This has been a particularly uneventful year in the NHL by historical standards. There have been few players chasing records, milestones or other events of notable significance. Tim Thomas is looking to be break the save percentage record, but that is tainted by the general inflation of save percentages over the last 25 years, and Sidney Crosby had a 25-game point streak that, while impressive, failed to match even half the existing record. To add insult to injury, Wayne Gretzky's 50th birthday was an excuse to remind us how unbreakable many of those records will be. Which is why it's a pleasure to note one achievement by two of the NHL's greatest players: the enduring excellence, at age 40, of Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne.
Lidstrom turned 40 last April, and Selanne in July, to become two of only a few dozen players in NHL history to play after their 40th birthdays. Of those, several have been goaltenders, who age differently from skaters, and many have been simply playing out the string. Few have been central cogs of their teams' success. But Lidstrom and Selanne have bucked this trend, continuing to be elite players. In fact, they are putting up two of the six best seasons ever recorded by skaters over the age of 40:
Best GVT by skaters age 40+
Name Team Age Season G A Pts OGVT DGVT GVT
Gordie Howe DET 40 68_69 44 59 103 21.3 6.3 27.6
Ray Bourque COL 40 00_01 7 52 59 12.0 7.2 19.1
Gordie Howe DET 41 69_70 31 40 71 13.4 3.8 17.2
Nick Lidstrom DET 40 10_11 14 45 59 12.3 3.4 15.7
John Bucyk BOS 40 75_76 36 47 83 12.7 2.5 15.2
Teemu Selanne ANA 40 10_11 25 45 70 13.8 1.4 14.4
Gordie Howe DET 42 70_71 23 29 52 7.0 3.1 10.2
The other players on this list are not surprises, with the exception of John Bucyk. Gordie Howe and Raymond Bourque are well known as two of the greatest players of all time, whose hockey smarts and lack of major injuries allowed them to be effective past their 40th birthday: Howe was #3 in NHL scoring at age 40 and played until age 51, while Bourque won his only Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in his age 40 season. It's no shock these two are #2 and #3 on the all-time GVT list, behind only Gretzky.
Lidstrom and Selanne are not far behind. At age 40, Lidstrom is challenging for his seventh Norris Trophy; he is currently second in GVT among NHL defensemen with 15.7, behind Lubomir Visnovsky's 16.5. While it's tempting to say that a seventh Norris would "cement" his reputation, Lidstrom is already a lock to be considered one of the top four defensemen of all-time with Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey and Bourque, and one of the top three Europeans ever with Jaromir Jagr and Dominik Hasek. He is #4 in all-time playoff GVT, with 83.2, and will likely pass Mark Messier this year, finishing his career behind only Patrick Roy and Gretzky. Only Lidstrom could have signed a one-year contract, at age 40, for $6.2 million and have everyone agree that he took a hometown discount.
Selanne is putting up a year just as impressive. He is currently 11th in NHL scoring, excelling at a young man's game: of the ten players above him, Martin St. Louis is 35 and Jarome Iginla 33; everyone else is 30 or under. He has adjusted his game over time to remain useful: he currently leads the entire NHL in power-play points per ice time, at 8.28 points per 60 minutes. Selanne's career totals continue into the stratosphere: once you adjust for historical scoring levels, he is 7th on the NHL's all-time goal list and 19th in points. They would be even more impressive if he had come to the NHL before age 22; after all, he was already good enough to score 76 goals as a rookie! Like Gretzky's scoring records, his rookie scoring records will probably never be beaten; in fact, in the last 15 years, no player in the NHL, much less a rookie, has posted 76 goals or 132 points. Selanne is probably the #4 European NHL player of all-time, behind Lidstrom, Jagr and Hasek but ahead of Jari Kurri, Mats Sundin and Sergei Fedorov (Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk are still too young to judge). He is also the top scorer in Olympic hockey history, with 26 of his 37 points in games with NHL participation.
While their careers are not over, most of their stories have been told; either of them could not play another game and still be among the all-time greats. They are both first-ballot Hall-of-Famers; in fact, Lidstrom is so exceptional that he would be worthy of waiving the three-year waiting period if the NHL ever did so again. While there will be other players in the future as good as them, they cannot be trailblazers in the same way. Lidstrom was the first European to captain a Stanley Cup champion; there cannot be another "first". Enjoy them while they are still around: such generational talents don't come around often, much less last to age 40.
Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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