Earlier in 2012, the hockey world saw the exchange of the Norris crown from one legendary Swedish rearguard to another young ‘Tre Konor’ blueline. It was possibly as emblematic of a passing of the torch from 41-year old Nicklas Lidstrom to countryman, Erik Karlsson, as it was in 1980 for a young Wayne Gretzky at his first NHL All-Star game, teaming up with childhood hero, Gordie Howe, skating in his final mid-season classic.
Like Lidstrom, Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne have been dazzling hockey fans for the past two decades. How much gas is left in their respective tanks?
Right up until his final NHL contest, Saint Nick remained a fantasy beast, scoring his first career hat trick after the age of 40, and notching his fourth highest single season goal output in 2010-2011. His points per game ratio last season was still good for 40+ points- pro-rated to 82 games, something he’s only once failed to do in his 21 year storied career, despite diminishing TOI levels.
Because of his unwillingness to allow the sands of time to usher him into an inevitable decline, Lidstrom perennially made partnering d-men jump at the notion of lining up aside him, most recently his final understudy, Ian White. He perhaps single-handedly converted White from a middling waiver wire pick up in standard roto & head to head leagues into a relatively hot commodity. White was a +18 through his six year journeyman career, while last season, alongside Lidstrom, was a +27, leading the entire NHL for long stretches. Now sure, you can argue that White played with a much stronger supporting cast in Motown than he ever had before, thus Nicklas couldn’t possibly take all the credit. However, during Lidstrom’s four weeks on the sidelines in March (the first time he had missed more than 6 games in a season mind), Ian was a minus-4, dropping from first to 20th in the plus/minus leaders in short order. Expect White’s numbers to drop from his career high levels this season, regardless of whatever added ice time he may be afforded.
As for Nicklas himself, his on ice-efficiency had, in fact improved, from his silverware winning 2010-11 season rating of minus-2 to a current +25; good for his seventh highest ever total. That of course has been accomplished against the league’s top lines. In the bigger picture Lidstrom was the run-away active career leader in plus/minus with a +450 lifetime rating and a +61 in the playoffs. Second place on that active leader list you ask? Well that would be none other than Czech legend, Jaromir Jagr....A full +170 behind.
However, one could only be optimistic that the current NHL labour wars don’t force the hand into retirement of two other living legend contemporaries of Lidstroms: Teemu Selanne and the aforementioned Jaromir Jagr. The 2004-05 lockout famously produced such casualties as aging veterans Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens, and more. Then there’s also the possibility that a potential full season lost for aging veterans who refrained from retirement, are away from the game too long to return to their accustomed levels, a la Brett Hull. Thus here’s to hoping that a similar fate isn’t in store for these two iconic greybeards from the 1990s.
It goes without saying that Teemu "The Finnish Flash" Selanne is unanimously considered to be one of the classiest players to grace the NHL ranks in history. What he has done and continues to do as he delves further along the wrong side of 40 is downright stunning. Not just in terms of accumulated quantitative stats, but the fact that he's been able to it with marginal ice time. His TOI of 17:52 in the 2011-12 campaign was three minutes less per game than first line stalwarts and Olympians Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Yet Teemu still managed to lead the Ducks in scoring. The first 40+ year old not named Gordie Howe to lead his team in scoring.
The recent surpassing of childhood hero Jari Kurri as the highest scoring Finnish skater of all time was just the latest of an impressive numberof career achievement milestones for Teemu. Frankly, If Teemu was Wayne Gretzky's linemate in both of their primes for a full decade, in the highest scoring, worst defending, arguably weakest goaltending era in history, Teemu likely could have easily eclipsed Jari Kurri's 72 goal season (seeing as how he already had the infamous 76 a decade later). Moreover, even Gretzky's all-time mark of 92 goals would be in jeopardy if at his apex of his powers Gretzky, himself, was the one feeding an in-his-prime-Teemu---for a decade, as he did for Jari during the Oilers heyday.
Teemu, in my books, has already established himself as the best over 35 old player who ever lived. Put this into perspective… At 36 years of age, he scored 48 goals in 82 games, plus another successful playoff run, collecting 15 points en route to winning his elusive championship. Even the Great one himself only potted a mere 25 goals in as many games when he was 36—in a higher scoring era to boot! Moreover, at 38 years old in Wayne's final season, he managed a measly (by his humble standards) nine goals and 53 points in 70 games. Meanwhile Teemu, at 38, had 27 goals & 54 points, besting Gretz by 1.....in five less games.
Like fine wine, Selanne seemingly has only improved with age, ever since he used the last lockout to rejuvenated himself and rise back from mediocrity. The next season, at 39, Teemu matched his 27 markers from the previous year......in only 54 games. Pro-rate that over 82, and voila – a 40 goal pace! Then of course in 2010-2011, he netted 31 goals and a neat 80 points at 40 years old. Amazingly, despite all of his accomplishments, after the age of 31, Wayne Gretzky only had one more 30 goal season left in him, with 38 in 93-94-- in an era when 25 guys were hitting 100 pts and goaltenders were winning the Vezina with a 3.10 GAA.
Fast Forward to the present, and the Finnish Flash still came close to yet another 30 goal pace at age 41. He became the oldest player to net 20 goals in a season since Johnny Bucyk did the trick for the Boston Bruins in 1976-77. Moreover, Yahoo Fantasy Sports still has him pegged as the 34th highest ranked player, and had him in the top 25 to finish the season. It would be an absolute travesty for Anaheim’s reining scoring champ not to extend his career beyond the lockout while still producing at these insane levels.
Mr. Jaromir Jagr joined the 40 year old club last season. However, number 68 spent a significant chunk of his productive playing days outside of the NHL, limiting his ability to really soar up the all-time NHL record books. Take into consideration his three prime years while in Russia (where he should have been good for 200 points, conservatively, given his production rates at the time) Then consider the time lost to the 04-05 lockout, where he was still in his prime (dominated first season in the cap era with 54 goals and 123 points) and finally his current spell in the Czech Extraliga. Even so, despite all of this missed potential to rack up further NHL production, Jagr is still sitting pretty on the all-time scoring list in eighth place, behind his former dynamic duo partner, Super Mario.
In all likelihood, Jagr would have easily notched the 234 points necessary over those four lost seasons and the current lockout, and he would have then been in sole possession of second place all-time, behind only Wayne himself. After playing at a 60+ point pace last season, Jaromir too should definitely not consider hanging up the skates just yet. All in all, these two gentlemen are living legends and should produce excellent theatre for us fans and poolies alike as they (hopefully) continue to chase down more major milestones.
Thankfully, I believe they both will.