Some veteran players have a lot to offer their teams. They may have crossed an athletic barrier when they passed their 30th birthdays—or perhaps, somewhat later—but they still know how to play the game and make a contribution.
Mark Recchi is an example of a player who made a significant contribution in his final seasons. While he was 42 in his final season with the Boston Bruins in 2010-11, he played hard and scored 14 goals and 48 points in the regular season. The Bruins would win the Stanley Cup and Recchi played a key role with five goals and 14 points.
Recchi was not the dynamo he had been in his prime with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens, but he was never just a guy filling out a uniform. Recchi never played like a has-been.
Recchi's the exception. Most players who have the desire to play well past their prime years lose a lot of what made them great players.
Some older players like Teemu Selanne, Daniel Alfredsson and Saku Koivu still contribute, but there are many others who can't help their teams win important games anymore.
Jaromir Jagr, of the Dallas Stars, has lost quite a bit and is clearly a shell of his former self. He has scored seven goals and has 15 points this season, indicating he can still make a contribution. However, he tires easily, and the Stars have to manage his time on the ice. Jagr was a magnificent athlete who also had wonderful skills.
He is no longer a brilliant athlete, and his skills are not what they once were.
Milan Hejduk, 37, of the Colorado Avalanche, used to be one of the best clutch scorers in the game. Hejduk is a former 50-goal scorer who had magnificent hands. He had the instincts and desire to get to the dirty areas so he could score goals.
Hejduk still wants to get to those areas, but he doesn't have the quickness anymore. He has scored three goals this season, and he's not a dangerous player any more.
Hal Gill, 37, was a shutdown defenseman when he was in his prime. Gill, 6'7" and 240 pounds, played his best hockey for the Boston Bruins. He also made solid contributions for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens.
However, he is just an old hockey player with the Nashville Predators. He has a hard time staying healthy (currently listed with a lower-body injury), and he does not move quickly enough to be effective any longer.
Alexei Kovalev, 40, was one of the most gifted skaters in the NHL. Kovalev could dominate any time he stepped on the ice. However, he rarely wanted to give it his all on an every-night basis when he was in his prime.
Kovalev is still officially listed on the Florida Panthers roster. However, don't expect him to remain there. CBSSports.com reports that Kovalev no longer has a locker in the Panthers dressing room. If that doesn't say you're a has-been, nothing does.
Sergei Gonchar, 38, still plays a key role for the Ottawa Senators. He can carry the puck and direct the power play, but he can no longer dominate from the blue line the way he once did.
Gonchar scored a career-high 26 goals for the Washington Capitals and regularly reached the high teens in goals. So far this year, Gonchar has scored one goal. He no longer has that extra dimension that makes him a game-changing player.
Can some of these over-the-hill players make a contribution every so often?
Of course. However, their days of being a consistent force that helps their team win are over.