The NHL has slowly been becoming a young man's league for quite some time now. It seems like every year we see a few kids leaving their mark on the game, slowly, but surely pushing the old guard out of the way in the process.
Most of the best players in the world are somewhere in their 20's or early 30's. We've seen massive seasons from guys like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin before they were even allowed to legally grab a drink at a bar with the rest of their teammates during a night off.
Flip on a television set and watch some highlights and you'll see Tyler Seguin dancing through defenders or Phil Kessel sniping from 15 feet out. Sprinkled in with those highlights however, you're likely to see some slick plays from said "old guard."
This year Jaromir Jagr, Daniel Alfredsson, Martin Brodeur and Teemu Selanne are all playing very important roles for their respective teams. What do they all have in common?
They're all over the age of 40.
Which got us to thinking: which players have performed the most brilliantly despite having officially gone "over the hill"?
All statistics appear courtesy of HockeyDB.com unless otherwise noted.
Team: Colorado Avalanche
The 2000-01 season lead to one of the most goosebump-worthy moments in league history. Ray Bourque had spent his entire illustrious career with the Boston Bruins after the team drafted him in 1979. After 21 seasons with the B's, Bourque was closing in on the end of his course, but one thing was missing.
A Stanley Cup ring.
Boston wasn't the powerhouse that it is now back in the early 2000's, and there was almost no chance of Bourque lifting the Cup as a member of the Bruins. So Boston traded him to the Avalanche in March of 2000.
The result was an outstanding 59-point season for Bourque at the age of 40. Colorado won the Stanley Cup that year, and one of the greatest defensemen ever got to retire while on top of the mountain.
Team: Hartford Whalers
We tried to avoid using multiple seasons for the same player, but it's impossible to leave the 1979-80 season off of this list. Mostly because Gordie Howe wasn't just over 40—he was over 50.
After six seasons with the WHA, Howe came back to the NHL for one final year. He wasn't just along for the ride though. He racked up 15 goals and 26 assists while appearing in 80 games. At 51! he only missed two games.
Team: New York Rangers
In 2000-01, the New York Rangers were still struggling to make it back to the playoffs after failing to make the cut for four consecutive seasons. Along for that ride of irrelevancy was Mark Messier, and his level of play was anything but.
Despite the Blueshirts finishing with a 33-43-5-1 record, Messier still found a way to be effective despite his age.
He finished fifth in team scoring with 67 points, and posted the final 20-goal season of a career that spanned more than 1,700 games. Only Gordie Howe played more hockey than Messier, and he'd go on to play three more seasons before finally retiring after the 2003-04 campaign.
Team: Boston Bruins
Nearly everyone on this list played their best season after 40 right at the cutoff. Mark Recchi was truly an ageless wonder toward the end of his lengthy career though. At the age of 42, Recchi was still an incredibly valuable locker room presence that had a "been there, done that" attitude that few in the history of the league could match.
While the 2008-09 season was more statisticaly impressive for Recchi (61 points as a 40-year-old), 2010-11 is likely more special to him.
He aided the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup that year, and Recchi scored 14 points in 25 games during the playoffs to help seal the deal. He was 43 by the time he lifted the Cup for the final time, and he retired with more than 1,600 games on his resume.
Team: Detroit Red Wings
Before Steve Yzerman was known and recognized as the consummate Detroit Red Wing, there was Alex Delvecchio. Both men have their sweater numbers retired by the organization, and both men represented everything that the organization stood for and continues to stand for to this day.
Delvecchio spent his entire 1,550-game career with the Winged Wheel on his chest, and one of his most remarkable seasons came in 1972-73.
Despite playing on a non-playoff team, Delvecchio was nearly a point-per-game player that year. He posted 71 points in 77 games at the age of 40 in what would amount to his final full season in the NHL.
Team: Ottawa Senators
Dominik Hašek won the Stanley Cup in 2007-08, which is a mighty impressive feat for a goaltender that was well beyond 40 by that point. It was Chris Osgood that backstopped that Detroit Red Wings team to the championship though.
Statistically, "The Dominator" took the NHL by storm the year prior as a member of the Ottawa Senators in 2005-06.
In his only season with the club, Hašek posted miraculous numbers despite his age and style of play. Hasek was known for his unorthodox style of play and made an art form out of flailing around and making desperation plays to stop the puck.
In 43 contests with the Sens, Hašek posted a 2.09 GAA and a towering .926 save percentage.
Team: Detroit Red Wings
Being a functional member of a professional hockey team at the age of 40 is impressive in and of itself. If the Detroit Red Wings had been using Nicklas Lidstrom as a second-pairing guy, then maybe his 2010-11 season wouldn't be so impressive.
The Wings were still leaning on No. 5 as heavily as ever though. He averaged more than 23 minutes a night and played in all 82 contests for Detroit according to ESPN.com.
For his efforts on Detroit's blue line, Lidstrom was awarded the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman. Not a bad season for an over-the-hill defender.
Team: Boston Bruins
Johnny Bucyk didn't spend his entire career with the Boston Bruins, but you'll be hard pressed to find a single fan that has him associated with the Detroit Red Wings. Bucyk played 21 seasons for the B's en route to becoming a member of the 500-goal club.
One of his strongest seasons as a Bruin came in 1975-76. Bucyk was 40 at that point, but that didn't prevent him from racking up an outstanding point total. With 83 points in 77 games, "Chief" has his third-best NHL season just two years before retiring.
Team: Anaheim Ducks
The only active player to have a season make this list, Teemu Selanne seemed to find another gear after his 40th birthday. In 2010-11, he finished ahead of young pups like Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan to finish second in team scoring.
Selanne scored more than 30 goals for the eighth time in his career, and three years after the last time he'd broken that barrier in 2006-07.
80 points after 40 is one of the most remarkable campaigns by an over-the-hill player in the history of the league. It isn't quite the best though. Not that there's any shame in dropping to the No. 2 spot behind "Mr. Hockey" himself.
Team: Detroit Red Wings
For a long while, the NHL was Gordie Howe's world. The rest of the players were just swinging through to say hello. Aside from Wayne Gretzky, it's arguable that Howe was the most outstanding player to ever lace up a pair of skates.
The 1968-69 season may be the most staggering piece of evidence for "Mr. Hockey." Howe didn't just play that year—he dominated.
Despite the Detroit Red Wings finishing outside of the playoffs with a 33-31-12 record, Howe still managed a staggering 103 points. 44 goals, 59 assists and 58 PIMs. While this wasn't even close to the twilight of his magnificent career, the NHL has never seen a season from a 40-year-old quite like Howe's 1968-69 campaign.
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