NHL: Is it time for Joe Thornton and Eric Staal to hang up the skates?

Two of the game’s great players are still unsigned well after the opening of Free Agency almost two weeks ago. Both Joe Thornton and Eric Staal have a combined 40 years of NHL experience between them, and are well into the backend of their respective careers.

One has to ask, is it time for them to hang the skates up?

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Eric Staal has been on a steep decline

Staal was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes second overall in the 2003 Draft. This October, he will be turning 37 years-old as he tries to compete for an 18th NHL season.

Since being traded by the Hurricanes in 2016, he has played for 4 teams in 5 years (NYR, MIN, BUF, MTL). Last season, he split time between the Sabres and Canadiens but only managed a career low 13 points in 53 games. To make matters worse, he set a career high with a -30 plus/minus rating.

should eric staal retire
Jun 22, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Montreal Canadiens center Eric Staal (21) celebrates with center Nick Suzuki (14) and defenseman Erik Gustafsson (32) after scoring a second period goal against the Vegas Golden Knights in game five of the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Habs hoped that a change of scenery would reignite his career, but he only managed 3 points in 21 contests. That represented a drop from his point production with Buffalo from .31 pts per game to .14. In 21 games of playoff action, Staal only managed 3 points.

Of course, Staal could bring value to a team’s fourth line next season at a bargain price. His leadership and experience would be worth the money alone. However; it’s obvious his contributions on the ice will be limited and a 4th line grinding role may be too taxing on his body.

Joe Thornton still hanging on

Jumbo Joe still looks like he loves to play the game, and continues to chase his Stanley Cup dreams. In his illustrious 23 year NHL career, Lord Stanley has eluded him every time. He’s still one of the greats, which is not bad for the first overall pick in the 1997 Draft.

Thornton just turned 42 years-old, and will be entering his 24th season. Wow! If he were to play a full 82 game season, Joe would be third all-time for NHL games played. He can also move up the list as 32 games brings him to 5th, and 34 games to 4th.

Last season, Thornton played on an offensive machine in Toronto. He also dealt with limited travel that helped alleviate stress on his aging body. Playing in 44 games, he notched 20 points. His points per game was almost on par for the previous season with San Jose, but a far cry from his point a game days.

joe thornton
Apr 18, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joe Thornton (97) skates against the Vancouver Canucks in warm up at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

He would also be entering the 2021-22 campaign with 1529 career points. If he could score 51 points, he would surpass Ray Bourque for 11th all-time. Not out of the realm of possibility, but highly unlikely at his current .44 points per game pace.

Between he and Staal, I believe an NHL team would rather bring on Jumbo Joe. He could possibly be an effective third line player, but would need to be given rests during an 82 game stretch.

Although bringing him in will come at the expense of a younger and more able body for that role. I think only a contender would be interested in his services right now.

So the question remains, should Staal and Thornton hang up their skates? Or do we get to enjoy them for another season before Father Time cashes in their chips? We should find out before October rolls around.