But that doesn't mean, these guys should be relegated to the stands, owners' boxes, business development offices, or behind GM desks! (or in The Great One's case, some self-imposed exile) They might not be able to keep up with guys 15-20 years younger than them, but that doesn't mean for one second that they can't play hockey anymore.
The talent these guys have spent pretty much their entire lives cultivating should not go to waste just because a new crop of players has come along.
And that is why I am proposing the Senior NHL, a professional league for players who retire from the National Hockey League but want to continue playing the game they love at a highly competitive level.
The Senior PGA has existed since 1980 (it's been called the Champions Tour since 2002) and gives retired pro golfers over the age of 50 an avenue to continue their careers even after a new class of younger players has overtaken them in terms of executing their athletic ability. Why not have something similar for hockey?
Retired NHL players have the option to go play in the KHL (or pull a Mike Keane and spend 5 years in the AHL because you just don't wanna stop playing the game), but even then they are unlikely to extend their careers very far.
But in a league specifically for players over a certain age, for argument's sake let's say 45, they could play as long as they want. The rules would probably have to be altered to reduce the wear and tear of NHL hockey on older bodies, so perhaps it might mean taking hitting or fighting out of the game, but there could be other options I'm not thinking of. But as long as a player wanted to skate until he was in his 60s, what's to stop him? Hell, if Gordie wanted to come out, I wouldn't have a problem with that (his doctors might, but I'm not one of them!).
In addition to being a great way for players to extend their careers and for fans to get to continue to see beloved stars, this could be a great new revenue stream for the NHL. At least, I would have to assume this would be run through the league as it has the best infrastructure and relationships with arenas already in place. Fans would pay to see these games, TV deals could be put in place, and loads of merchandise could be sold (how many vintage Gretzky and Lemieux jerseys sell already? New ones would fly off the shelves!). The NHL would make massive amounts of money from this idea.
Now, obviously, I don't know how many former NHL players would sign up for this league, but I bet there are enough to fill up at least an 8-team league to start the experiment. I feel it's at least worth looking into. Everyone loves an alumni game because we want to see our favorite players lace the skates up again and hit the ice. This could be like an alumni league with potentially dozens of former superstars thrilling fans of a whole new generation.
What do you think? Would you go see your favorite players from yesteryear compete in a Senior National Hockey League? Sound off in the comments!