Our countdown to the start of the season continues, with 40 days to go.
What age is the prime of an NHL player’s career? The general consensus seems to be around 27 or 28 years old, although more recent analysis seems to point towards scorers having their most productive years at 25 or 26. The CBC has drawn the conclusion that forwards perform within 90% of their peak between the ages of 24 and 32, with defensemen doing it between 24 and 34. And while goalies aren’t usually seen as having a peak, the strain of the position often takes its toll on older netminders.
At any rate, being 40 years old in the NHL is really difficult. So maybe it’s not a surprise that in the esteemed history of the Los Angeles Kings, only three players have appeared in a regular season game after their 40th birthday. Do you know who they are? Assuming you haven’t peeked already, try to figure it out, then read on.
In order from most likely to least likely, here are the three:
- Luc Robitaille. Though Robitaille played fewer games as a 40-year-old than the other two players on this list, the Kings’ all-time leading goalscorer was a given to make this list. He had to finish his career in LA, and his impressive longevity and lack of dependence on skating helped him play even as he aged. His final NHL hat trick came less than a month before he turned 40; in 19 games in 2006 after doing so, he notched two goals.
- Larry Robinson. Before coaching the team, Robinson played three years with the Kings, his final one taking place after he reached 40 in 1991-92. Robinson played 56 games, scoring three goals and adding ten assists. As you might expect from the NHL’s all-time leader in plus-minus, he finished the season at a +1. Robinson retired one year too early for the Kings’ Cup Final run, but his six rings probably eased that disappointment.
- Sean Burke. Five days after turning 40, he stopped 40 shots in a shutout of Florida. Appropriate! The goaltender only played a third of a season for the Kings, but in a year where they used seven goalies, he was desperately needed. He wasn’t terrible, either! His .901 save percentage topped five of the six other guys LA threw in net, defending Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward (foreshadowing), and Coyotes starter/fellow old guy Curtis Joseph. Suitably impressed, Phoenix hired him as goalie coach after he retired.
Next up: what can you do in 39 games? If you’re Wayne Gretzky, score 50 goals. If you’re a King? We’ll find out!