How much is left in the tank of these aging NHLers?
Posted: Wednesday October 12, 2005 2:11PM; Updated: Saturday October 15, 2005 5:58PM
For an aging athlete, it's the toughest question to face: Is it time to retire? Future Hall of Famers Mark Messier, Al MacInnis, Ron Francis and Scott Stevens made the hard call -- and the right one -- before this season, opting to bow out gracefully instead of returning to the new-world NHL.
Some of their peers, however, remain in skates, perhaps refreshed by having the previous year off due to the lockout and re-energized by a league that wants to create more flow and cut down on the restrictive elements of the game.
Here's a look at the league's five top 40-and-over stars.
CHRIS CHELIOS, 43
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The oldest active player in the NHL -- he turns 44 in January -- Chelios already seems negatively affected by the NHL's new enforcement on clutching and grabbing.
In the Red Wings' first four games, Chelios has been whistled for seven minor penalties, including four for interference. He also took a double-minor for high sticking in the third period of last week's game at St. Louis, as the Blues nearly rallied from a three-goal deficit.
Chelios has always racked up his share of penalty minutes, but many of those have been from overaggressive play. This season, it may be because he can't keep up with the "new" NHL. Chelios is smart enough to adjust, but teaching this old dog a few new tricks may be asking for too much.
DOMINIK HASEK, 40
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Hasek already has one retirement in the books, that coming in the 2002-03 season after backstopping the Red Wings to the Cup. He then returned, only to wear out his welcome in Detroit by missing most of the season with a groin injury. At the time, it appeared Hasek's NHL career was over ... again.
But if we know anything about Hasek, he's as quirky and unorthodox and as unpredictable as they come. Just when you think he's finished, he returns -- and not only that, he's spectacular. He won his first three games as the Senators' No. 1 goalie, including a shutout of the Sabres.
It will be important for new Ottawa coach Bryan Murray to keep Hasek fresh with regular nights off. If Murray manages that, and if Hasek can avoid injuries, the Dominator still looks to have one long playoff run in him.
BRETT HULL, 41
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When does a sniper start to shoot blanks? The Coyotes still believe Hull has a few one-timers left, and perhaps coach -- and good buddy -- Wayne Gretzky can extract the most out of the Golden Brett.
The key will be shot attempts. In the last three seasons, Hull has scored on 12.9 percent of his shots, a drop from the 15.6 percent the rest of his career. That means he needs more shots now to maintain his effectiveness, yet in his last season in Detroit, he averaged a career-low in attempts (2.4). And in the first four games this season, Hull did not pot any of his eight shots.
The Coyotes must find a way to set up Hull in his prime shooting areas. Unfortunately, the best player to do that is standing behind the Phoenix bench in a suit and tie. The Coyotes are in a rebuilding mode; Hull would be better suited as a hired gun for an established playoff contender.