Most NHL players don’t have terribly long careers. Even most star players who have longer careers see notably drop offs in their play by their mid to late 30s. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, and the players on this list are prime examples of that. These seniors were not just present for their guidance and leadership, but actually performed remarkably well given their age. Let’s get started with the first half of them.
10. Jacques Plante
Plante had a unique end to his career. He retired at 36 years old after two mediocre years with the Rangers, but was drawn out of retirement by the prospect of joining the St. Louis Blues to play alongside fellow legend Glenn Hall. Plante joined the Blues for the 1968-69 season at the age of 40 and helped the Blues dominate defensively and shared the Vezina with Hall while leading the NHL in GAA with 1.96. After the Blues experiment was over, Plante remained in the NHL to play with Toronto Maple Leafs and in his first year with them, the now 42-year old led the NHL in GAA again with a sparkling 1.88 and finished 5th in Hart voting and earning a spot on the Second All-Star Team. Plante would play two more seasons, the second ending in a trade to Boston before finally retiring at the ripe age of 44.
9. Tim Horton
Some players improve well into their later years and Horton was an example of just that. While Horton was a mainstay on Toronto’s blue line for the first 10+ years of his career, he only really began to flourish once Toronto’s early 60s dynasty came online. In the 1962-63 season Horton earned his first Norris votes, finishing third in the voting at the age of 33. Horton would continue to be a Norris candidate, finishing as high as 2nd the following year and second again in the 1968-69 season, at the amazing age of 39. Horton, who was being paid a significant salary, was traded to the Rangers in the 1969-70 season. Horton would remain a strong enough physical and defensive player that his career would extend into his 40s as he would take a season with the Penguins and some time with the Sabres at the end of his career. As Horton’s career was winding down in the 1973-74 season Horton was killed in a car crash, ending his career at 44 years of age.
8. John Bucyk
Much like Horton, Bucyk’s career began taking off in his mid to late 30s as the Bruins entered dynasty. Starting in the 1967-68 season at the age of 32, Bucyk began to finally be recognized for his stellar player without taking penalties, finishing 2nd in Lady Byng voting and being voted to the Second All-Star team. At the age of 35, Bucyk exploded with 51 goals and 116 points while winning the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy and being named to the First All-Star Team. While Bucyk would never again reach those levels, he would have seasons of 83 and 93 points in the next two years, continuing to show that age had little effect on him. In the 1973-74 season, Bucyk again won the Lady Byng at 38 years old. Even in 1975-76, at the age of 40, Bucyk still scored an impressive 36 goals. Bucyk would score 20 goals in 49 games to bring his 20+ goal streak up to ten consecutive seasons. In the 1977-78 season, Bucyk’s numbers finally began to drop and he chose to retire at the season’s end at the age of 42.
7. Mark Messier
Messier’s strongest years were early in his career, but he didn’t deteriorate as much as most players do in their later years. He had a very strong season in the 1995-96 season at 35 years old for the Rangers, finishing 2nd in Hart voting, showing his value to the Rangers. He had another solid season in the following year with the Rangers by scoring 36 goals and 84 points. His later years had a bit of a negative blip with his time in Vancouver when his production took a dip, especially in his first year in Vancouver. After his three years in Vancouver, he returned to New York and maintained his production, scoring 67 points in 82 games at the age of 40. Messier would become more of a secondary scorer in his final three years, but he would still score 18 goals and 40+ points in both of his last two seasons, retiring at 43 years of age.
6. Nicklas Lidstrom
Of all the players on our list, Lidstrom retired at the youngest age, but his calling card was how strong he played all the way up until his retirement. Lidstrom was almost never a bad defenseman at any time in his career, including his senior years. Unlike most players, his play didn’t seem to deteriorate with age and simply remained consistently great. Lidstrom won his first Norris trophy at 31 (though he was 30 for most of the season) and in 2005-06, won his third with an amazing 80-point season at 35 years old. He won two more consecutively for three in a row before taking a break for two years during which it looked like he was finally slowing down. But in 2010-11, at the age of 40, Lidstrom burst back onto the scene with 62 points, winning his sixth Norris trophy. Lidstrom would play one more solid season before retiring at 41 years old.