What if someone told you that Sidney Crosby might never win another Stanley Cup? What if someone told you that Alex Ovechkin was already on the back half of his career? What if someone told you that this year's powerhouse team, the St.Louis Blues were already too old to hoist the Cup?
Would that shock you? Would you be in disbelief? Would you scoff and suggest that the person throwing these ridiculous notions at you was merely trying to be anti-establishment? Maybe trying to too hard to find the next market-inefficiency in a team sport?
Well, age is probably not a market-inefficiency anymore in any team sport so let's throw that overused phrase off the page right now. Most teams, most managers, hell, most fans now consider age as the be-all and end -all. In fact, age and sometimes contract, are often more important than actual performance when any one of the three aforementioned groups are discussing players.
For example, in baseball it's all about age and contract. Holding a player back in the minors so you don't start his clock? This happens every spring. Trading for guys under team control? Happens every year on July 31st. If you've ever heard Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous speak, you've probably heard the phrase, "we control him for the next six years" a lot more than, "we think he's going to strike out 200 this year." In football it's all about squeezing as many plays out of a players body before they blow up some important ligament; the average NFL running back's career is 3 seasons.
Hockey's Reverence for Age
Hockey has had a slightly different relationship with age. At times in hockey's 100-year history it's been in vogue to have veterans, those grizzled warriors that had the experience to lead a team to the Cup. At other times it's meant more to have young players and rookies, youthful exuberance to survive the grind of the playoffs. Lately, it's been the latter. Big time. So much so, it feels like time to review how much of an impact age has had on Stanley Cup winning teams, to see if there is anyway to predict what we are about to see this April, and to see if maybe fans and GM's and the media need to redefine how young young players really need to be.
Now, we're not talking about the age of the whole roster, just the key players; in fact, just the best players. You could argue that great teams, winning teams, are a reflection of their best players. And that said best players usually define the core of the team - think of the recent celebration of the New York Yankees Core Four at Jeter's last home opener - think of Troy Aikman, Michael Irving, and Emmitt Smith, three players forever linked. What if the age of this one best player(s) was the biggest predictor of winning teams?
In hockey, unlike baseball, football, or even basketball, it is truly hard for an outsider to definitively know who a teams best or dominate player is. In baseball there are hundreds of stats available to a fan or a neophyte to judge a player - there can be sluggers, great contact hitters, great defensive players, star pitchers, stud closers. All these different varieties of players have different stats someone could look at to define that type of player. Same goes in football - carries, throws, receptions, sacks, hurries, pancakes. You can take these stats and assign them to certain positions and then define that positions best players by excellence in those stats. Even basketball is beginning to enjoy a stat revolution. Stats beyond points and assists; like ball possession, steals, blocks, team scoring efficiency when a certain player is on the court, etc.
Not in hockey. Advanced stats in hockey are still in their infancy. Average fans are still left with very limited data on who is a star - points, goals, assists. That's about it. Recently the NHL has started keeping track of blocked shots and ice time, and there's been some growth in advanced stats with metrics such as Corsi and Fenwick. But, if we're going to do research back beyond the turn of the century we'll have to start with points and the tried and true method of who the general consensus believes was the best player(s).
The history of most sports can usually be divided into eras, commonly based on landmark events or people - the Super Bowl in 1967 brought us the Super Bowl Era, the salary cap further defined the NFL with Salary Cap era. Baseball has the Dead Ball era, the Live Ball era, the Steroid era. The NHL is largely defined as having the Original Six and the modern era. The hope here is that the modern era can be sub- divided or compartmentalized into some more manageable timeframes to make our research a little easier to explain.
The NHL changed dramatically (and for the better) in 1967 when it doubled in size to 12 teams, ushering in the "modern era" and ending the Original Six. The modern era does have some significant landmarks that are commonly referred to and can be used to define some timelines. Immediately after expansion you have what could be called the The Dynastic Era. From 1968 to 1983 there are 16 Cups won by a total of only 4 teams - the Boston Bruins, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Islanders. That is an incredible lack of parity in a modern team sport. These teams were built to last; they were built to stay the same - and looking at their rosters year to year there is very little to no turnover.
