That is the question, especially for a handful of well-known veterans whose successful careers currently have an indefinite future. The NHL is getting younger and faster, and even the best veterans are being pushed out of the league earlier than ever. Meanwhile though, players like Jaromir Jagr, Shane Doan, and Zdeno Chara are still making a big difference for their teams well past their “prime” years. No one wants to retire while they still believe that they have gas in the tank and can help a team throughout the 82-game season, whether that be a contender in need of depth or a rebuild in need of leadership. The question is not totally on the player either; is there even a market for their services? The following players have had long, storied careers in the NHL, but as the summer continues to dwindle, they must decide whether they’re willing to keep playing, regardless of the team or contract, or if they’re ready to hang up the skates.
Dan Boyle: 40 years old, 24 pts in 2015-16
Boyle has had quite the career. A veteran of over one thousand NHL games, Boyle is a two-time All-Star and a Stanley Cup Champion and was once a perennial Norris candidate. He has been one of the best power play quarterbacks of the last two decades, and helped to usher in the age of the small, possession defenseman being a dominant force in the NHL. He was a force to be reckoned with during long stints in both Tampa Bay and San Jose. However, at 40 years old, gone are the days where Boyle can still fly around the ice and play top pair minutes. The past two years with the New York Rangers have been less than spectacular, and his average time on ice in 2015-16 was the lowest that it’s been since his days with the Florida Panthers in the late ’90s. The Rangers are not open to a return for Boyle, and in a market where players like Kris Russell, James Wisniewski, and Luke Schenn still remain available in mid-July, it seems unlikely that Boyle would find a suitor, especially one willing to pay him anywhere near his $4.5MM cap hit in New York. Verdict: Retire.
Patrik Elias: 40 years old, 8 pts in 2015-16
It’s always a great story when a player is able to play out his entire career with one team. Whether he retires or not, that will be the case for Patrik Elias and the New Jersey Devils. Elias made his NHL debut with the Devils all the way back in 1995, and twenty years later he is still the heart and soul of the team. The legendary fan favorite helped to lead New Jersey to Stanley Cups in 2000 and 2003 and the team has clung to him ever since. With 1025 points in 1240 career games, the four-time All-Star has certainly made the most of his career. He is currently in the top ten among active players in goals, assists, points, plus/minus and nearly every other category. His versatility and ability to play in all situations helped the Devils franchise through all of the ups and downs of the past twenty years. The team now appears poised to be back on the upswing after some recent struggles, but a 40-year-old Elias isn’t going to be the piece that puts them over the top as a playoff team. Injuries kept him to just 16 games last season, as the wear and tear of twenty seasons finally caught up with him. Though Elias is just a few years removed from 53 points in 2013-14, and the Devils may use that to justify one more year with the face of the franchise, it seems like now is the time to call it quits. A position within the Devils organization seems almost like a guarantee, so it’s not as if his hockey career is over. The legend of Patrik Elias will continue. Verdict: Retire.
Scott Gomez: 36 years old, 9 pts in 2015-16
Elias’ teammate on those 2000 and 2003 Stanley Cup-winning Devils teams was a young Scott Gomez. The 1999-00 Calder Trophy winner helped to form the Devils dynasty, but his career took a different path than Elias’ did. Gomez left New Jersey in 2007 to sign a seven-year, $51.5MM contract across town with the New York Rangers. Two years in, he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in a deal that brought the Rangers current captain Ryan McDonagh. Gomez played three years in Montreal before being bought out in 2012 and since has signed a one-year deal with a new team each year (SJ, FLA, NJ, STL). It’s not exactly the Elias route of sticking with one team, but it has worked for Gomez. His numbers are not what they were in the mid-2000’s, but he has provided a reliable veteran presence on every team, and even put up 34 points in 58 games in his return season to New Jersey in 2014-15. While Gomez has long lost the pedigree he once had, his services seem to be in demand by some team each and every year, and the short one-year deals and limited number of games have kept him from the usual rigors of playing hockey past 35. Gomez may not be a difference maker, but as long as there are teams out there that find you useful, like potentially the Ottawa Senators, who signed Gomez for a short 13-game span at the tail end of last season, then stay available. Verdict: Keep playing.
Brad Richards: 36 years old, 28 pts in 2015-16
Another veteran center who has bounced around since his early days as the face of a franchise is Brad Richards. The 2004 Conn Smythe winner, who led the Tampa Bay Lightning to its first ever Stanley Cup championship, has had a very successful and consistent career. Richards had at least 60 points in every full season for the first 11 seasons of his storied career, many of which were spent alongside Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Dan Boyle in Tampa. He was traded to the Dallas Stars in 2008, and then famously signed a nine-year $60MM contract with the New York Rangers in 2011 (which only lasted three years before he was bought out). He has spent the past two years as a productive veteran acquisition, helping the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2014-15 and helping the Detroit Red Wings extent their postseason streak in 2015-16. However, the numbers have noticeably tailed off since Richards left Dallas, and at 35 years old, this past season in Detroit was the worst of his career. It may seem like Richards could fall into that Scott Gomez role of being a perennial veteran addition to a needy team, but the fact that both the Blackhawks and Red Wings jumped on Richards on July 1st the past two years, and he still sits unsigned, make it seem more likely that perhaps Richards is done. He also doesn’t come cheap like Gomez, and the money might not be there this year for a contender to hand out $2-3MM to a 36-year-old coming off a down year. He has certainly cashed in on an excellent career though, and there would likely be no regrets if he called it quits now. Verdict: Retire.