It’s a young man’s league.
Is it an NHL cliche on par with “get pucks deep?” Of course not. Nothing can be. But we hear it a lot, and we hear it for a reason: It’s true.
It’s mainly true, at least. The game, by and large, belongs to 24-year-olds. Everything we know about aging curves and statistical primes suggests as much. Still, there’s a lot of good to be found in the games of the ancients who’ve walked with us since time immemorial. The grand old men of hockey. The guys who were born in … 1990. 1987. My goodness, 1983.
They deserve respect. They deserve tribute. These are the 30 best players older than 30 (on opening night).
The list was assembled based on a simple prompt: Who would you rather have for the 2021-22 season? Before we open the box, it’s worth noting that last season, 55 players who were 30 years old by Jan. 31 scored at least .5 points per game. Of the 913 skaters that took a shift, 196 fit the bill. There might be more good ??old?? guys than you think. These are the best of the best.
BONUS: Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks C
Contract: Two remaining years, $10.5 million AAV
The fact that we can even consider Toews for this a treat. You know the story by now; he sat out last season with what his doctors found to be Chronic Immune Response Syndrome, triggered by nagging health issues and COVID-19. It left him physically and emotionally spent. Now he’s back, a mix of himself and a work in progress. The difference between his public perception and his on-ice production has always been fascinating. Where that goes this season is anyone’s guess — but I’d rather bet on him than against him.
This season’s concern: Should be clear.
GSVA projection: 1.88
30. Mattias Ekholm, Predators D
Contract: One remaining year, $3.75 million AAV
One of last season’s trade-deadline surprises was that the Preds hung on to Ekholm, a rock-solid two-way defenseman on an outstanding contract. The demand was high, and the Preds — early on, at least — were awful. Nothing happened, and now Ekholm could wind up with Nashville long term. He’s ridden shotgun for much of his career between Roman Josi, Shea Weber, P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis, but his size, consistency and durability make him a good bet for this season and a while longer. Just don’t expect him to come cheap.
This season’s concern: A new partner (Phillippe Myers), plus a possible PDO regression; Ekholm was on the ice for a disproportionate percentage of goals, especially in the second half of the season.
GSVA projection: 1.43
29. Ryan McDonagh, Lightning D
Contract: Five remaining years, $6.75 million AAV
McDonagh has had a quietly fascinating career. He was almost too good too early with the Rangers; it felt like a Norris Trophy was a matter of when, not if. That didn’t quite happen, and there was a bit of a downturn after the Rangers sent him to Tampa. The last two years, though, have been proof that he didn’t peak too early. McDonagh and Erik Cernak have been the match-up pair on two consecutive Stanley Cup champions. That’s part of the fun of watching careers unfold; McDonagh isn’t a prodigy anymore — just an invaluable piece of a potential dynasty.
This season’s concern: McDonagh has already bounced back once from what felt like the beginning of the end, and he’s coming off two long postseasons. Plus, we’ll assume he has the Olympics to worry about.
GSVA projection: 1.24
28. Torey Krug, Blues D
Contract: Six remaining years, $6.5 million AAV
The first year in St. Louis didn’t quite go according to plan for Krug — but it was unfair (and unwise) to treat him as an Alex Pietrangelo replacement in the first place. We’ll talk about that more later. Krug, on the other hand, is what he is; a terrific power-play presence who, partially due to his size, needs to be quasi-sheltered in his minutes. There are no Zdeno Chara bailouts in St. Louis. Still, a full year in his new system, plus the value he’s always going to bring to the man advantage, make him a risk worth taking. For now.
This season’s concern: That we learn once and for all that Krug, at least in part, was a creation of the role he played in Boston — even with adjusted expectations.
GSVA projection: 1.79
27. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins C
Contract: One remaining year, $9.5 million AAV
Putting Malkin in this list at all — remember, we’re only talking about this season — is a leap of faith. It’s not because of Malkin’s brutal start in 2020-21, either; that was more a function of the pandemic offseason than the aging curve. It’s because of his knee injury. Damage to multiple ligaments at 35 is no joke, and the best-case scenario involves him missing “at least” two months. The worst case is … well, worse, and it changes the calculus considerably. How he looks when he returns is a very open (and very fair) question.
This season’s concern: That he returns sometime around the holidays, needs considerable time to get back into game shape, gets waylaid by the Olympic break and never looks like himself.
GSVA projection: 2.24