Unlike a sport like soccer, where players usually retire once they hit their mid-30s and their playing ability is visibly on the downswing, hockey players can play well into their 30s – even their 40s and (rarely) 50s, in the case of greats like Mark Messier, Chris Chelios and Gordie Howe. Even in today’s NHL, there are players who prove that age doesn’t really matter as much as your ability to keep up with the league’s young guns. With that in mind, we’ll be counting down the 10 highest-paid players in the NHL aged 31 or older.
Although most of these players have yet to lift hockey’s greatest trophy (but two have), these 10 men are still extremely valuable contributors to their respective NHL clubs, and their big pay checks are a reflection of that. Some players may be on the decline in terms of their playing ability – at least relatively speaking – but others are still playing extremely well despite what their birth date might indicate. In fact, many of the players on this list are either captain or assistant captain of their teams. In other words, age is not necessarily a hindrance to any of these 10 men – in fact, you could say it’s little more than just a number.
Some players like Mikko Koivu and Pekka Rinne have just entered their 30s and still have a few good years left, while other players like Zdeno Chara and Pavel Datsyuk are on the wrong side of 30 yet still consistently showing that they’re among the best in the league at what they do. If nothing else, it proves that age doesn’t really matter in a league like the NHL. Here are the 10 highest-paid NHL stars over 30 based on their cap hit for the 2014-15 season.
9 Mikko Koivu -- Minnesota Wild: $6.75 million in 2014/15
He may have just entered his 30s recently at the age of 31 – and may still be considered by some to be in his older brother Saku’s shadow – but Mikko Koivu’s ability as a top-notch playmaker hasn’t appeared to wane too much. With a cap hit of $6.75 million this season and under contract until 2018, the Minnesota Wild captain became the team’s all-time leading scorer last season, and hopes to achieve even more this season on a solid Wild team. The fact that he’s won gold with Finland at the 2011 World Championships shows that he knows what it takes to win internationally, but we’ll see if he can one day translate that into the NHL.
8 Joe Thornton -- San Jose Sharks: $6.75 million in 2014/15
He’s well-removed from the days when the Boston Bruins chose him first overall in the 1997 entry draft, but Joe Thornton has more or less lived up to that initial hype over the course of his career. Despite having a reputation for disappearing in the playoffs, Thornton has captured the Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophy, and has a gold medal for Canada from the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver under his belt as well. With a salary of $6.75 million for this season, expect the San Jose Sharks captain to continue leading the team through 2014-15 even at the age of 35.
7 Zdeno Chara -- Boston Bruins: $6.917 million in 2014/15
At 37, Zdeno Chara is at an age where retirement should technically be crossing his mind as a possibility for the not-too-distant future. However, the 6’9” Slovak defenseman for the Boston Bruins is still one of the most powerful and intimidating players at his position throughout the NHL, and putting up 40 points in 77 games last season shows that he’s as important to the Bruins as he’s ever been. With the Bruins expected to once again contend for the top of the Eastern Conference, Chara – who makes $6.917 million this season – is unlikely to show any signs of slowing down.
6 Jason Spezza -- Dallas Stars: $7 million in 2014/15
It will certainly be difficult to imagine Jason Spezza wearing any uniform other than that of the Ottawa Senators, but after his recent trade to the Dallas Stars, he’ll be expected to have just as big of a role as he did in Ottawa. The 31-year-old centre put up a solid 66 points in 75 games last season, and with a change of scenery, it’s possible that Spezza could improve on his point total as a member of an offensively-talented Stars team. With a cap hit of $7 million this season, Spezza will have to take advantage of this season as much as he can, as he’ll be an unrestricted free agent afterwards.
5 TIED: Henrik and Daniel Sedin -- Vancouver Canucks: $7 million in 2014/15
Although both Henrik and Daniel Sedin haven’t gotten any younger at the age of 33, their importance to the Canucks still cannot be understated. The twins struggled offensively last season with numbers of 50 and 47 points respectively on an underwhelming Vancouver team, but they are still going to be counted on to provide much of the team’s offensive fire power – and with a salary of $7 million for each of them, the pressure will be on for them to deliver no matter how much older they’re getting. Both Sedins are under contract with the Canucks until 2018, after which they will be unrestricted free agents.
4 Pekka Rinne -- Nashville Predators: $7 million 2014/15
He has yet to capture the Vezina Trophy despite being nominated for it twice, but Pekka Rinne has consistently proven himself as being one of the best goalies in the league. Winning the tournament MVP with Finland at the 2014 World Championships ain’t bad, either. And with a salary of $7 million this season, Rinne’s expected to raise his game even further in the Nashville Predators’ net. At 31 years of age, Rinne’s contract goes until 2019, potentially making him a one-club man in Nashville. Despite being injured for much of last season, Rinne will hope to be fit and as on top of his game as possible in 2014-15.
3 Brian Campbell -- Florida Panthers: $7.14 million in 2014/15
Despite his age of 35, Brian Campbell remains one of the best offensive defensemen in the league, and his numbers have remained relatively consistent ever since he got 44 points in 79 games with the Buffalo Sabres in 2005-06. The native of Strathroy, ON is currently playing with the Florida Panthers, who are his first club since winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 – when he provided the assist for Patrick Kane’s winning goal. With a salary of $7.14 million for the upcoming season, Campbell will remain under contract until 2016 with a young and up-and-coming Panthers team.
2 Pavel Datsyuk -- Detroit Red Wings: $7.7 million in 2014/15
His offensive production took a dip last year and he was injured during a significant portion of the season, but Pavel Datsyuk’s reputation as one of the best stick handlers in the game remains undeniable. At 36 years of age, Datsyuk is still making big bucks with a cap hit of $7.667 million this season and a contract running until 2017, and his importance to the Detroit Red Wings – with whom he’s won the Stanley Cup twice – is still massive. One of the best sportsmen in the league – he won the Lady Byng Memorial trophy four years in a row – Datsyuk is one of the best examples of a player continuing to succeed with the only team he’s ever played for.
1 Henrik Lundqvist -- New York Rangers: $8.5 million in 2014/15
At 32 years old, having made it to the Stanley Cup Final this past season was the apex of Henrik Lundqvist’s NHL career thus far. Despite his accomplishments both internationally (he won a gold medal in 2006 at the Winter Olympics with Sweden) and in the league (he won the Vezina trophy in 2012), Lundqvist will still be counted on to one day bring the Cup back to the Big Apple. That said, his cap hit of $8.5 million this season – as part of a contract that runs through to 2021 – is undeniably well-deserved, and the Swede will still be expected to be one of the league’s top netminders.