Posted: Wednesday July 12, 2006 2:09PM; Updated: Thursday July 13, 2006 1:33PM
Wayne Gretzky's best years weren't on Broadway, but he wasn't a flop. Neither was Mark Messier in his second stint with the woeful Rangers.
To say that the clock is ticking on an NHL career at age 37 is quite an understatement. After all, among those who have been fortunate enough to play until that age, few have been very productive. Then there's Brendan Shanahan.
The power forward scored 40 goals for the Red Wings last season, during which he turned 37. There is no reason to expect much of a decline in his productivity on Broadway, where he will most certainly spend time on the Rangers' first power-play unit with Jaromir Jagr. Shanahan (598) and Jagr (591) will enter the 2006-07 season as the league's top active goal scorers.
Shanny, Rob Blake (L.A.) and Bill Guerin (St. Louis) are among the free agents in the back end of their 30s who have been signed for next season. Below is a list of notable players who were at least 35 when they signed with new clubs.
1. Wayne Gretzky Signed by the Rangers at age 35 in July 1996
Has it been 10 years since the Rangers signed the Great One? The 1996-97 campaign was the first full season in which Gretzky did not score 100 points, but he did well with 97. He also tied for the NHL lead in assists (72) and was 10-10-20 in 15 playoff matches. He again tied for the top spot in helpers the following season with 67 to go with his 90 points for a fading club. Gretzky, who was 38 when he retired, recorded 62 points in his final season of '98-99.
2. Brett Hull Signed by the Red Wings at age 37 in August 2001
Hull inked a deal with Detroit 13 days after his 37th birthday and played three seasons with the Red Wings. The first one was memorable, as he followed up a 30-goal, 76-point campaign with a playoff-leading 10 goals that were key to Detroit's Stanley Cup run. He netted 37 goals in 2002-03, his highest total since '96-97 with St. Louis, and added 25 goals in 2003-04. Impressively, Old Man Hull missed only one game while with Detroit.
3. Ron Francis Signed by the Hurricanes at age 35 in July 1998
Francis put in five-plus seasons in Carolina, playing all 82 games in three of them. He topped 20 goals four times to finish his career with 20 such seasons. Francis was awarded the Lady Byng and King Clancy trophies following the 2001-02 campaign, in which he was instrumental in leading the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup finals. He scored 77 points that season, plus 16 more in the playoffs. The center was 41 when Carolina sent him to Toronto at the end of the '03-04 season, the last of his 23-year career.
4. Dave Andreychuk Signed by the Lightning at age 37 in July 2001
Andreychuk, who was 38 by the time curtain rose on his first season with Tampa Bay, was a 20-goal scorer in each of his three full seasons with the Lightning. He was a power-play specialist (15 PPGs in '02-03), a solid checker and very strong in the face-off circle. Furthermore, his leadership skills for the 2004 Cup champs were immeasurable. Tampa Bay waived the 42-year-old in January.