Signings of Jagr, Whitney, Salo prove GMs don’t fear 40 like they once did
If there was one surprise trend among this year's free-agent dealings, it was the complete confidence with which hockey's general managers threw money and term at the game's quadragenarians.
There was Ray Whitney, who, four decades into existence, signed a two-year deal that will pay him $4.5 million each year with the Dallas Stars. He was later joined by Jaromir Jagr, twoscore and 1-year-old next February who signed for one year at $4.55 million.
So $4.5 million is apparently just what you pay 40-year-olds now, because it's also what Martin Brodeur accepted for another year in New Jersey. He'll be backed up by 39-year-old Johan Hedberg, the Walter Matthau to his Jack Lemmon.
There's also Sami Salo, who's still a true whippersnapper at a young and spry 38, but he's also been injured 41 times. The man isn't exactly in mint condition any longer. He's been run through the spokes of life's bicycle several times. But that didn't stop the Tampa Bay Lightning from giving Salo $7.5 million over two years, a big raise on his one-year contract with Vancouver from last season.
Something in the NHL has changed. Two years after chasing Mike Modano out of town at 40, the Stars dropped nearly $10 million on two aging vets. They're as obsessed with 40-year-olds as Judd Apatow. And Sami Salo, the oldest 38-year-old alive, can't scare Steve Yzerman away from a two-year commitment. What's going on?
Simple. Over the last two years, the NHL has managed to do something Hollywood's actresses have been attempting to do, with little success, for generations: remove the stigma of turning 40. Here are three ways it's happened:
1) 40-year-olds in the Cup Final
Every year, the teams that make it to the Stanley Cup Final see their model copied by the also-rans, and it's worth noting that the last two years have featured grizzled veterans in big roles. In 2011, it was 43-year-old Mark Recchi, whose turn as the Bruins' X-factor suddenly made everybody wish they had a Mark Recchi also. Some said you needed a Mark Recchi.
In 2012, it was Marty Brodeur, who unexpectedly out-duelled Vezina and Hart nominee Henrik Lundqvist to push the Devils into the Cup Final, then stole a few games once he was there to boot.
2) Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom
But Recchi and Brodeur are just the postseason examples. It's not difficult to see the handiwork of Selanne and Lidstrom over their last two remarkable regular seasons here.
Selanne has 146 points in two seasons since turning 40. Nicklas Lidstrom put up 96 points in two seasons as a 40-year-old, and retired with many thinking he had another year left in him. The fact is, rather than showing signs of age, these guys aged like fine wine, and I think it's caused GMs to reconsider what happens to skilled players when they turn 40.
3) The return of Jaromir Jagr
But frankly, as inspirational and impacting as Selanne and Lidstrom were and are, I think Jaromir Jagr's return from exile was the clincher. His veteran leadership, dedication to practice and working out, and his inspirational legend rubbed off on the Flyers' young corps in a big way.
Not only did Jagr surprise everyone with his effectiveness, but he showed a stunning ability to adapt to the new landscape (he joined Twitter, for criminy's sake!) and take on a complementary role. He was given a lot of the credit for turning Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux into two of the league's premier forwards. I'm sure the Stars are hoping he can do the same for Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.
Back when Mike Modano was let go, it was in part to make room for the youth. But over the last two years, we've seen that having a veteran around to provide depth, inspire and motivate the youth can be valuable.
As a result, suddenly 40-year-olds are as well.