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NHL Player Average Retirement Age

Retirement age of NHL players has been fairly static over the years, although in recent years there has been some evidence that more and more players are playing to an older age. This becomes evident if we compare the retirement age distributions from decade to decade. During the 1980s and 1990s only six players retired after the age of 40, while during the 2000s the number of 40‑something retirements jumped to 24.

The charts below show how the NHL retirement age has changed over the years. Data includes all forwards, defensemen and goaltenders who played their last regular season NHL game before or during the 2009‑10 season. Click the buttons above the charts to switch between different views.

All Players Forwards Defense Goalies

Full History 2000s 1990s 1980s 1970s 1960s 1950s 1940s 1930s 1920s 1910s

Summary Statistics on NHL Retirement Age

The tables below show summary statistics for the different player positions. Forwards and defensemen retire approximately at the same age, while goaltenders play their last game roughly one year later than the skaters.

All Players
Number of Players5 649
MIN Age17.06 (Len Wharton)
MAX Age51.79 (Gordie Howe)
Average Age28.18
Median Age27.58
Number of Forwards3 428
MIN Age17.16 (Otto Schmidt)
MAX Age51.79 (Gordie Howe)
Average Age27.94
Median Age27.29
Number of D-Men1 656
MIN Age17.06 (Len Wharton)
MAX Age47.96 (Chris Chelios)
Average Age28.46
Median Age27.93
Number of Goalies565
MIN Age18.31 (Olivier Michaud)
MAX Age46.08 (Moe Roberts)
Average Age28.81
Median Age28.30

Gordie Howe is the oldest player ever to have played in the NHL. Contrary to the table above, he had actually turned 52 by the time he played his last game for the Hartford Whalers in 1980, but due to the methodology chosen here, he is listed as 51 years old.

Among the defensemen, Chris Chelios, who finished his career with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009‑10, played until the age of 47.

The honor of the oldest goaltender goes to Moe Roberts, who played one period for the Chicago Black Hawks during the 1951‑52 season. At the time, Moe Roberts was an assistant trainer for the Black Hawks and was called on the ice to replace injured Harry Lumley. His previous NHL game had been 18 years earlier for the New York Americans.

NHL Retirement Age Percentages

The table below lists the percentage of NHL players who played their last NHL game at various ages. The data in the table is also displayed in the chart below for forwards, defense and goalies. For example, 7.71% of NHL defensemen retired when they were 25 years old.

How was this calculated?

The age of each player is determined by calculating the number of days between the player birth date and the December 31st of the season when player appeared in his last regular season NHL game. This difference (age of the player measured in days) is then divided by 365 to convert it into years. Summary statistics (MIN, MAX, Average and Median) have been calculated using the described methodology.

To construct the charts, player age is rounded downwards to nearest integer to place each player in their respective retirement age group. In other words, if the player age on the December 31st of his retirement season is 22.9 years, he will appear in the 22 year group.