The Pittsburgh Penguins made a move yesterday that flew a bit under the radar, signing center Matt Cullen to a one-year, $800,000 contract.
Cullen, who has played in more than 1,200 games over his career, has been a steady middle of the lineup player throughout his career. Cullen can give the Penguins some veteran depth, so it’s not a terrible signing, but what’s shocking about the deal is that Cullen is inching closer to his 39th birthday.
The Penguins also signed Eric Fehr this off-season, but Fehr, a veteran of 10 NHL seasons, is still 10 years Cullen’s junior. That’s no small age gap. Even still, Cullen barely cracks the five oldest players this season. Here are the NHL’s elder statesmen with contracts for the upcoming season:
10. Shawn Thornton, 38, Florida Panthers
Born July 23, 1977, Thornton is currently the youngest 38-year-old in the NHL, but not by much. Many were surprised when during a summer that many tough guys were heading for AHL jobs or retirement, Thornton landed himself a two-year deal with the Panthers, but the veteran enforcer had shown enough offensive acumen for the Cats to take a shot on him.
This past season in Florida wasn’t a great one for Thornton, however, and this will likely be his last big league deal. In 46 games with the Panthers, Thornton scored one goal and five points and averaged less than 10 minutes per game in ice time. He’s on the books for one final season at $1.2 million.
9. Jarome Iginla, 38, Colorado Avalanche
Throughout the league, July 1 is known as the start of free agency, but for Iginla, it means he’s one year older. Iginla has two years remaining on his current three-year deal in Colorado and it’d be hard to imagine he continues his career after this. It’s not for lack of production, however, as the longtime Calgary Flame notched 29 goals and 59 points in 82 games with the Avalanche this past season.
Iginla has represented Canada at two Olympic tournament and one World Cup of Hockey and it’s fitting that the Canada Day-born winger has been one of the faces of Canadian hockey throughout his career. Whenever he calls it quits, it won’t be long before his No. 12 hangs from the rafters in Calgary.
8. Willie Mitchell, 38, Florida Panthers
Even at 38, Mitchell is getting up there, but he’s still not the oldest of any group: not the oldest in the league, not the oldest captain and not even the oldest on his team.
Mitchell’s best years are far behind him, coming during his four-year stint with the Vancouver Canucks. In the 2008-09 season, he scored three goals and 23 points in 82 games. He left the Canucks just as the club was set to make its first Stanley Cup final run since the 1994 playoffs, but, thankfully, he landed with the Los Angeles Kings, who had some success of their own.
Mitchell won Cups with the Kings in 2011-12 and 2013-14, but his age is starting to show. He missed the entire lockout-shortened 2012-13 season due to injury and just this past season was sidelined for 16 games with an upper body injury. This upcoming season is the final year of his two-year, $8.5 million deal with Florida.
7. Zdeno Chara, 38, Boston Bruins
The ‘Big Z’ isn’t far removed from having his name among the Norris Trophy nominees, but his 2014-15 season was a trying one. There are those in Boston who believe he could be a trade candidate, but with a $6.92 million cap hit, the behemoth defenseman will be hard to move.
For the first time since coming to Boston in 2006-07, Chara missed significant time due to injury, sitting out 13 games this past season due to a knee injury. It slowed Chara down, which hurt his game, and he only managed to muster eight goals and 20 points. The year prior, he had scored 17 goals and 40 points, so the dip in production was noticeable.
Chara is under contract until the 2017-18 season, at which point he’ll be 40.
6. Stephane Robidas, 38, Toronto Maple Leafs
Robidas’ signing by the Maple Leafs was a puzzling one, especially when you factor in it was a three-year, $9 million deal. At the time of the signing, he was 37 and was coming off of a season in which he missed 42 games with a broken leg, but Toronto still went out and acquired the veteran rearguard.
Though they’re much different players, Robidas, like Chara, showed his age in 2014-15. In the 52 games he suited up for, he logged his lowest average ice time since the 2005-06 season and he scored just one goal and seven points in 52 games. This from a defenseman who had potted 10 goals and 41 points just five seasons earlier. It would be surprising if Robidas played out the final days of his career on a Maple Leafs team that will likely be getting younger and faster under coach Mike Babcock and GM Lou Lamoriello.
