Earlier this week Jaromir Jagr passed a legend on the NHL’s all-time games played list. Jagr leapfrogged Gordie Howe to move into second place in total games played (regular season plus playoffs) behind only Mark Messier.
Jagr likely won’t pass Messier unless he returns for the 2018-19 campaign, or if the Flames go on a deep playoff run and Jagr barely misses another game but it got us thinking: what other active players are candidates to potentially one day move into the top five or even top three in the total games played category?
To make a legitimate push to join this elite company you have to be durable, reliable and talented enough to stay in the league well into your late 30s or in most cases early-to-mid 40s.
Here are some top contenders for the total games played crown…
Total NHL games: 1,687 (1,510 regular season, 177 playoff)
There’s plenty to be impressed with when it comes to Marleau’s career but the fact he’s never missed more than eight games in any of his 19 NHL seasons is right up there among his most admirable accomplishments. He hasn’t missed a regular-season game since the 2008-09 campaign.
Through his 19 full seasons he averaged approximately 78.6 regular-season games (keep in mind this includes the lockout-shortened, 48-game 2012-13 season which skews the average slightly) and 9.3 playoff contests per year for roughly 87.9 total games per season since breaking into the league in 1997.
He has suited up for all 17 Maple Leafs games so far this season and the 38-year-old signed with Toronto with the hopes that this young team would be an annual playoff team going forward. So, for the sake of argument, let’s say he averages 78 regular-season games and nine playoff games per year through the 2019-20 season. Maple Leafs fans sure hope their team averages more than nine playoff games over the next three years, but that’s contingent on 1) making the playoffs and 2) making it out of the first round.
If he does that and maintains his career average he’d be at 1,931 total games by the time his current contract expires, which would put him ahead of Ron Francis, Chris Chelios, Howe and the number Jagr recently hit. He’d be in third place, assuming Jagr plays at least six games from now until the end of the season.
Considering how well he still skates at age 38 coupled with his proven track record of durability, Marleau has a legitimate shot to break into the top five. Also, if his current contract isn’t his last contract and he plays beyond age 41 he could feasibly pass Messier and even become the first player to hit the 2,000-game milestone.
Total NHL games: 785 (704 regular season, 81 playoff)
Doughty currently sits in 100th place in regular-season games played among active NHLers and at age 27 he’s the youngest player on the list, plus the two-time Stanley Cup champ already has 81 post-season games on his resume.
An average season for Doughty lasts 87.1 games (76.4 regular season and nine playoff), which is similar to Marleau. At that rate Doughty would be at approximately 1,640 games 10 years from now and reach 1,900 total games by age 40.
Doughty has a lot of miles on him, usually among the league leaders in average and total ice time, so time will tell whether or not his body holds up and whether or not he even wants to play that long.
Total NHL games: 883 (756 regular season, 127 playoff)
Kane hasn’t even turned 29 yet but he already seems like a lock for the Hall of Fame. He has averaged 74 regular-season games per year and happens to play for a perennial Stanley Cup contender, so you can add another 12.7 playoff games per year, which puts him close to 87 total games per year. As you can see above with Marleau and Doughty, when a player averages around 87 games per year they have the potential to close in on the top five if they play into their early forties. And based on his production rate of slightly better than a point per game, if Kane were to play for that long he’d also likely be among the all-time leaders in points as well.
Other stars with similar averages and projections to Kane’s include Alex Ovechkin (1,034 total games, 86.1 games per year, age 32), Anze Kopitar (931 total games, 84.6 games per year, age 30) and Nicklas Backstrom (845 total games, 84.5 games per year, age 29).
Total NHL games: 1,079 (1,026 regular season, 53 playoff)
The centre joined the Silver Stick Club last season and only turned 33 a couple weeks ago. Staal has missed more than five games in a season just once and that was during the 2009-10 season in which he still played 70 games. He has yet to sit out a game this year and is under contract with the Minnesota Wild until the conclusion of 2018-19. It would seem unlikely a quality player like Staal would hang up his skates and retire at age 34 though.
He averages 77.7 regular-season games per year but outside of a Stanley Cup run in 2006 and an Eastern Conference final appearance in 2009, Staal usually isn’t playing NHL hockey beyond April. He has played five playoff games in each of the past two seasons so hypothetically if he averages five playoff appearances per year and maintains his regular-season average he’d surpass the 1,600-game mark by 40.
For comparison, that would put him in the ballpark of where Joe Thornton (1,620 total games at age 38) currently stands but ahead of the likes of Zdeno Chara (1,511 total games at age 40) and Matt Cullen (1,504 total games at age 41). Thornton, Chara and Cullen sit in third, fourth and fifth place, respectively, behind Jagr and Marleau among active players—Marian Hossa has played 1,514 total games in his career but despite being under contract through 2021 is stuck on long-term injured reserve. It’s possible, likely even, that Hossa has already played his final game.
Staal’s number would greatly increase, however, if the Wild and/or any team Staal signs with in 2019 goes on some lengthy playoff runs and/or he’s able to play well into his forties.
Total NHL games: 862 (802 regular season, 60 playoff)
Cogliano literally never misses a game so it earns him a spot here. The NHL’s ironman can also get you 30-40 points per season, so as long as he remains a bona fide NHL-calibre player he’ll continue to climb the ranks. Cogliano didn’t make the playoffs until his sixth NHL season, which hurts his totals but he still averages 84.6 total games per year.
The pending unrestricted free agent turned 30 in June. Hypothetically, if he continued to be an every-game player, he could hit 1,600 regular season games before he turns 39. That’s something even Marleau won’t do. When you add in all the potential playoff games he’ll suit up for he’s another candidate to join that illustrious group.