Well, wouldn’t you know it, the Sedin twins finally packed it in.
Though Daniel led the team in points, again, with 55 and Henrik was third at 50, the time was probably past due for the dynamic duo to skate off into retirement.
The 37-year-olds were an integral part of the team since the 2000-01 season, but both had suffered a gradual decline in play since helping take the Canucks to the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.
Realizing the jig is up, even for still effective players like the Swedish twins, 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 Henrik and Daniel into a retirement filled with golf and maybe NHL front office or TV analyst positions.
Here are 15 we put up for “gold watch and a handshake” candidacy.
15. Antti Niemi
He turned 34 last August, but for all intents and purposes then, Antti Niemi might as well have been 54. He was lit up like an aging beer league netminder in 2016-17 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 in ’16-17. His .892 save percentage was also miserable. Last year there wasn’t much change in his game, other than a fairly good stint with Montreal (he also played with Pittsburgh for three games and Florida for two). Overall, he was 7-9-4 in 20 starts, with a 3.12 GAA and .911 save percentage.
14. Cam Ward
Good goalies are very hard to come by in the NHL. Just ask the Hurricanes, who thought they had a good one in Scott Darling, but instead bought a lemon. Last off-season, GM Ron Francis believed he was getting his starter of the future by signing Chicago’s Darling to a reasonable four-year, $16.6 million contract. Well, the Darling laid an egg in 43 games and was replaced by old reliable, Cam Ward. The move to bring in the expensive and disappointing Darling, among others, and Carolina’s underwhelming season cost franchise legend Francis his job. However, Ward, who is 34 and a UFA, isn’t the answer going forward in Carolina. Maybe a year, tops, on a contract at or below the $3.3 million he made in 2017-18. The former Conn Smythe winner has seen a steady erosion of his goals against average since a career low of 2.40 in 2014-15 to 2.73 this year, as well as a nosedive in save percentage (.910 to 906). With a Stanley Cup ring in hand and not a whole lot on his NHL bucket list, it may be time for Ward to bid adieu.
13. Brian Gionta
There is a place for the little guy in the NHL, but maybe not for vertically-challenged players nearing 40. The tiny (5’7″) winger had 35 points in 82 games with the Sabres in 2016-17 (-11) but wasn’t offered any kind of extension or contract with the team, choosing to skate with the Rochester Americans in practice and then play with the U.S. Olympic team at the Pyeongchang Games. The Bruins came calling when he returned from that sojourn, offering a one-year, $700,000 contract to finish out the season. He skated in 20 games and scored two goals and five assists, logging a -1 in just over 13 minutes of ice time per game. He was added to the playoff roster, but was a healthy scratch in all but one of 12 total Bruins post-season contests. After 1,026 NHL contests and 595 points, it might be best for him to go out on top and call it quits.
12. Jussi Jokinen
Many players in the history of the NHL have been labeled “Suitcase” for their epic hockey journeys through multiple leagues and teams. We’re not sure if there is a record for playing with the most teams in one year, but Jussi “Suitcase” Jokinen may own it. The veteran forward played 60 games nearly evenly split between Edmonton, Los Angeles, Columbus and Vancouver. That is a heck of a lot of air miles. Those four teams he played for in 2017-18 are added to the five previous clubs he donned a sweater for since debuting with Dallas in 2005-06. In that time, he played 951 games, scoring 191 goals and adding 372 assists. It would seem though, that the writing is on the wall of his career, as he recorded the lowest point total in a near full season with only 17 in 2017-18. That is a significant drop from 2015-16, when he notched 60 points with Florida, his second best season in the NHL. A plane ride home to Finland — for good — may be next.
11. Chris Kunitz
The dismantling of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins last summer 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 38-year-old Regina native played well enough in a limited role with the Bolts, scoring 13 goals and 16 assists, with 131 hits in 82 games. However 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 in 2016-17 at just 29 points (the same as this past season). Even though he was a fair contributor in the regular season, he had one lone assist in 17 playoff games with Tampa. Now a UFA, we don’t see too many offers coming for a guy who will be 39 at the beginning of the 2018-19 campaign.
