Will the 15 Best 'Old Men' in the NHL Return After the Lockout?

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2012

Will the 15 Best 'Old Men' in the NHL Return After the Lockout?

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    The lockout will keep fans from seeing the NHL product for days, weeks or months, perhaps a full season or more.

    While that is an awful prospect, the relationship between the league and the NHL Players' Association is the worst labor relationship in all of sports.

    Past labor disputes have been quite lengthy, with the last one costing the sport the 2004-05 season.

    Both sides tend to dig in and hold their breath for as long as they can.

    They want to make their point.

    But at some point, the labor dispute will come to an end and the game will return.

    However, not all players will be back.

    The clock continues to tick and the aging process does not stop, not even for hockey players. Some of the oldest men in the NHL will have decisions to make. The best of the oldest players may find that the flesh may no longer be so willing when the dispute ends and they may have to give up the game.

    Here's our take on 15 of the best "old men" in the NHL and if they will return when the lockout ends.

Jaromir Jagr

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    Jaromir Jagr, 40, is not planning to retire anytime soon. He returned to the NHL last year after playing in the KHL and put in a year with the Philadelphia Flyers.

    During the offseason, Jagr could have opted for retirement, but he signed a free-agent deal with the Dallas Stars. Jagr still has the immense skill set to be a key performer on his new team. He may have lost a step, but he can still influence games by making key plays at big moments.

    If the lockout goes more than a year, Jagr may just decide to play in the KHL permanently, but it seems unlikely he is just planning to hang them up.

Teemu Selanne

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    Teemu Selanne, 42, is the oldest player on this list.

    He cannot go on forever. However, unless the lockout lasts a year or longer, expect him to return to the Anaheim Ducks.

    Selanne remains a productive player and has been quite durable throughout his career. He also loves playing and gets a tremendous kick from playing the game and scoring goals.

    Selanne knows how to find openings in the defense thanks to his outstanding instincts, and he's still an outstanding finisher. He scored 26 goals and 40 assists last year and is not done yet.

Daniel Alfredsson

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    Unless the work stoppage comes to an end shortly, the Ottawa Senators may have to say goodbye to Daniel Alfredsson.

    The 39-year-old Alfredsson was exhausted at the end of the 2011-12 season and hinted around at retirement. "It's been a great year, but it's been a long year physically and mentally," Alfredsson told CBC.ca.

    Alfredsson has four young sons and has said it's tough to leave for training camp and then go on with the season. However, his sons love seeing their dad and his teammates in the locker room.

    If there is more than a half-season lost to the lockout, expect the Senators to have a retirement ceremony for Alfredsson.

Ray Whitney

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    Ray Whitney, 40, had a 77-point season with the Phoenix Coyotes last season and played a key role in their postseason performance.

    The Coyotes won two playoff series last spring before being eliminated in the Western Conference Finals by the Los Angeles Kings.

    Whitney is known for his soft hands that allow him to put the puck in the upper corner and make tape-to-tape passes to his teammates. Despite his age, he still skates with speed and has decent acceleration.

    Whitney wants to play and will almost certainly be back after signing a free-agent contract with the Dallas Stars in July.

Martin Brodeur

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    Martin Brodeur, 40, is arguably the best goalie in NHL history.

    However, even though he had a solid performance in last year's postseason and played a key role in getting the New Jersey Devils to the NHL Finals against the Los Angeles Kings, he is not as effective as he was in his prime.

    Brodeur is expected to get back to hockey once the lockout ends. He was a free agent during the offseason and publicly considered improving his contract status before deciding to remain with the Devils.

Chris Pronger

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    It seems unlikely that Chris Pronger will ever skate again in the NHL.

    However, due to his contractual status, Pronger, 37, is not likely to announce his retirement.

    Pronger was injured last year and on Dec. 15, 2011, Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren said Pronger would not play any more during the season as a result of "concussion-like" symptoms.

    While there was a recent report of some improvement in his overall condition, there is no talk of him being strong enough to think about returning to the game.

    Philly.com's Frank Seravalli predicted that Pronger will not play again. Seravalli said that the team is better off leaving Pronger on the injury list where they can take an exception to his salary cap hit rather than just absorb the loss.

    Pronger may not officially retire, but he probably won't play in the NHL again.

Jason Arnott

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    Jason Arnott, 37, is a free agent who has not signed a contract in the offseason.

