Youth and speed dominate the NHL today, but we must not overlook some veterans who could have a major impact on the 2008-09 season.
I have compiled a list of the ten veterans who could play major roles for their teams in the regular season—and the 2009 postseason:
After missing 38 games last season with injury, and a long offseason of speculation about his possible retirement, Colorado's greatest forward has returned for a twentieth season in the NHL.
Sakic still has the talent to post 80 to 100 points in this league, but the real question is if his body be able to stand up to the grind of a full NHL season. If Joe Sakic is in the Avalanche lineup, then they will be a playoff contender—and my guess would be that he will get them to back to the playoffs in possibly his final season.
Teemu Selanne held the Anaheim Ducks hostage last season with his uncertainity over whether or not he wanted to play in the NHL anymore. But this season, the Ducks will have one of their best snipers back for the entire campaign.
Selanne is still a point per game player in the NHL and will be a major reason the Ducks can make a run at the Stanley Cup once again. In the seasons immediately following the lockout, Selanne's numbers went up dramatically—90 points in '05-06 and 94 points in '06-07. With him back for a whole season, look for him to return to his old scoring ways.
Probably the most-decorated defenseman in NHL history—and this season is unlikely to be different. The Red Wings are again stacked and poised to make another run at the Stanley Cup, and they will be led by his great defensive skills. Lidstrom should be looking to add another Norris Trophy to his collection—and that scares me, as a Blackhawks fan.
The Ducks' captain returns for another tour of duty with the team he lead to a Stanley Cup just two years ago. Niedermayer, along with Chris Pronger, makes up one of the strongest defensive units in the history of the NHL, and this season he will be the key to the Ducks playoff hopes.
Niedermayer has been a rock for the Ducks' defense since he joined them in 2005. Look for his great defensive play to continue, and for him to compete for another Norris Trophy.
What is it with 38-year-old defensemen being Norris Trophy candidates? Sergei Zubov will lead an elite unit in Dallas and should again compete for the Norris Trophy.
Zubov is a good puck-mover, and possibly one of the greatest offensive defensemen of all time. With the high-powered offense that the Stars operate, Zubov could once again post a plus-20 rating and collect more than 40 points.
Rolston has returned to his old stomping grounds in New Jersey to help improve the Devils' power play with his heavy slap shot. Over the last three seasons, Rolston has posted double-digit power-play goals in Minnesota, and will continue that trend in New Jersey this season, playing the point on the first unit.
Naslund's impact in New York is already apparent, with four points in his first five games. But Naslund brings more than just point production to the Rangers. He also brings leadership—which I believe will be much more important to the Rangers, because they can score points. Naslund will score 70 points, but his effect on the locker room will be much more significant.
Here is the one player on this list whose team who will probably not be making the playoffs this season. Jason Blake will be needed to help the Leafs' youngsters adjust to the NHL, and be the leader in the Toronto locker room.
Blake has always been a hard worker, and if he can pass that on to the next generation of Leaf players, then he will have made a huge impact.
When Mike Modano is your third-line center, you know you have depth. Modano, who has been the face of the Stars franchise since their Minnesota days, will see his production fall off. Even though his points might drop below 50, he will help mentor linemate James Neal, who is new the NHL.
Lang was one of the leading scorers for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, but with the Blackhawks strapped for cash they had to deal him and his $4 million salary to Montreal.
Lang has been a very consistent second-line center who will net 50 to 60 points per season—and don't think that will change this year. There is more talent around him this season in Montreal, and his point production should reap the benefits.
Youth is important in this league, but teams need veteran leadership. This group of ten is just a small cross-section of the veterans in the NHL—but as you can see from this group, many teams must depend on their elder statesmen to make it into the NHL playoffs.