The NHL appears to be in the middle of a full-fledged youth movement, thanks to an influx of talented rookies over the last few seasons.
Right now, the kids are all anyone can talk about. And if we’re being honest, some of the hype may be getting a little bit out of control: Auston Matthews was basically named to the all-star team after one game; Patrik Laine was awarded the Hart Trophy after four; Next week, the Hockey Hall of Fame will officially be renamed The Hall of Connor McDavid and Also Some Other Guys.
And all of that is great — a wave of dominant young players all coming into the league at the same time is one of the most exciting things that can happen in sports.
But while it’s a fun story to hype up, we run the risk of forgetting that there are still some older guys puttering around the league.
Some of them are even pretty good.
So today, let’s hike our pants up to our armpits and spend some time celebrating the league’s old guys. We’ll build a full roster – four lines, three defensive pairings and two goalies – out of players that were 35 or older on opening night of the 2016-17 season.
And then we’ll teach those whippersnappers a thing or two.
RW: Jaromir Jagr
We’ll start with the first guy that comes to mind when you mention old NHL players. At 43, Jagr hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down; his 66 points last year were the second most among players 35 and over.
We’ll give him a spot on the first line, and we’ll also make him team captain. There’s a non-zero chance he’ll still be holding down that spot in sixteen years when we welcome McDavid and Matthews to this team.
C: Joe Thornton
Even at 37, Thornton continues to be among the top playmakers in the league.
Last year may have been his best season in almost a decade, as he posted a combined 103 points across the regular season and playoffs.
We’ve all agreed that he’s a no-questions-asked, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, right? He’ll probably become the 13th player to join the 1,000-assist club this season, and players ahead of him are basically a who’s who of NHL legends.
LW: Patrick Marleau
We’ll slot him in at wing instead of centre, since that’s where he tends to play these days and it lets us build a top line that features three 1,000-point players.
We’ll give him first-line duties because of his chemistry with Thornton – they don’t play together much, but the familiarity of being teammates for so many years should help them gel.
(Yes, I realize I’ve thought too much about this. You’ve read this far, don’t bail on me now.)
RW: Marian Hossa
We’ll anchor our second line with one of the best two-way forwards in recent memory.
Hossa was the toast of the league last week after scoring his 500th goal, and rightly so. There aren’t many more respected players in the league, which is why he’s almost certainly headed to the Hall of Fame.
C: Henrik Sedin
Even at 36, the former Hart Trophy winner remains one of the better setup guys in the league.
Gosh, I sure hope we can find a winger he’ll have chemistry with…
LW: Daniel Sedin
We won’t get many points for creativity here, but sometimes the obvious choice is the right one.
Among our 35+ cohort, only Jagr and Thornton had more points than the Sedins did last year, and it’s possible that both brothers could hit the 1,000-point mark this season.
RW: Jarome Iginla
Despite not having visibly aged since he broke into the league as a teenager, Iginla will be one of the oldest players on our squad at 39.
He’s still good for 20 goals a season, and he’s one of the few guys who can still provide a physical edge at his age.
C: Henrik Zetterberg
The 36-year-old’s production has slowed in recent years, but he can still put up points while playing a solid two-way game. He’s bounced between left wing and centre through the years, but we’ll keep him in the middle to make sure we can roll three decent scoring lines.
LW: Chris Kunitz
Huh. Turns out that left wing is a bit of a soft spot on this roster — so much so, that it’s tempting to try to sneak in Patrick Sharp and hope that nobody notices that he misses the age cutoff by a few weeks.
But instead we’ll turn to Kunitz. He may not be the 30-goal threat he once was, but he can still chip in offensively. And he’ll be good in the room, because he’s used to finding himself on teams where he’s surrounded by way better players.
RW: Shane Doan
We’ll go with an old school bang-and-crash line for our final unit, partly out of respect for the era these guys grew up in but mostly because that’s really all we have left to choose from. But Doan is a good start, with nearly 400 NHL goals to his name.
C: Matt Cullen
Hey, if it worked for the Stanley Cup champions, it can work for us.
LW: Jason Chimera
To be honest, it’s pretty much down to him or Vernon Fiddler for the last left wing spot. We’ll go with Chimera coming off a 20-goal season.
At 37, he’ll probably feel like a kid out there playing with Doan, who’s 40, and Cullen, who will be in a few weeks.
LD: Zdeno Chara
We’ll start with an easy choice. Chara played at a Norris Trophy level well into his mid-30s, and even if he’s slowed down a bit in recent years he’s still a dominant presence when he’s healthy.
(We’re going to go ahead and assume everyone is healthy here, since we’ll be spending half our team budget on training staff and Bengay.)
RD: Niklas Kronwall
Good luck crossing the blue line against this pairing.
Yes, I realize Kronwall typically plays the left side. But we’ve run into a bit of an issue here: Of all the active defencemen who qualify for this team and are playing regularly, all but one shoot left-handed.
Apparently they hadn’t invented right-handed sticks back when these guys were growing up.
LD: Brian Campbell
Did I seriously consider following the Blackhawks’ lead and slipping Campbell onto one of the forward lines even though it makes no sense?
Yes. Yes I did.
But instead, let’s make sure we have a puck-mover on the second pairing.
RD: Andrei Markov
With 44 points last year, Markov actually ended up being the leading scorer on our blue line. It would appear that the days of Al MacInnis or Ray Bourque racking up points well into their late 30s have passed us by.
LD: Francois Beauchemin
He’s still a dependable defensive presence, and last year he actually put up the second highest point total of his career.
RD: Kevin Bieksa
He’s a decent pick to fill out our final spot. He’s also that lone righty that we mentioned up above. That gives us at least one pairing where guys are playing the proper side, which should keep Mike Babcock from yelling at us.
Starter: Roberto Luongo
The bad news is that we only have three goalies to choose from, having just missed out on Henrik Lundqvist.
The good news is that all three options are strong ones. That includes Luongo, who’s been putting up solid .920 goaltending since rejoining the Panthers three seasons ago.
Guys like Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek played well into their late-30s, but that’s been rare in recent years. Luongo is showing that it’s not impossible.
Backup: Ryan Miller
It’s hard to argue with a Vezina Trophy winner as your backup, even if Miller hasn’t been quite at that level since.
In the press box: The third eligible goalie is Craig Anderson, and if you wanted to nudge him ahead of Miller I wouldn’t argue much.