    He played with the St. Louis Blues last season and scored 17 goals. He has not scored 20 goals or more in a season since the 2008-09 season.

    At his peak, Arnott was a gritty and skilled forward who could score goals at the most important moments. He still has the fire and grit, but his skill level has diminished.

    Arnott is the kind of player who will want to go out on his own terms. Look for him to take the best deal he can get when the lockout ends, give it his best effort and then determine that he can contribute or he's not good enough.

    He's a prideful man who will want to make his own decision.

Mike Knuble

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    Mike Knuble, 40, is a hard-working player who has been quite productive during the latter years of his career.

    He scored 109 goals from 2007-08 through 2010-11. Last year he scored six goals even though he played 72 games.

    That's usually a classic sign that a player is done and his career is over.

    However, the atmosphere in Washington was not positive for him and perhaps in another uniform he might be resurgent.

    Still, the lockout could accelerate the end-of-career process for Knuble. He may want to give it a try for one more year, but it seems unlikely he will get a decent opportunity.

Brian Rolston

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    Like his former teammate Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston, 39, suffered a significant downturn in his productivity in the last two seasons.

    He was languishing with the New York Islanders until the Boston Bruins acquired him prior to the trade deadline last year.

    Rolston did not put huge numbers on the board for the Bruins, but he skated well and contributed. He can still play.

    However, his opportunities may be limited and Rolston could use the lockout as a time to take a strong assessment of his career and say goodbye to the NHL.

Tomas Holmstrom

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    Tomas Holmstrom, 39, is a big man who knows how to make his presence felt by going to the front of the net and creating screens, jumping on rebounds and deflecting shots on goal.

    While he is not a dominant scorer after netting 11 goals last year and 18 the year before, he is still an effective player and the Wings will be a better team with him than they would be without him.

    If the lockout does not last more than a year, expect Holmstrom to be back with the Detroit Red Wings.

Andrew Brunette

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    Andrew Brunette, 39, signed with the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 2011-12 season because he thought the Blackhawks would be prime Stanley Cup contenders.

    The Blackhawks had a fitful, up-and-down year and they lost in the first round of the playoffs.

    Brunette was not a major player for the Blackhawks and he finished the season with 12 goals and 15 assists.

    Once the season ended, Brunette told the Chicago Sun-Times that he did not think he would be back in Chicago and that he was contemplating retirement. The lockout will speed up that process for him and he has likely played his last NHL game.

Nikolai Khabibulin

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    Nikolai Khabibulin, 39, has not been the goalie the Edmonton Oilers expected. During the past three years, he has shown little of the consistency that made him one of the top goalies in the league prior to the 2009-10 season.

    Khabibulin is likely to either play in the KHL or retire if there is a lengthy lockout. The Edmonton Oilers are not likely to miss him because he is no longer a dominant goalie like he was in 2004 when he backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to their only Stanley Cup.

Sergei Gonchar

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    Sergei Gonchar, 38, has been one of the most talented offensive defensemen throughout his NHL career.

    He had a career-high 26 goals in 2001-02, but it has been a long time since he was that dominant. Gonchar scored seven goals in the 2010-11 season and he followed that with a 5-goal season last year.

    Gonchar still has offensive skills, but with a lockout of any significant length, look for him to retire or play in the KHL.

Saku Koivu

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    There was quite a bit of speculation that Saku Koivu, 37, would retire before he signed a two-year contract with the Anaheim Ducks in 2010, but he played two more seasons.

    While his numbers were not explosive, he made a contribution to the organization with 26 goals and 57 assists over the two seasons.

    Koivu is a hard-working player who has been through a lot in his career, but a long lockout will likely mean the end of the line for one of the most underrated players in hockey history.

Tim Thomas

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    Tim Thomas, 38, shocked the hockey world when he said he was taking a one-year sabbatical from the Boston Bruins and would not play the 2012-13 season.

    Thomas was only one year removed from leading the Bruins to the Stanley Cup and seemingly had more great hockey in his system.

    Thomas did not retire. He did not offer any promises that he would return after the 2012-13 season, but he left the possibility open.

    While it seems the Boston Bruins are committed to goalie Tuukka Rask for the future, the guess here is that Thomas will be back at some point and return to the NHL. He will find another home, but probably not with the Bruins.