Ryan Miller officially took his curtain call Saturday in Anaheim’s season finale on the road against Minnesota.
During the game, the crowd in attendance gave Miller a standing ovation in recognition of his marvelous career, which was highlighted by his 2010 season, where he earned a first-team all-star nod and took home the Vezina Trophy. Prior to reaching the NHL, Miller was one of the most accomplished goalies in NCAA history; he is one of only two netminders to win the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top ice hockey player (the other is Robb Stauber).
The following players are playoff-bound candidates who could join Miller on the sidelines next season. With the bitterness of the post-season however, they probably shouldn’t hold their breath on getting the same level of adulation from fans in enemy territory, should their final games take place on the road.
Note: This list assumes an early October starting date for the 2021-22 season.
Zdeno Chara, Washington Capitals – Age at start of 2021-22: 44
It seems prognosticators have been tipping Chara for retirement for over half a decade now. Eventually, we’re going to have to be right. And hey, if he sticks around, at least we’ll have something to be wrong about next April. Again.
Chara, the NHL’s oldest player, has nothing left to accomplish in the league. He has his Stanley Cup, a Norris Trophy and is a seven-time all-star. He is the NHL’s active leader in both plus-minus (plus-292) and PIM (2000) and ranks third among active NHLers in games played (1607). The skyscraping Slovak has held up well the past two seasons, playing 122 of a possible 125 games, including all but one this year for the Caps. Still, the now 44-year-old Chara has played a ton of hard minutes over his 23 years in the NHL. The 2020-21 season has seen him with his lowest average time on ice of his career, so he is finally slowing down a little bit. He has two goals and nine points in 54 games with Washington this season.
And don’t look now, but as it stands, the Caps are slated for a first-round matchup with Chara’s old friends from Boston. That would certainly make for a poetic end.
Andy Greene, New York Islanders – Age at start of 2021-22: 38
The first in a series of players who could be termed the “if they win the Cup” squad. Greene is no longer quite the stalwart he was when he manned the Devils’ blueline for 14 seasons but he’s still getting it done at the NHL level. Like Chara though, he’s put some hard miles on his body. Only five players (Brent Seabrook, Kris Russell, Dan Girardi, Ron Hainsey and Duncan Keith) have blocked more shots since the NHL started tracking the stat in the 2005-06 season. Girardi and Hainsey played their final NHL games at age 34 and age 38, respectively.
On Jan. 11, 2021, Greene signed an incentive-laden one-year deal with the Islanders. He’s hit all those incentives – which were tied to games played – suiting up in 54 of 55 Islanders games this season, proving the wear and tear hasn’t felled him quite yet. The lure of reaching 1,000 games (he currently sits at 987) could keep him around for 2021-22, but if the Isles take home Lord Stanley’s Cup? It would be hard to top that moment, as Greene has yet to take home any sort of hardware in his 15-year career.
Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs – Age at start of 2021-22: 38
Another guy who would love to go out on top. And it’d be even sweeter for Spezza, who would be accomplishing the feat with his hometown team. The second overall pick in the 2001 draft has put up 19 goals and 55 points across 110 regular season games with the Leafs the past two seasons while playing a hair under 11 minutes per game. The veteran pivot has been great on the draw in that time, winning 55.4 percent of his faceoffs during his two seasons in Blue and White.
Spezza has already alluded to his career being close to its end. When he was placed on waivers in January, Spezza said he would retire if claimed by another team.
The closest Spezza has gotten to winning it all was when he was a part of the ‘Pizza Line’ in Ottawa with Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. The 2006-07 Senators steamrolled their way to the Stanley Cup final before puttering out in five games against the Ducks. Maybe Spezza will have more luck with Ilya ‘Soup’ Mikheyev and the cross-provincial rival Leafs.
Fun fact: both Spezza and Chara, two-thirds of Ottawa’s return for Alexei Yashin in 2001, have outlasted the Isles’ seemingly never-ending buyout on Long Island by at least six years. Yikes.
Joe Thornton, Toronto Maple Leafs – Age at start of 2021-22: 42
Winning a Stanley Cup is pretty much the only major accomplishment that has eluded ‘Jumbo’ during his 23-year NHL career. The London, Ont. native has won two World Cups and is a gold medallist in both the Olympic games and the world juniors. He is also a four-time NHL all-star and took home both the Art Ross and Hart trophies in 2006. And Thornton is the NHL’s active leader in assists (1103) and points (1528), while sitting sixth all-time in games played at 1678. Assuming both he and Patrick Marleau play in their respective teams’ final games this season, Thornton will need to suit up in 99 more contests if he wants to replace his longtime friend and teammate as the NHL’s ironman. That could keep him interested for next season and beyond, but the first overall pick in 1997 may prefer to go out on top, especially since Thornton’s lack of a championship has been the main criticism levied at him during his career.
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins – Age at start of 2021-22: 34
It’s a bit of a longshot, but it wouldn’t be totally out of nowhere if Tuukka Rask chose to hang up the pads at season’s end. The Finnish netminder’s current eight-year, $56-million contract expires at the end of 2020-21 and he has previously suggested he would retire before playing elsewhere. So if Rask and the B’s cannot agree on a new deal – the Bruins have leverage to play hardball given the several UFA options out there and the emergence of Jeremy Swayman – we could see the end of Rask’s time in Black and Gold. They may elect to use the $31-million in cap space they have this off-season to increase their scoring depth rather than bringing back a luxury like Rask.
Rask is the NHL’s active leader in both save percentage (.922) and goals-against average (2.27). He is the Bruins’ franchise leader in games played (by a goalie), minutes played, wins, and SP.
He has had, by almost any measure, a sublime NHL career. But as is the case with Thornton, Rask’s critics have always pointed to the netminder’s lack of individual post-season success as his major failing. The 6-foot-3 goalie was a part of the 2011 Bruins Stanley Cup-winning team but didn’t play a single minute of playoff hockey that year behind Tim Thomas.
And to be fair to Rask, his playoff numbers are strong despite the lack of a Cup. He’s played to a .926 SP and a 2.20 GAA in 93 career playoff games. Winning the Stanley Cup as a starter would shut his critics up for good.