After years of training, practicing and playing hockey you finally made it into the NHL. Something that you believed may never come true finally has and now things can only get better from here, right? Regrettably, you are now more replaceable than ever. A tighter salary cap, stricter contract guidelines, and an increasing talent pool that begins at age (18) all have encroached upon your dream. The only thing you can do is grit your teeth, play harder, hope you don’t get injured and pray there is not an abundance of players at your position.
Youth vs. Age
The past two lockouts have changed numerous things in the sport of hockey. Perhaps one of the most drastic is the shift towards a faster style of play. This shift has teams focusing on the development of younger players instead of the continuity of older ones. The traditional fourth line or “checking line” that was meant for fighters is being replaced with both rookies and more well-rounded NHL players. Consequently older players are retiring sooner and younger players are fighting harder to stay in the lineup. Ten years ago Martin Brodeur would have had a starting job in net the same day he became a free agent. Players such as Ed Jovanovski, Todd Bertuzzi, Michal Handzus, and Daniel Alfredsson would be in training camp instead of mulling retirement.
Over the past few seasons a lot of notable NHL players have retired before the age of (40). Many of these players easily would have played another season or two before the lockouts. Mikka Kiprusoff and Jean-Sebastian Giguere easily could have fulfilled backup roles. Others such as Milan Hejduk, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott, Petr Sykora, Steve Sullivan, and Saku Koivu easily would have stayed in the NHL ten years ago. Players who left the NHL for Europe such as Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko would have also stayed. Seeing a player reach (40) years of age in the NHL will soon become a rarity again. Before the Dead Puck Era only a handful of players made it to that age each decade. With the rapid rise in the use of younger players on the bottom lines both at forward and defense there is a good chance that less than ten players currently under (30) years of age will make it to that age and still be in the NHL.
This does not even address how tough it is to simply keep your job in the NHL for the younger players. For example, Cory Conacher who was once a rookie of the year candidate will now be on his fourth NHL team in only his third NHL season. He was traded by the Lightning, waived by the Senators, claimed then released by the Sabres and most recently signed by the Islanders. He is only (24) years old. He isn’t alone in this contest as there are numerous other young players struggling to stay ahead of the next batch of talent. Benn Ferriero who is only (27) can already be associated with seven organizations. Others such as Zach Boychuk, Yannick Weber, Joey Crabb, Andrei Loktionov and David Rundblad consistently bounce back and forth from the AHL. Of course it is easy to forget former Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo, who left the league in 2010 at the age of (30). Remember Linus Omark, the player who electrified the NHL for his shootout talents? He never made it to 100 NHL games before leaving the league after being waived by the Sabres.
Every year during the playoffs, players that never got much attention are now in the spotlight. Benn Ferriero was in this position after he scored a playoff game winning goal in overtime. Now he is fighting just to stay in the league. There is a great chance that teams who boast young talent such as Columbus, Dallas and Anaheim will be replacing these same players within two years. Some of these players may never make it to 200 NHL games or even be in the league at age (30). Instead of relying on veterans teams have turned towards their depth chart and it is working. The Blackhawks and Kings had tremendous help from their bottom lines but some of those same heros now find themselves struggling to stay in the NHL. To put things into perspective, Jordan Hendry a defensemen on the 2010 Blackhawks is no longer in the NHL.
Grit your teeth, and play harder