5. Matt Cullen, 38, Pittsburgh Penguins
Cullen will be 39 on Nov. 2, which will make him more than a decade and one half older than Beau Bennett, who could very well be Cullen’s linemate. There aren’t many linemates who share an age spread quite like that.
The thing about Cullen, though, is he’s never really been a top-flight offensive player and his game has adapted throughout his career. Take this past season, for instance. On a Nashville Predators squad led by young gun Filip Forsberg, Cullen managed seven goals and 25 points in 62 games. At 37, that’s just slightly below his career average for points per game.
Pittsburgh will be Cullen’s eighth NHL team.
4. Shane Doan, 38, Arizona Coyotes
The oldest captain in the NHL, Shane Doan is one of the rarities in today’s NHL as a player who spends his entire career with one franchise. Drafted seventh overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 1995, Doan hasn’t once left the Jets/Coyotes organization, but, surprisingly, the only major statistical category Doan leads in is games played.
That could change by the end of Doan’s career, though. If he scores 12 goals and 33 points in 2015-16, Doan will leap Dale Hawerchuk as the franchise’s leader in goals, assists and points. Already he has the most game-winning tallies, but he can take the power play goals lead if he nets nine with the extra man. His contract is up at the end of this season, however, so he might only have one last shot.
3. Dan Boyle, 39, New York Rangers
It’s shocking that Boyle is still relied upon as heavily as he is when you consider his age. Take Kimmo Timonen, for example, who at 39 was an afterthought on Chicago’s blueline during the playoffs. Boyle, on the other hand, is skating close to 20 minutes per night and still contributing offensively.
Boyle didn’t have the brightest offensive year of his career this past season, but he was still good enough to score nine goals and 20 points in 66 games. And considering Boyle scored three goals and 10 points in 19 playoff outings, it’s hard to imagine the Rangers won’t find a use for him in 2015-16. This is the final year of a two-year, $9 million deal Boyle signed in July 2014. He’s got a Stanley Cup to his name, so there might not be much more reason for him to stay in the league once his deal is through.
2. Patrik Elias, 39, New Jersey Devils
The 2015-16 season has to be the last for Elias, right? The Devils are looking to get younger, longtime New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello is off to Toronto and Elias is coming off of the worst year of his career. Elias can still produce, but he’s set to earn $5.5 million this season and likely won’t produce much more than 30 points. He’s not a cost-effective player for the Devils any longer.
No player better represents the Devils than Elias, though. Drafted by the team in 1994, Elias is the franchise’s all-time leader in goals, assists, points, power play goals, game-winning goals and is second only to Ken Daneyko in games played. It’s worth nothing, however, that if he suits up for 60 games in 2015-16, he’ll be the Devils all-time leader there, too.
It’s hard to imagine Elias doesn’t have some credentials to make a Hall of Fame case. Over his career, the veteran winger has won two Stanley Cups, was a first-team all-star and won an Olympic bronze with the Czech Republic.
1. Jaromir Jagr, 43, Florida Panthers
Every league should be gifted with an ageless wonder like Jagr. Over the years, Jagr has gone from a player who was equally loved and loathed to one who is universally adored for his dedication to the game and his incredible work ethic. Even at 42, he still managed to score 17 goals and 47 points in 2014-15. That’s nothing short of remarkable.
The only other players to suit up at age 42 and outscore Jagr are Mark Recchi (48 points) and Gordie Howe (52), but Howe did it in a much different era. And if Jagr scores 28 points in 2015-16, which, barring injury, seems incredibly likely, he’ll be the highest scoring 43-year-old in league history.
Jagr has said he would like to play for two more years. If he does so, he’s likely to pass Gordie Howe on the all-time scoring list, who has 1,850 points to Jagr’s 1,802. Mark Messier’s second-best total of 1,887 could even be attainable. It won’t be long after retirement that Jagr gets a call from the Hockey Hall of Fame.
(*Note: Chris Pronger (40), Marc Savard (38) and Matthias Ohlund (48) are under contract for 2015-16, but all will be placed on the long-term injured reserve when the season begins.)