10. 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 has been a little slower year over year. He’s 41 and was extended for another year in March for $5 million. Chara did play a pretty big role in the Bruins run to the Eastern Conference semi-finals, registering 24 points and a +22 while logging nearly 23 minutes of ice time per game. In the Bruins 12 post-season games, he logged three points and a +7. The future of the Bruins defence looks fairly bright with youngsters Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, Charlie McAvoy and Jakub Zboril looking to take over the reins on the blue line, and soon. The Big Z will find it even harder next year in a league that values youth and speed and may have to consider the next chapter outside hockey.
9. Dion Phaneuf
What to do with Dion Phaneuf? An All-Star and Norris Trophy candidate with Calgary early in his career, the 33-year-old Edmonton native is faded glory on a Kings team with an aging core and some pretty significant contracts being paid out to said near-geezers. The Kings, who traded for Phaneuf at the deadline, are on the hook for three more seasons at $5.25 million to Phaneuf, who looks more and more like an ideal candidate for a buyout. He’s the oldest and was one of the least effective players on their blue line, taking up valuable minutes that could be better given to guys like Oscar Fantenberg or Kurtis MacDermid. After the trade from Ottawa, Phaneuf did score three times and add seven assists in 26 games, but the telling statistic was his plus-minus, which turned out to be a team worst -7. His effectiveness, especially in a very competitive Western Conference, this late in his career isn’t near what it once was.
8. Craig Anderson
A feel good story during the 2016-17 season, when he won the Bill Masterton Trophy and backstopped the Senators to the 2017 Eastern Conference finals, Craig Anderson was exposed as a fairly mediocre goalie in 2017-18. Problem for Ottawa is, they have to pay the 37-year-old netminder with declining skills $4.75 million over the next two seasons. Add to that the fact that good starting goaltenders aren’t a dime a dozen and the Senators are in a real quandary. He had the worst goals against average of any starting goaltender at 3.32 this year and the second worst save percentage of .898. Those numbers, in 58 appearances, are in stark contrast to his rather good 2016-17 campaign, when he had five shutouts, a 2.28 goals against average and .926 save percentage in 40 games. We have to wonder if GM Pierre Dorion has considered buying out the remaining two years on Anderson’s contract.
7. Jason Spezza
Not only was the 2017-18 season disappointing for a Dallas Stars team many thought would contend, it was doubly frustrating for one of the oldest guys on the team, Jason Spezza. With a new coach, Ken Hitchcock, at the helm, Spezza saw his ice time cut over three minutes per game from 2016-17 to just 13 minutes average. In 2016-17 he tallied an admirable 50 points in 68 games, but with the decreased utilization in 2017-18, his production fell to an abysmal 26 points in 78 games, along with a -12. The only place he excelled was on the face-off dot, where he won 55.8 percent of his draws. Spezza will be 35 on June 13 and he is the second highest paid player on the team at $7.5 million. However, he is heading into his last season on that deal and the Stars, who didn’t meet expectations and have a new coach in Jim Montgomery, need to decide whether they can trade him, or buy him out.
6. Mike Cammalleri
This could be the end of a long and winding hockey road for one-time elite play maker Mike Cammalleri. He turns 36 on June 8 and he is a UFA coming off his worst statistical season. The 15-year veteran scored just seven goals and added 22 assists in 66 games split between Los Angeles (15 games) and Edmonton. It’s been a decade since he was better than a point per game man with Calgary (82 points in 81 games during the 2008-09 season) and his production has been steadily sliding since 2013-14 when he had 45 points in 63 games during a second stint with the Flames. He may still hold some value as a depth forward, considering he has 294 goals and 642 points in 906 games, including 246 powerplay points. The offers may trickle in, but probably low-ball, one-year, $1 million per season entreaties. Maybe retirement is better.