How little turnover? The Boston Bruins won the Cup in 1970 and 1972. In 1970 a total of 20 players dressed for a playoff game. In 1972 15 of these 20 players were still on the team. The Flyers won in 1974 and 1975 and 17 players were part of both teams. Just to keep cementing this argument the New York Islanders won 4 straight Cups from 1980 to 1983; 16 players were on all 4 teams. The other dominant team of this era is the Habs. There are really two separate versions of this dynasty- a version that won Cups in 1968, '69, '71, '73 and a version that won 4 straight Cups from 1976 to 1979; we'll start the dissection with the first version of the Habs.
The Habs of 1968 were a true hold-over of the Original Six era; their best players (the ones that hopefully generate the reflection of the team) are older. With the exception of Yvon Cournoyer, who was 23 for the first Cup in 1968, and Jacques Lemaire who was 21, the core of this team and the teams that won the next three Habs Cups are over 30. Dick Duff, Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, JC Tremblay, these are the names of the golden era of hockey, the 60's. It's Cournoyer and Lemaire though, that are key. The fact that they are not merely placeholders on these teams, not just 3rd and 4th liners, that they had 14 and 13 points respectively in the 1968 playoffs, is the harbinger of what was to come. This iteration of the Habs was the last NHL team, for the next 25 years, to really rely on older, veteran players to win.
The Role of Youth in the Dynasty Era
Outside of the Habs Cups from '68 to 73 and despite the idea of a Dynastic Era and despite the notion that these dynastic teams were tried, true, tested, and never changed, they were actually built on youth. They might never have changed but, they were far from tried or tested or old when they won their Cups.
The Boston Bruins team that won in 1970 and '72 had a core of best players that consisted of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Derek Sanderson. They were 21, 27, 25, and 23 respectively in 1970 - far from grizzled vets. They were a true dawning of a youth revolution.
The Philadelphia Flyers of 1974 and 1975 are scarily similar to the Bruins in age, if not in anything else. Their core consisted of Bobby Clarke, Rick MacLeish, and Bill Barber, aged 24, 23, and 21 respectively for their first Cup. Think about that. Maybe Orr is a bad example because of his tragically shortened career but, Clarke and Orr, two of the greatest players in the history of the NHL, had both won two Cups by their sixth season in the league. Even stranger? They never won another.
Strange, or common place?
After the Flyers bullied their way to two Stanley Cups (see that?) the second Habs destiny began. Now, we've already mentioned Lemaire, a true bridge between eras. He's 29 by the time the Habs win again in 1976 and is 32 in 1979 when they win their last. But, look at the rest of the best players on these Habs teams: Guy Lafleur, Bob Gainey, Steve Shutt, and Larry Robinson - they are on all four, and their ages in 1976 for that first Cup? 23, 21, 23, and 24. Remarkably young.
The last great dynasty was the New York Islanders of 1980 to 1983. Their ability to return the same team year after year to the Cup is...insane? unbelievable? unprecedented? You pick. As described above 16 players were a part of all four Cups. But, the facts we are interested in are their ages. That first Cup team in 1980 had some serious young stars. Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies, John Tonelli, Duane Sutter, Denis Potvin, Bob Bourne, Ken Morrow, Butch Goring, and Bob Nystrom. Aside from Goring and Nystrom, these guys were all 25 or under. Bossy was 22, Trottier 23, Tonelli 22, Sutter 19, Morrow 22.
That means they were done winning Cups by the age of 25 or 26. That's right, done. Aside from Trottier none of the Islanders from any iteration ever won a Cup again after 1983.
It is truly strange to think back to that era and consider those Islanders young. Part of this is the time, part of it is nostalgia and part of it is Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky is routinely attributed a great quote about the end of the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals. It goes something like, we walked past the Islanders dressing room after losing 4 straight and saw them, not celebrating, but covered in ice packs and lying on benches. This quote would lead the reader to believe the young Gretzky, aged 21 at the time, was looking at a bunch of 30 or 35 year old opponents. But, in fact those Islanders he was watching apply ice packs were 25 years old.
Is this a crazy pattern? If you eliminate the first four Habs Cups, you are left with 12 Cups, won by four teams and in each case the first Cup by those teams consisted of dominate players under the age of 25. In fact, in many cases the last Cup won by these dominant players was won before they even turned 27. Mike Bossy 25 for his last Cup. Bobby Orr 23, Bobby Clarke 26, Guy Lafleur 26. Twenty-six and done winning championships? Sound familiar? Scroll back to the first two sentences if you've already forgotten.
