In a league that is getting younger by the day, I think it's time we recognize the talent that players at or over the age of 35 can still offer.
The National Hockey League's (NHL) veterans seem to already be in the forgotten past, as names like Nick Lidstrom, Teemu Selanne and Martin Brodeur are slowly being replaced by names like Drew Doughty, Sidney Crosby and James Reimer (sorry, Leafs fan bias), and rightfully so.
The young names of today's game are growing and dare I say it, making the game even more exciting than before. However, forgetting all the old names the NHL still has to offer until their Hall of Fame inductions years down is a crime, as they are just as vital to this league as anybody.
They are the pioneers of the current NHL era that the young names have grown up watching.
So, before we watch all the young, upcoming superstars lead the NHL into a new era, let's take a look at the best has to offer in terms of players aged 35 and up, because I can guarantee you these old "bags" can still teach the young a thing or two on the ice.
No, not your ideal No. 1 center, but Saku Koivu is still just as capable as anyone.
The Finnish-product has played second fiddle to Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim since his arrival in California and hasn't disappointed, having averaged nearly 50 points a year in his two years of service with the Ducks. He's shown he's still got the offensive flare in him that saw him attain so much success as Montreal's go-to man.
On top of his still potent offense, Koivu is still one of the best two-way forwards in the league, being league-wide known as a faceoff specialist, and premier shutdown defender. Koivu was counted on heavily to run Anaheim's penalty-killing units.
Now, 50-55 points may not cut it as an elite top line pivot, but when your center can play defense at an elite level on top of the respectable offensive numbers, you have yourself a very reliable, capable top line centerman.
One of the few "young" players on the team, Shane Doan will turn 35 this upcoming season.
The Canadian-winger has provides an eerily similar game to that of Koivu's good-but-not-great offensive numbers, with a very reliable defensive game that allows him to see time on both special teams.
The two-way winger can do it all for your team—he can go fish the puck out of the corner, create scoring chances by himself by driving to the net or just be a relentless agitator in the crease, trying to disrupt the goaltender's play. He can always be counted on to backcheck, can lay the big hit and can shut down the opposing team's top players.
And to think Doan has been doing all this for Phoenix with no real No. 1 center for so many years, imagine what the outcome could be with someone of Koivu's ilk at his side during an 82-game season. I'm drooling!
I was tempted to once again unite Teemu Selanne with Saku Koivu again, but Martin St. Louis' resume was just too impressive.
The smallish winger (by NHL standards) has defied the odds of standing just 5'8", having been the NHL's scoring champion before, the league's MVP, a Stanley Cup Champion and a two-time winner of the Lady Byng award among other notable achievements.
The offensive winger is an offensive catalyst, creating many scoring plays with his slick playmaking skills and smooth, speedy and sneaky skating ability. The winger has averaged 50-plus assists in each of the least five seasons, to go with an average of roughly 87 points, too.
A bonus to St. Louis' talents, he can bury the puck as well, having averaged nearly 31 goals since the lockout.
Martin is no slouch defensively, too, as he possesses a plus-19 rating averaged out over his career. Though the winger is more known for his elite offensive abilities, he can still be put on the ice up a goal with a minute to go, he's very shifty and quick on his feet, which allows him to place great pressure on the offense.
Perhaps the only true top-three forward on this team's first line, St. Louis' 90-100 point ability along with being respectable offensively will be very welcome on this veteran team.
Chris Pronger, the most hated player in the league...if you aren't on his team.
Pronger, a veteran of 17 NHL seasons, is still among the best in his category and is still known as an offensive and defensive dynamo from the back end.
The towering defenseman can quarterback a power play like no other, with confident demeanor and unmatchable puck-handling skills. He can score on the power play, with a booming shot that can reach upwards of 100 miles an hour.
The defenseman can also be noted as the root of many five-on-five offensive plays for his team as well, as he is a great rusher and passer, and has great vision on the ice.
He's also one of the best defensive defenseman in the league too, as his 6'6" frame is often used to his advantage in muscling the puck from opposing players in the corners and fighting off forecheckers from the other team. He also hits hard and presents a physical dimension to his game that instills fear into the other team's players, so much that it makes them think twice about going into the corner to fetch the puck next time around.
Nick Lidstrom—the inspiration of this article.
The 40-year-old warrior is still the best offensive defenseman in the league and is still quietly the most consistent defensive defenseman, too.
The Swede can do it all.
He can run a power play (maybe even better than Pronger), has slick passing and rushing skills, can shoot the puck with great precision and aim and is often the catalyst of the offensive scheme in Detroit.
He has a very boxed-out defensive game, too, as he pushes forwards to the outside and the corners in order to gain position on incoming forwards to retrieve the puck and keep scoring chances at a minimum.
To put it in perspective, last season at age 40, he scored 62 points with only a minus-two rating after averaging close to 20-25 minutes a night, depending on the night.
He's a leader, a scorer, a passer and heck of a defender, and is still one of—if not the—best defenseman in the NHL.
Would you expect any different?
Tim Thomas has only played six NHL seasons, his first at age 33, and has only had four seasons being the No. 1 guy in Boston. In those four seasons of goaltending superiority, he has a Stanley Cup ring, two Vezina Trophies and a Conn Smythe Trophy. He is only the second goalie to win the Smythe Cup and Vezina in one year, and he's smashed the goaltending save percentage record in a single season.
Take all that in.
If you pace that over a 15-year career that most successful goaltenders have, times everything I mentioned by three, then stand in awe of what Thomas could have been had he been given a chance earlier.
The goaltender is not your prototypical standup, butterfly, or even hybrid for that matter type of goaltender. He employs a style eerily similar to that of Dominik Hasek's, often relying on pure athleticism, quickness and reflexes, to go along with a little desperation, to stop the circular, black piece of rubber.
If you watch one game with Thomas in net, you'll see he has no structure, no predictable style of stopping the puck; he just does whatever it takes to keep it out of the net and goes by his books, not by the public's book of goaltending.
And whether we think his style of that of a goaltender or not, he's still stopping pucks, and he has hardware and stats to prove it, and for that, we have to respect him. He has earned being the best 35 and over goaltender. In fact, he may even be the best goalie in the league, of all ages, but that's a debate for a different day.
I thought I'd include what I see as the second, third and fourth lines, as well as the backup 'tender for the 35 and up team. The teams obviously mixed great leadership and poise with hard work and skill to create a team that could compete just as well as a 25 and under team could. Here it is:
Mikael Samuelsson - Chris Drury - Teemu Selanne
Lubomir Vishnovsky - Kimmo Timonen
Ryan Smyth - Jason Arnott - Daniel Alfredsson
Dan Boyle - Mattias Ohlund
Ian Laperriere - Mike Modano - Patrik Elias
Mikka Kiprusoff - Martin Brodeur (3rd Stringer, let the Devils' fans go crazy)