trophy, five scoring championships and eight all-star nominations. There is nothing left to do, except announce his retirement and go out on a high.