Since Gretzky's name was brought up (foreshadowing?) let's talk about the next mini-era in the NHL. The Dynasty Era was quickly followed by the Era of Gretzky. People routinely call the Oilers a dynasty, because they won 5 Cups in 7 years but, they never won five in a row, they never even won three in a row. The '80s were truly the about Wayne, not dynasties. His style, and consequently, the style of his team (see that best player's reflection there again?) dictated a whole new NHL.
Youth in the Gretzky Era
From expansion in ‘68 to Gretzky's rookie year in 1979, teams in the NHL averaged between 2.79 goals a game (1968) and 3.43 goals a game (1975). Gretzky comes into the league and immediately the goals per game average for team's jumps to 3.50 in 1979, rises to 4.01 in 1981 and stays above 3.60 for his entire stay with the Oilers. The current goals per game average for a team in the NHL? 2.76. Right back to 1968.
There is no doubt the Oilers had a remarkable number of the same players for their five Cups but, they did lose some really important parts of their core along the way. Andy Moog and Paul Coffey left in 1987, and Wayne dramatically left in 1988- same team but, different. The goals per game average per team finally dropped below 3.00 in 1995, so we'll call that the end of the Gretzky era and the start of the Dead Puck era.
The Gretzky Era saw 5 different teams win the Cup. The Oilers won 5 times with largely the same team, as just discussed. The Habs won twice with vastly different teams in 1986 and 1993, the Calgary Flames won in 1989, the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back in 1991 and '92 and finally the New York Rangers won in 1994. Despite this variety of teams, they all, except for the New York Rangers, have one thing in common. They all had super young teams.
Let's start with the famous Oilers. Attaching the word young to these Oilers was almost a prerequisite when writing or talking about them. Actually it still is. During their first Cup win in 1984 Gretzky was 22, Mark Messier 22, Jari Kurri 23, Glenn Anderson 22, Paul Coffey 22, and Kevin Lowe was 24.
The Flames and the Penquins were very similar to the Oilers in make-up. Loaded teams with multiple future Hall of Famers, all at very young ages. When Calgary won in 1989, they had Doug Gilmour 25, Joel Otto 26, Joe Nieuwendyk 21, Gary Roberts 22, Theo Fleury 20, and Al MacInnis 25.
The 86 Habs on the other hand were not a collection of superstars or Hall of Famers but, they were still young. They won a surprise Cup in 1986 due to the Oilers upset and their team, a true Cinderella, was typically young - Mats Naslund 25, Claude Lemieux 20, Bobby Smith 27, Chris Chelios 23. They did have some leftovers from those 1970's era winners, namely Larry Robinson and Bob Gainey but, they were hardly the driving offensive forces. The Habs were Cinderella's again in 1993when the powerhouse Penguins were upset. They were typically young again, Vinny Damphousse 24, Kirk Muller 26, Mike Keane 25, John LeClair 23, and Eric Desjardins 23.
The other team that won a Cup in the Gretzky era is a true outlier. Like the Habs teams that were holdovers from the Original Six, they became true harbingers of the next decade in team building. The New York Rangers, like those Habs teams form 1968 - 1973, were not young. They were in fact a collection of Hall of Famers and potential Hall of Famers. The Habs team from 1968 to 1973 consisted of 14 different Hall of Famers. The New York Rangers in 1994 had 3 Hall of Famers, with potentially 5 more awaiting entry. Moreover, the roster was simply an exercise in building with experience. Even the third and fourth liners, typically the grinders of the NHL universe and often the spot where young players had a chance to earn ice-time were replete with NHL veteran "savvy".
The Rangers were built almost as an exact model of those Hall of Fame Habs teams - a collection of great stars of a previous decade (Mark Messier 32, Steve Larmer 32, Esa Tikkanen 28, Glenn Anderson 32, and Kevin Lowe 33) mixed with a cast of great young players (Brian Leetch 25, Adam Graves 25, Alexei Kovalev 20, Sergei Zubov 23). You'll remember those Habs teams of 1968 to 1973 had great elder statesmen like Believeau and Richard mixed with young stars like Cournoyer and Lemaire.
Free Agency and the Dead Puck Era
The Rangers Cup, while being an outlier, also ends an era and ushers in the Dead Puck Era. The Rangers also birthed a decade of copycats - a confluence of their win with veteran players and the creation of true free agency in 1995.