5. Andrew Ladd
There is a new sheriff in town in Brooklyn and his name is Lou Lamoriello. The new president of hockey operations and esteemed hockey man has quite a mess on his hands with the Islanders and will soon set about cleaning it up. Along with getting John Tavares, Brock Nelson and Thomas Hickey re-signed, Sweet Lou has to decide whether to fish or cut bait with declining assets such as Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ladd. The problem with the latter, Ladd, is that he gets paid like a first line forward but produces like a bottom six. And, he is 32 and has five seasons remaining on a seven-year, $38.5 million deal (with a no-trade clause) he signed in 2016. For the princely sum of $5.5 million last year, the Isles got all of 12 goals and 17 assists out of Ladd in 73 games, his lowest point total since his second season in the league with Carolina in 2006-07. Despite being given ample ice time at just under 16 minutes per game, Ladd disappeared for long stretches, including one 24-game stretch where he failed to score a goal and had just four assists. He may not be looking to pack it in, yet, but that day may not be far off. Otherwise, Lamoriello needs some black magic to rid himself of Ladd’s awful contract.
4. Duncan Keith
All the signs are there, it’s just that Duncan Keith might not be able to see them. That is, indications that the end of his career are nigh. The formerly glorious Blackhawks were just also-rans in a Western Conference dominated by younger and faster teams than theirs, missing the playoffs for the first time in ages. Old warhorses like Keith, who has three Stanley Cup rings and two Norris Trophies, will eventually have to give way to a new breed in the Windy City, or they’ll fade even further to irrelevance. By all counts Keith, along with several other Blackhawks, had an absolutely abysmal season. The 34-year-old superstar blueliner, who will be 35 in July, did play all 82 games for the first time in a long time, but registered just 32 points and was a horrid -29. That was a significant swoon from the more Keith-like numbers he put up in 2016-17, when he had 53 points and was +22. The rub in all of this is that Keith is in the midst of a massive 12-year, $72 million contract he signed in 2009. If he retires, the cap recapture clause would be severe, but, on the flip side of the coin, he may not retire and continue to decline with age. Fubar.
3. Alexander Steen
The Blues, like their Central Division foes Chicago and Dallas, need to get younger, faster and maybe a little cheaper if they hope to contend in the near future with the likes of Nashville, Winnipeg, Colorado and Minnesota. It was a disappointing year in Missouri and while a greybeard like Steen is still valuable, offensively, he’s well past his prime and in slow decline from a career year in 2014-15. That season he had 64 points in 74 games, but in the following years those totals have gone from 52 to 51 and then 46 in 2017-18. More alarming are the plus minus totals that plunged from +8 during that great offensive season to +3, then -2 and a career worst -11. That bit of minutiae shows that the dependably two-way forward is now just an adequate one-way man. Problem for Blues brass is that Steen has three years left on a deal that pays him $5.75 million per season, with a no-trade clause thrown in for good measure.
2. Rick Nash
It’s only been four seasons since Rick Nash topped the 40-goal plateau, firing 42 for the New York Rangers in 2014-15. It might as well be forever ago, as the high-priced sniper fell to 21 goals and 34 points in 71 games split between the Rangers and Boston this year, along with a -12. The author of 437 regular season and 18 playoff goals may be nearing the end, whether he likes it or not. He will turn 34 in mid-June and is a UFA who will probably have to take a significant pay cut from the average $7.8 million he made over the last eight years, especially if he still wants to play in the world’s best league. His biggest problem is that he is a plodder in a game dominated by speed and matching him up with better skaters, especially at his age, can be a good — but usually bad — thing. He can still score, that’s a given, it’s just that we don’t see him keeping up with the kids, which severely negates the effectiveness of the hands that fired all those goals.
1. Joe Thornton
We like Jumbo Joe, we really do. However, we’d also like to see him ride off into the sunset while he is still relatively on top — rather than play out the string on an extended farewell tour. He is 38 (turning 39 in the summer), a UFA and recently revealed that he tore both his ACL and MCL this past season, limiting the normally very sturdy former MVP to just 47 games. He did record 36 points but missed the playoffs. All that taken into account, he probably won’t get the $8 million he was paid in 2017-18 and we have to wonder what teams will fork over any more than say $2 million to a guy who’s got a bum knee and is approaching 40. We do know, however, that he has never won a championship and will do everything in his power to rehab and come back next year. But, we think it would be prudent for a guy with Hall of Fame worthy numbers (1,427 points in 1,493 games and another 123 playoff points) to at least consider stepping away before he becomes a liability.