The elimination of the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche from the Stanley Cup playoffs raises questions about potential roster changes for both clubs in the off-season.
The biggest questions involve the futures of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan, once great stars now in the twilight of their respective careers.
It was a long season for these four, one that won’t be amongst their fondest memories.
Sakic, 38, missed half the 2007-08 season due to hernia surgery and finished with a career-low 40 points in 44 games.
Forsberg, 34, missed all but nine games as he struggled to rehabilitate a nagging foot and ankle problem; he finished with 14 points.
Jagr, 36, played all 82 games, but had the lowest production since his 1990-91 rookie season, with 71 points.
Shanahan, 39, played 73 games this season and scored more than 20 goals for the 19th time in his career, but also finished with the lowest point total (46) since his rookie season 20 years ago.
As a result, the “R” word – retirement – has been frequently linked with their names and will likely dog them during the summer.
Forsberg might not have a choice, for while he’s gamely attempted to keep his playing career alive over the past two seasons it’s been painfully obvious the years of punishment he’s absorbed in his 13-year NHL career have taken an irreversible toll.
Forsberg still has the desire, skill and determination that made him an international hockey superstar, but his battered body can no longer withstand the rigors of an NHL season.
Even if he still believes he can stage a comeback it won’t be with the Avalanche, as it’s believed they won’t re-sign him. Given his injury history he could find the number of potential NHL suitors will dwindle significantly since when his services were pursued so persistently this season.
Sakic has decided to take some time during the summer to rest and evaluate if his aging body can handle another season with the Avalanche.
Ignore those silly Internet rumors of his signing elsewhere. Avalanche GM Francois Giguere stated in his playoff post-mortem press conference Sakic would be welcomed back with open arms. The long-time Avalanche captain has no desire to play anywhere else.
It’s been suggested Sakic hopes to play two more seasons to give him an opportunity to captain Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but if he feels he can no longer play at a high level he’ll likely pass on that dream.
While it’s possible this could’ve been his last year in the NHL, don’t be surprised if Sakic opts to return for one more season.
Shanahan is an unrestricted free agent this summer and it’s looking doubtful the Rangers will bring him back.
His leadership, experience and physical style were invaluable to the Blueshirts, but given his decline in production it appears age may be catching up with him.
It could be argued, however, the Rangers’ increased emphasis on defense this season could account for the drop in his numbers. If Shanahan decides to test the market he’ll likely attract considerable interest, although at this stage in his career he’d have to accept considerably less than the $5.3 million per season he earned with the Rangers.
That, of course, depends on whether or not “Shanny” wants to play elsewhere should the Rangers pass on him. When he signed with New York two years ago, Shanahan hinted it could be his final NHL destination, so it remains to be seen if he’ll still feel that way this summer.
As for Jagr, his future appears the murkiest of the four.
He’s now eligible for unrestricted free agency, having failed to attain the incentive clauses in the final year of his contract that would’ve triggered an automatic one-year extension with the Rangers.
New York GM Glen Sather has repeatedly stated since January his intent to re-sign Jagr, who has previously hinted he’d rather play for the Rangers than any other NHL club. The fact the Rangers will open next season in Jagr’s home country of the Czech Republic could also be a strong incentive for his return.
However, rumors sprung up in recent months of Jagr being courted by Russian club Avangard Omsk, the team Jagr played with during the 2004-05 lockout. There has also been the inevitable retirement speculation.
Jagr claimed late in the season he’s already made up his mind for next year, but his refusal to divulge those plans is only further stokes speculation about his future.
He was the healthiest of the four this season and had a strong post-season, which would certainly make him an attractive player in this summer’s UFA market. Some NHL teams may be willing to gamble that his declining offensive numbers were due more to the Rangers system than age.
It’s possible all four could return to action next season, but it’s apparent they cannot avoid retirement for much longer.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.