The next 10 years are dominated by the idea of defense and the odious term the trap along with the pursuit of "veteran presence"- a belief that 31was the middle of a players prime. The term "trap" and its style of hockey were brought to prominence by the 1995 Cup winning New Jersey Devils. They weren't there to score goals, they were there to clog the neutral zone and limit the opposition's chances - hoping to win 1-0 or 2-1. It was dramatically successful as the Devils won 3 Cups during this time frame. And their Cups are also successful at throwing a wrench in the philosophy of really young Cup winners.
While not being an exact replica of the 1994 Rangers in age, their first Cup in 1995 did consist of young players supplemented by "key veteran presence". Bill Guerin 23, Bobby Holik 23, Scott Niedermayer 21 were supplemented by veterans Stephane Richer 28 and Scott Stevens 30. Their second and third Cups are much more in line with the rest of the teams highlighted in this article - the 2000 Devils had Jason Arnott 24, Patrick Elias 23, Scott Gomez 19, to go with their two stars on defense. Ten players from this team would win again in 2003.
The 1995 New Jersey Devils were followed by a true epitome of youth, the 1996 Colorado Avalanche, a team at the heart of this article's premise. Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Adam Deadmarsh, Sandis Ozolinsh and Adam Foote, a core of players whose oldest member was Sakic at 26. They would win again in 2001 with largely the same cast, although their second Cup win would fall victim to the Rangers method of adding future Hall of Famers, which the Avs did with Rob Blake and Ray Bourque; but, they were equally blessed with Alex Tanguay 20, Milan Hejduk 24, and Chris Drury 24.
The Avs were followed by two more outliers built in the vein of the 1994 Rangers. The Detriot Red Wings won in 1997, 1998 and 2002. These teams were veteran laden and full of Hall of Famers. The 1997 and 1998 teams were largely home grown but, still veteran teams - Steve Yzerman 31, Sergei Federov 26, and Niklas Lidstrom 26 in 1997. This same team won again in 1998. The Red Wings would win again in 2002 and this time it truly was a re-incarnation of the 1994 Rangers, a collection of stars from another decade, developed elsewhere brought together to supplement what was left of the '97 and '98 teams. There were still 10 players left over from the 1998 team but, they were complimented by Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Chris Chelios, Steve Duchesne, Fredrik Olausson, Uwe Krupp and most importantly Dominik Hasek; to a man over 35 years of age. An incredible collection but, a true outlier.
One of those players on the 2002 Wings had been part of a similar construction three years earlier. Brett Hull was a member of the 1999 Dallas Stars, another example of a team constructed of future Hall of Famers developed elsewhere and assembled to win a Cup. Mike Modano, the best player on the team and one of the only homegrown ones, was already 28. He was aided by Hull, Joe Nieuwendyk, Pat Verbeek, and Ed Belfour - all over 30 and from elsewhere (Sergei Zubov, 28, of the 1994 Rangers was here too).
The last team to win a Cup in this era was thankfully built more in the vein of the 1996 Avalanche and had youth at their core. The 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning, like the 1968 Habs and the 1994 Rangers were also a true harbinger of things to come, a predictor of the next era and a definition of the ideas presented here. And while they stand in the shadows of truly great young teams already mentioned above, that were largely able to repeat their success, the Lightning have come to define the teams of the present, who are all built in their mold. The 2004 Lightning had Brad Richards 23, Vinny Lecavalier 23, and Marty St. Louis 28 as their core. Young and home grown. This team was unfortunately ravaged by the ensuing lock-out and the salary cap but, their shadow is still looming large.
The 2005 season was cancelled due to the infamous lockout and ushered in the salary cap era, our present reality. This era truly defines the idea of winning young and was the genesis of this article. All of the teams in this era have eerily similar rosters that one would think would lead GM's and team architects to think a little differently but, alas that doesn't seem to be the case. The 2006 Cup winners were the Carolina Hurricanes. They did have some veteran presence, no doubt, but like the Lightning before them their singular best player was home-grown and young. Really young. Eric Staal, drafted second overall in 2003 after the Hurricanes bottomed out, was 20 when he led the ‘Canes to the Cup. He was a revelation post-lockout, breaking out for 100 points in his second season and leading the Hurricanes with 28 in the playoffs. The 2007 Anaheim Ducks quickly followed with the exact same blueprint. Sure, they had Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger but, their offense was led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, both 21. Both drafted in the first round.
