August 30, 2011
Over the past handful of years, one thing has become pretty clear: Teams having success in the NHL are getting faster, younger and sleeker. With the speed of today's game, they have to.
For that very reason, I've been somewhat ... we'll call it "anti-old-veteran."
These guys are deserving of a ton of respect, but when you watch a guy skate and the word "plodding" pops into your head, it's probably time to hang up the skates. But, there are always exceptions.
The older guys who manage to stay effective are talented players who realize that to hang in a young man's league, they need to pay an insane amount of attention to fitness, and tweak their game a bit.
The Uber-Fit Old Guy club includes names like Rod Brind'Amour(notes), Gary Roberts(notes), Chris Chelios(notes) and Mark Recchi(notes), all of whom clearly understood that in order to contribute while down a half-step from their prime, their work ethic would have to move a notch up every year.
This is why I was ready to crap on the Jaromir Jagr(notes) signing — it seemed that in order to have success around 40, you had to be a passionate, hard-working player on and off the ice (or a defenseman, they have a different shelf-life), and I've never considered No. 68 to be one of those guys. He always survived on sheer talent and size, so I figured he might flail next season.
But the more I thought about it, the more something became clear: the shelf life of most offensive forwards is stretching a lot longer than it used to in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
As a community, hockey players have changed how much they focus on diet and fitness. Everyone puts in so much more effort than players of eras past in making sure that they're taking care of their bodies. And with the rules banning obstruction all the way to Siberia, it makes sense that we'll see more guys scoring past the best before dates of old.
Older players have made it clear that in their day, training camp was for training. My Dad is one of these men. As his career progressed, he said he was forced to do more and more each year before showing up to camp, because other guys were. Obviously, that trend continued.
Combine that increased commitment with our knowledge of supplements, and some guys become well-oiled machines. And for those who aren't, well, medical care has improved a ridiculous amount over the years and can help you out with less invasive procedures.
His body held up wonderfully through 73 games last season, where he piled up over 30 goals and hit 80 points, cracking the league's top ten in scoring. At age 41.
I've been waiting for Jarome Iginla's(notes) numbers to trickle downhill for about four years now, and all he did last year was pour in 43 goals and finish ahead of Alex Ovechkin(notes) in total points, good for sixth in the league. He's 34, the same age my Dad retired.
It's probably also worth mentioning that Marty St. Louis finished second in the league in scoring last year. He racked up one point shy of 100 at 36, and managed to play in every single game.
The stay-at-home D-man has always been able to last a little longer, learning a few extra tricks, taking fewer chances, and having their angles dialed in. But so much of playing forward has been about foot-speed, and as that starts to slow down after 30, we're used to watching the numbers of our offensive stars slowly decline with it, including the occasional sharp plummet from some guys.
This is why I had the aversion to older players in the first place — you hate knowing that there's no potential for improvement, only decline.
But it seems it's time to re-adjust our thinking on older forwards. They don't even have to be fitness mad to benefit these days - trainers and doctors make it so you don't even have to pay attention to be taking really great care of your body in the NHL.
"Just worked out? Here's a shake."
Maybe Jagr will pan out for the Flyers, maybe he won't. But in general, I think we'll see more players having success later into their careers.