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.