The dreaded Red Wings would again act the outlier in 2008, winning a fourth modern Cup with a collection of veteran players, namely Henrik Zetterberg 28, Pavel Datsyuk 29, and Niklas Lidstrom 37. But, we quickly get back on track with the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins, everyone's favored child to re-create the 80's Oilers or the 90's Penquins or the 2004 Lightning. Sidney Crosby 21, Evgeni Malkin 22, Kris Letang 21, and Marc-Andre Fleury 23- a true young core of players - like the Lightning, the Ducks and Carolina's Staal before them, players drafted in the first round. The 2010 Chicago Blackhawks followed and went even younger. Crosby 21? Malkin 22? How about Patrick Kane 20 and Jonathan Toews 21? The Boston Bruins won in 2011 with David Krecji 24 and Patrice Bergeron 25. The LA Kings won in 2012 with Anze Kopitar 24 and Drew Doughty 21. Those Hawks from 2010 with Kane and Toews won again in 2013.
Hot Goalies, Anchor D-Men ... and Homegrown Offensive Stars
Now, you can argue that all of these teams, beginning right back with that looming shadow in Tampa had a singular great defenseman as well, to compliment these young offensive stars - Tampa had Dan Boyle, Anaheim had Niedermayer and Pronger, the Wings had Lidstrom, the Pens had Gonchar, the Hawks had Duncan Keith and the Bruins had Zdeno Chara. That's all true but, those guys don't score goals and most of them weren't homegrown.
You can also argue, as many media analysts have done, that you just have to have a hot goalie at the right time. Almost all of these teams had what are considered good but, not great goalies that got hot at the right time. Tampa had Nikolai Khabibulin, Carolina had Cam Ward, Anahiem had J.S. Giguere, the Wings won with Chris Osgood, the Hawks Antti Niemi and then Corey Crawford, the Bruins had Tim Thomas and the LA Kings won with Jonathon Quick. Aside from potentially Quick, not a Hall of Famer amoung them and aside from Osgood, no repeat winners either. But, you can't build a team by predicting which goalie will get hot in April.
The common theme here, and throughout all of modern NHL history, with the a few minor exceptions in Monreal, Detroit and New York, is that young, highly drafted, home grown offensive stars win Cups. This probably surprises no one but, young is the key term. Specifically 26. Go right back to Bobby Orr and Bobby Clarke (way to come full circle!). As mentioned earlier, they both won a Cup before turning 26 and never won a Cup after turning 26.
Travel right through this article and you can follow the greats down this same thread - Bossy was 22 and 25 for his first and last, Gretzky was 22 and 26, Lemieux was 24 and 25. Follow it right through to the salary cap era and the young stars just listed. They are all less than 26. In fact with the exception of Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins, all the offensive stars of the Salary Cap era are all less than 24.
That is remarkable youth.
And it brings us right back to the questions posed at the outset, and the laments of a few paragraphs above about GMs. Is Crosby too old to win another Cup? Is Ovechkin too old to win one at all? Are teams like the 2014 St.Louis Blues too old to win? It also leads one to question other teams not even in contention this year. Have the New York Islanders already wasted the best years of Jon Tavares? He is 22 this year. He probably has, at the outside 4 years left to win a Cup. Phil Kessel has scored the third most goals and amassed the second most points in the past three seasons but he is 25 this year. Done?
Rick Nash is part of the New York Rangers this year, a team that finished third in the Eastern conference and has Henrik Lundqvist, someone who is considered one of the best goalies in the league - someone who could get "hot" in April. They have Marc Staal on defense, one of the best in the NHL. But, Rick Nash is 29 this year. He is the leader of this team on offense. He is joined by Marty St. Louis 38 and Brad Richards, 33. They have no chance to win the Cup this year. What about other teams in this year's playoffs? Well, we've already dismissed the St. Louis Blues. A true darling of the NHL media, they are comprised of stars like TJ Oshie, Alex Steen, David Backes. Their top three scorers all over 26. What about the San Jose Sharks, a perennial contender? Joe Thornton is 34. Joe Pavelski is 29. Patrick Marleau is 33. No chance.
Maybe the Bruins or Penguins could win. Their stars are all over the 26 year threshold but, they do have that Red Wings - Devils aura, the chance to win again with similar cores.
