NHL's over-40 players still have it
At 42, Teemu Selanne still has some good days left on the ice.
The NHL's oldest player is leading Anaheim in scoring headed into its game Sunday against Colorado, and the Ducks rank among the best teams in the Western Conference with about a third of the shortened season finished.
On the other side of North America, 40-year-old goaltender Martin Brodeur has aged so gracefully between the pipes that he has been able to help the New Jersey Devils stay near the top of the East.
Nicklas Lidstrom knows what it takes to flourish in your 40s as an NHL player, winning his seventh Norris Trophy in 2011 when he was 41. In his first year of retirement, the former Detroit Red Wings thinks he can explain why the three oldest players in the league — Selanne, Brodeur and Dallas Stars winger Jaromir Jagr — still got it.
“The most important thing is the love the game,” Lidstrom said.
The Finnish Flash, like Lidstrom, could've easily decided to kick back and relax in Europe with his wife and children this season. Selanne, though, feels well enough mentally and physically that his age seems irrelevant to him — until it's time to go home each day.
When Selanne looks at teammate Kyle Palmieri, he tries to ignore the fact that he's old enough to be the 22-year-old winger's father.
“And, that's why I love this game,” Selanne said with a smile. “When we're in the locker room, I think we're all on the same level. When you leave, obviously you have different habits and lifestyles.”
While 20- and 30-something NHL players may go to bars for some beers after games on the road, an older guy might opt to hit the sheets with a glass of water at the team hotel.
“When you're younger, you don't understand all the good habits,” Selanne said. “Then, you start realizing how important it is to rest, to get massage and to stretch. It's all about knowing your body and how you stay energized.
“The older you get, the recovery time is the hardest thing. You fight to get the energy back on a daily basis.”
Palmieri said Selanne inspires teammates each day.
“Even in the shortened and condensed season, he's one of the first guys on the ice and among the last off it and our whole team feeds off his energy,” Palmieri said. “His passion and love of the game is incredible.
“It's not work, or a job for him. He's just having out there having fun. I think he'll play until it's not physically possible.”
Hall of Famer Gordie Howe set an NHL record that may not be broken, playing at the age of 51 during the 1979-80 season with the Hartford Whalers. Chris Chelios hung on as long as he could in the league, lacing up his skates as a 48-year-old defenseman for several games with the Atlanta Thrashers three years ago.
If Lidstrom wanted to keep playing at 42 this season, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland is convinced he would've still been talented and smart enough to be among the NHL's top 10 defenseman.
“The key with all of these guys, whether you're talking about Lidstrom, Selanne, Brodeur or Jagr is that they're some of the best players we've had in the history of the game,” Holland said. “By the time they get to their 40s, they're just coming back to the pack a little bit.”
Brodeur has been able to handle the rigors of being in net by playing in 12 of New Jersey's first 16 games. When he's needed a break, the Devils have turned to his barely younger backup, Johan Hedberg, who turns 40 in May.
“To me, they're young. They act like they're 25,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “They are both incredible athletes and hard workers. They make things easier for me because they're great role models.”
The best way to lead in sports is to produce.
That's what Jagr is doing, leading the Stars in scoring entering their game Thursday night, just past his 41st birthday.
Tampa Bay Lightning star Martin St. Louis is, too. The 37-year-old winger had 22 points in his first 15 games to rank among the league's scoring leaders — most of them were born in the 1990s and 1980s — while winning a mental game with himself.
“I try to block my age out of my mind,” St. Louis said. “If you let that creep into your head, it speeds up the aging process.”