Keeping Up With The Kids

Will a player like Martin Havlat be able to keep up with the "kids" in a few years?

Suppose you are a veteran NHL player. You’ve been in the league for five to eight years and are probably in your mid to late 20s. You might even be approaching your 500th career game and nearing your athletic peak.

Enjoy it while you can.

The sad truth is you are probably way more than half way through your NHL career. In fact, you may only have a few years left in the league at most. Sounds harsh, but it’s the reality NHL veterans are going to face sooner than later.

Every season see’s more and more “kids” arriving to the NHL as part of the youth movement that kicked into high gear following the 2004-2005 lockout. Of course, by kids I mean 18 and 19-year old players who are physically and mentally ready to make the transition into the NHL.

The two things that consistently blow me away about these young players are their skills and training/development. The NHL is getting faster and younger, and I don’t think this bodes well for players coming up for the big 3-0. No longer should today’s veteran player feel comfortable thinking they can play in the league until their late 30s or older. And yes, I’m including the “ageless” wonders that are/will be Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk too. To put it bluntly, I think many veterans are screwed.

The more I watch hockey, the more I’m convinced it’s the veterans that look out of place, rather than young players still playing in their entry-level contracts (or in some cases, still trying to earn a full-season roster spot). These young players represent the first generation of players who’ve essentially been trained and developed for the NHL since before they could tie their own shoes. A lot of these players cut their teeth in National or specialized programs that were originally developed in the 80s and early 90s.

Will veterans really be able to keep up with these guys in a few years?

In addition to hockey development, take into account the technological advances of science, health, conditioning, gear etc… This generation of players are so much farther ahead than the 18-year old versions of today’s veteran players. They are so much farther ahead than today’s veterans, period.

At this rate, I reckon nearly half of the NHL will be under 25-years old within a few more years. I don’t have any stats or facts to back this up, it’s just a long standing theory of mine. In today’s game, the emphasis is on youth, both financially and skill-wise. I expect that trend to continue over the next several seasons.

The cold reality for players currently in their mid to late 20s is they are going to have to find a way to keep up with the kids of today and tomorrow. That is, if they want to still have a career in three or four years time. They better start training harder than they ever have before, or their careers might be over a lot sooner than they ever imagined. What they thought was the half-way point of their career might end up being closer to the 2/3s or 3/4s mark.

Things are going to get interesting for today’s veteran NHL players. And just think about how many mid to late 20-year old players are signed to long term contracts past the age of 35.

I wouldn’t want to be a veteran player or a GM then.

Comments (4)

  1. The youth movement is more cap induced than anything. 25+ year old players aren’t slower… they’re cheaper.

  2. That’s definitely part of it, no question.

    But these kids are way better trained and far more skilled than players like Martin Havlat who fit into the category I mentioned about. Kids like Skinner, Hall, Seguin, etc…

  3. I think the NHL getting younger is a direct result of the cap. Because there will always be a need to pay “elite” players an “elite” amount of money, GMs will have to make that space up somewhere. So you’ll see teams with a couple of “elite” players, and then a fistful of youngsters who have drive, talent, and the possibility of development upside in the medium term.

    However it’s the “middle class” of veterans who will get squeezed out as they can’t compete with the youngsters who put up similar numbers at a fraction of the cost.

    Sure, there will always be some around for “veteran” or “leadership” purposes… but most of them will get squeezed out.

    The question is: in five years when the average age of players is much lower, will the loss of veteran experience be a liability?

  4. @ David M: In five years, the loss of veteran experience will not be a liability because the new wave of kids, let’s use Stamkos as an example, will be 24 years old and will represent the “veteran experience”. So will the Taylor Hall’s, Jeff Skinner’s et al. We’re already seeing this with players like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards and Ryan Getzlaf. It’s only natural that this wave will continue, especially since these guys are already so clearly defined as the leaders of their teams.

    @ Burgundy: I totally agree with you on Havlat. I really think players like Havlat, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, and Scott Gomez will be bubble players in the next 3-5 years. They’ll probably remain in the league until their large contracts expire, but after that, they’ll need to be cheap for teams to sign them and to stay in the league.

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