It is a well-known fact that athletes retire much younger than you usually would in any other career. Some are not physically capable of playing the game anymore, as many of them have serious injuries. Some are content with the amount of money they have made and don’t see the need to play anymore, and some want to pursue other careers. Lately, extending your career for as long as possible has become a trend in hockey. Speaking of that, at what age do most NHL players retire?
The average retirement age for hockey players is between 28 and 30 years old. In recent years retirement has moved forwards, thanks to the better conditioning that allows players to play at an older age.
The age of retirement also depends on the player’s position in hockey. Forwards and defencemen begin having a significant decline in their performance around the early thirties. On the other hand, for goalies, performance varies little by age, and they tend to peak later in their careers.
Many factors come into play when it comes to hockey player’s retirement. It depends on how many injuries they had during their career, what position they play, and when they peaked.
Forwards and Defencemen tend to retire earlier because they peak at around 24 to 30 years old. After that, their performance is significantly declined. Goalies retire later in life because they peak later than Forwards and Defencemen, and their performance varies little by age.
The average age of retirement for NHL players is around 29 years old, which means that their careers usually last about six years. (source)
Nowadays, the age of NHL players varies greatly, as many of them are extending their career to the limits that were previously considered unreachable. Because there are many players who are still playing well into their forties, the average age of NHL players is now increased to 27.3 years old, which is considered somewhat old for most sports. (source)
Even though the average age of an NHL player is 27.3 years old, some players surpassed that age many years ago.
One of the oldest active NHL players is Zdeno Chara at 43 years old. He is also the tallest NHL player ever, and he had to use sticks two inches longer than NHL regulations. He was drafted by the New York Islanders in 1996, and after spending a few years with them, he was picked up by the Ottawa Senators. He became an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2005-06 season and has since been playing for Boston Bruins.
Jason Spezza started his career in 2002. He is 37 years old. He first made his World Junior debut in 2000 and became just the third 16-year-old in history to make the Canadian team. After playing in the major league for a few years, he signed his first professional contract with the Ottawa Senators. Later he played for the Dallas Stars, and he is currently with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ilya Kovalchuk has been playing hockey for 21 years, ever since he joined the senior team in the Vysshaya Liga in 1999. He is 37 years old and currently plays for the Los Angeles Kings. Kovalchuk joined the NHL in 2001, after being drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers. He spent almost ten years with them before being traded to the New Jersey Devils in 2010.
Because of the 2012-13 NHL lockout, he left the NHL to play for SKA Saint Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). He returned to the NHL in 2018 with the Los Angeles Kings, and in 2020 signed a contract with the Montreal Canadiens. He was traded a month later to the Washington Capitals in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Mikko Koivu is a 37-year-old from Finland. He is currently the captain of the Minnesota Wild, and he has spent his whole 20-year-old career with the Minnesota Wild. He played TPS of the SM-liiga as a 17-year-old before joining the NHL in 2001.
In 2009 he became the first-ever permanent captain of the Minnesota Wild. He signed a then-franchise-record seven-year, 47 million dollars, extension.
Andy Greene, a 37-year-old hockey player, had a somewhat uninteresting career. He has been the captain of the New Jersey Devils since 2015 and was first signed to the team as an undrafted free agent in 2006.
Greene had a streak of 350 consecutive NHL games played but unfortunately, broke that record when he injured his arm in the 2017-18 season. He has the third-longest streak.
Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in NHL history. He is 38 years old, and he is the only goaltender in NHL history to record eleven 30-win seasons during his first 12 seasons.
Ron Hainsey is one of the oldest NHL players, at 39 years old. He played professional hockey for 16 years before playing on a team that made the playoffs, which is longer than any other player in league history.
Patrick Marleau is 41 years old, which makes him the third-oldest active NHL player. He holds the distinction of playing the most NHL games without winning the Stanley Cup, probably not a stat he enjoys. Marleau spent the majority of his career with the Sharks, so he holds many franchise records, such as all-time Sharks leader in goals, even-strength goals, power-play goals, points, shots, and games played.
Joe Thornton is the second oldest NHL player. He is 75 days older than Patrick Marleau. Thornton has been playing his entire life, and he is the only player in NHL history to win the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Memorial Trophy while switching clubs in his winning campaign.
The average career length of NHL players depends on their health and physical capability. Some players peak earlier, while others go on to have careers well into their forties. The average career length also depends on the player’s position. Forwards play 241 games on average, Defensemen play 251 games, and Goalies play 148 games on average. Measured in years, that would be about 5.49 years for skaters and 5.36 years for goalies.
There have been quite a few players who have had a career that has lasted almost four times longer than the average.
Throughout the history of hockey, there were some players who managed to extend their careers to the point that nobody thought was possible.
One of them was Gordie Howe, who is considered one of the greatest players in the history of hockey. He retired when he was 52 years old, thus ending his 34-year long career in the NHL. At 52 years and 11 days old, he was the oldest player ever to play in an NHL game.
Chris Chelios, who was named one of the 100 greatest NHL players in 2017, was the oldest defenceman ever to play at 48 years and 71 days old. His NHL record is tied with Howe for most of NHL seasons. He retired in 2010 after 26 years of playing hockey.
Maurice Roberts wasn’t only the oldest goalie to play in NHL history at 45 years and 345 days, but at one point, he was also the youngest goalie to play in the NHL. He retired in 1951 at the end of his 26-year-old career.
Johnny Bower retired in 1969 after playing hockey for 24 years. At 44 years old, he was the oldest goalie ever to win a playoff game. He won four Stanley Cups during his career.
Gump Worsley’s career lasted 22 years. It ended in 1974 when he was 45 years old.
Lester Patrick and Doug Harvey are tied at 44 years and 100 days. Harvey is believed to be one of the best blueliners ever to play in the NHL, winning the Norris Trophy seven times.
Jacques Plante retired in 1973 after playing for 23 years. The Hall of Fame goaltender racked up six Stanley Cups during his career in the NHL. He is best known for his innovation, as he was the first goalie to wear a goalie mask.
Tim Horton played over 1,400 NHL games with the Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played from 1949 to 1974, ending his career at 44 years old.
Teemu Selanne also ended his career at 44 years old after playing for 25 years. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a second Finn after Jari Kurri.
As you can see, there are many players that end up playing professional hockey longer than what a typical NHL player plays.