Opening day for the NHL lets some veteran stars shine
If you opened up the NHL individual stats page this morning, the names at the top might not be what you expected.
Jaromir Jagr. Teemu Selanne. Both with four-point games on opening night for the NHL season. One point behind were Martin St. Louis and Alexei Kovalev, both with three-point efforts. St. Louis is the baby of the bunch at 37.
While their efforts were eclipsed Sunday afternoon by a five-point effort in Buffalo’s home opener by Thomas Vanek, and while the point totals will be changing all the time, it was a breakout night for Jagr, 40, and Selanne, 42. Five-time Art Ross Trophy winner Jagr is two years into his return to the NHL, after leaving in 2008 to represent the Czech Republic in international tournaments and play with the KHL’s Avangard Omsk. He played the previous season with Philadelphia on a one-year contract. Selanne has primarily been an Anaheim Duck throughout his career, and has signed a series of short deals with them recently, the most recent being a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. St. Louis is still a perennial scorer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, while Kovalev (39) has struggled in recent years to find a permanent home. His current one-year, $1 million deal with the Florida Panthers comes after a year spent in the KHL, following a disappointing 34-point season in 2010-2011 split between the Ottawa Senators and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kovalev, unlike Selanne and Jagr, joined the Panthers on a tryout after the lockout’s end was announced.
Players over 35 are considered to be aged in the NHL, and being in one’s 40’s has long been the upper limit for still being in “game shape.” Notably, Gordie Howe returned to the NHL once to play 80 games and score 41 points with the Hartford Whalers at the age of 52 in the 1979-1980 season–but generally, players say goodbye before they hit their mid-40’s, sometimes earlier. It simply isn’t the type of profession you can have into your old age, nor are their any low-impact positions you can take on–all of them are taxing. Thus, the contracts: one-year, two-year deals, sometimes deeply discounted, in order to pursue “one more season” in the world’s most competitive hockey league.
Such contracts, like Selanne’s and Jagr’s, could prove to be a serious boon for teams who gave them a chance over the shortened 2013 season. These contracts were signed at a time when a full, 82-game season might have been a possibility, and the Stars and Ducks could get more than they hoped for from Jagr and Selanne, who may thrive after the extended offseason and reduced load of games. Even young, brilliant offensive players like Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and Claude Giroux don’t always put up multi-point efforts on a nightly basis, so it would be surprising if the older guys could sustain this pace throughout the season.
However, experienced and practiced hockey sense often compete levelly with athleticism and youth. There are definitely going to be more games this season where the younger players will have no idea what hit them. If this turns out to be any player’s last professional year due to “aging out” of NHL-ready status, it could still be one of the richest ones to date.
All information on contracts and playing history from capgeek.com.