But, your money this year should be on teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, the Montreal Canadiens, the Colorado Avalanche or the maybe this era's best chance a dynasty, the Chicago BlackHawks.
The Flyers have Claude Giroux, 25, Jakub Voracek 24, and Wayne Simmonds 25, at the top of their scoring chart. The Habs have Max Pacioretty 24 and David Desharnais 24. The Avalanche have Matt Duchene 22, Gabriel Landeskog 20, and Nathan McKinnon 20. Most importantly the Balckhawks have experience and they still have vaunted youth. Patrick Kane is still just 24, Jonathon Toews is still just 25.
Think about laying your bets on one of those four teams this year.
More importantly, think about when GM's are going to realize this and start skewing even younger by trading players like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Malkin, or disassembling teams like the Blues now because they are too old to lead a team to a Cup. Now that would be a true market changing efficiency.
 St.Louis had 84 pts, second in the Western Conference on February 28th when they acquired Ryan Miller. They immediately won 5 straight and have went 11-2-1 since the trade putting them in first place in the NHL with 107 pts.
 Plus Garnet "Ace" Bailey, who played the 1970 season with Boston but, missed the playoffs due to an injury. As a total aside Bailey had an incredibly cool hockey life and ultimately tragic end. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garnet_%22Ace%22_Bailey
 The Broad Street Bullies are a great case study on their own, which can be studied in numerous books, here http://www.amazon.com/The-Broad-Street-Bullies-Philadelphia/dp/0020281803 and here http://www.amazon.ca/Walking-Together-Forever-Street-Bullies/dp/1582613893and this film http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broad_Street_Bullies_%28film%29. They are also part of another article derived from the research on this one, titled To Build For Stanley.
 His real name is Robert. Just thought I put that in here because you never see it. Anywhere. Also, you can blame Goring for the craze that media and fans experience at trade deadline. He was the first and best deadline acquisition in the NHL.
 Trottier won two more Cups as the "wily veteran 3rd liner" on Mario's two Cup winning teams. He had seasons of 28 and 26 pts, while racking up 7 pts in bothCup runs.
 Here is current Habs coach Michel Therrien discussing this famous quote as coach of the Pens in 2008. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?section=nhl&id=3406885
 Funny enough, 1995 is also the year the NJ Devils won the Cup with the dreaded "trap", the true definer of the dead puck era.
 As another total aside, I was weaned on this team. My dad was obsessed with Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson.
 Recchi was only present for the first Cup, traded to Philadelphia ostensibly for Rick Tocchet and Ulf's brother.
 Beliveau, Cournoyer, Laperriere, Lemaire, Richard, Savard, Worsley, F. Mahovlich, P. Mahovlich, Lafleur, Lapointe, Shutt, Dryden, Tremblay.
 Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Glenn Anderson are in. Subjectively, Steve Larmer (over 1,000 pts), Mike Richter (Stanley Cup, World Cup, dominance of 90's decade), Kevin Lowe (6 Cups), Esa Tikkanen (4 Cups) and Sergei Zubov (2 Cups) should one day get in.
 There is great internet material out there revolving around Mike Keenan's collection of like-minded players wherever he went - see Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan.
 Previously players were owned by their teams in perpetuity. Free agency was set at 31, then considered the heart of a players prime; an idea supported and influenced by the 1994 Rangers team. Free agency has since been lowered to 27, more in-line with the ideas of a younger prime and the pathos of this article.
 Forsberg 22, Ricci 23, Deadmarsh 20, Ozolinsh 23, Foote 24.
 I say same team because it literally was. This may be the best case ever of a team repeating. There were 19 players to play on both Cup winners and Vladimir Konstantinov would have made it 20 if not for a horrific off-season accident.
 St. Louis was not drafted by Tampa Bay, but his story is remarkable and allows his inclusion with Richards, Lecavalier and the premise of this story. He was undrafted, cut by Calgary, and unwanted by 28 other teams. Tampa signed him and the rest as they say...
 An awesome note about Staal is that he is one of a bunch of young players that actually benefited greatly from the lockout. 2006 was really his third season, after having spent all of 2005 in the AHL, the NHL's development league. There was a bevy of 20 and 21 years old that had a similar experience. Again, makes one wonder why more teams don't utilize the AHL ala the Red Wings? But, alas, an argument for another time.
 I am not going to look up or quote the examples but, Jesus, just type Crosby, Malkin, Oilers into google and see what happens.