Long-term contracts are signed in every sport so teams can keep their star athletes until they have officially “lost a step”. In every sport that time comes at different stages in a player’s career. In baseball a pitcher can play effectively into his 40s while a running back in the NFL might be done at 30.
Despite being told “you’re too old” or “you’re no longer the star you once were”, players often will not agree and tend to play for years beyond their prime.
For the NHL how long is too long? If you ask Chris Chelios you might find out 45 is a good age to call it quits. You would probably get similar answers from Mark Messier or Wayne Gretzky. How old was Gordie Howe when he finally retired? 75?
Today the NHL has many players in their 40’s or close and still making solid contributions to their teams. Nicklas Lidstrom is still considered a top defenseman who puts up excellent plus/minus ratings and points year after year. Pushing 40, Mike Modano and Teemu Selanne are still offensive threats who continue to play each season when everyone thought they might retire.
One team that seems to collect these older players on their way to retirement is the New York Rangers. The list of star players who came to the Rangers only moments before retirement can be a long one but some of the key names include:
- Wayne Gretzky
- Jari Kurri
- Pavel Bure
- Jaromir Jagr
- Theo Fleury
- Brendan Shanahan
All of these players made huge names for themselves before joining the Rangers late in their careers. Although New York was not the last stop for some of them, it was where they really began to see their talents dwindling. Ten years from now will we see a 37-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk added to this list? Maybe by then the Rangers won’t be in the market for an aging talent who won’t hang up his skates.
For now Kovalchuk is definitely in his prime and the Devils have an excellent offensive sniper on their hands that will instantly make them a dangerous team to play but like all snipers age becomes an issue. In the later stages of his contract (should a new one be agreed upon) Kovalchuk might only be worth the $550,000 he is due to earn.