When the NHL lockout came to a halt and rinks reopened for business last weekend, there remained many questions heading into the shortened season. How would teams create chemistry with just a one-week training camp? Would the players that went over to Russia to compete in the KHL fare better? Would the old guys struggle with the compacted schedule?
With the first week of the 48-game schedule over, those old guys have looked as fresh as can be, with all-time greats Teemu Selanne, Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr leading the way. The 40-year-old Martin Brodeur has post three victories in three starts (with one shutout) to carry the defending Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils to a 3-0 start.
He has an excellent 0.98 GAA to go along with a stellar .958 save percentage. Brodeur is lauded by many as the greatest netminder of all-time and with good reason. He’s the career leader in victories and shutouts. Marty has won the Vezina Trophy, given to the league’s most outstanding goaltender, four times. Oh, and he’s won three Stanley Cups while appearing in five. Now in his 19th season, he shows no signs of slowing up.
It’s not just old goaltenders that are excelling, though. Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne has gotten off to a hot start through the first seven days of season play. “The Finnish Flash” has begun adding to his Hall of Fame CV, scoring two goals in as many games while also posting two assists (four points in total). The 42-year-old has also been a boon to his team’s power play, contributing three points with the man advantage.
While Brodeur and Selanne have stood out among the 40 club, formers Penguin Jaromir Jagr may be the biggest surprise of all. After a standout NHL career where he won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer four times, he elected to play closer to home in the KHL. He stayed there for three seasons and many thought he wouldn’t come back, but he returned last season to the Philadelphia Flyers to mixed results.
In the off-season he signed a deal with the Dallas Stars and brought back early returns on the investment. Jagr, 40, scored a whopping two goals and two assists in the opener, accounting for every point in the team’s 4-3 win over the Phoenix Coyotes. But in the three games since, he’s been scoreless. To make matters worse, he suffered a back injury in Thursday’s overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. While the injury isn’t considered serious, it poses a greater question for all of the older veterans in the NHL: Will their bodies withstand the pounding of the condensed schedule?
These players are accustomed to 82-game seasons but are now being forced to play at least three games a week. The increased turnaround in travel will also be punishing on their bodies, so it will be interesting to see how they keep maintenance.
Brodeur is notorious for wanting to play as many games in possible and is consistently among the league leaders in goalie starts. Will he defer to his backup Johan Hedberg more often this season?
Will Selanne will able to keep up this furious pace in scoring? The Ducks are undefeated behind his strong play and need the bounce-back season after missing the playoffs last year.
Is Jagr going to return from his back injury quickly and more so without any lingering effects? Back issues can be tricky and bother athletes for months. If the Stars are going to benefit from the payday they gave the Czech superstar, he’s going to need to be near full-strength.
Players like Edmonton’s Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Carolina’s Jeff Skinner and Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog may be the future of the NHL, but right now, the old guys aren’t ready for the changing of the guard.
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