Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the 2,632 consecutive games Cal Ripken, Jr. played with the Baltimore Orioles is that he played all 2,632 with the Baltimore Orioles. Ripken ended his Major League Baseball career in 2001 and, despite the passing of 11 years, professional sports were already well into an era where players spending their entire careers was considered the exception rather than the rule. Ripken was praised as a “throwback” to an era where players displayed “loyalty” and played their entire careers with one team.
In the past few seasons when Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom finally took off their skates with the Detroit Red Wings, the same sentiments were expressed. When Chipper Jones announced that this would be his final season with the Atlanta Braves this year, again pundits discussed how Jones was a throwback to a “bygone” era.
However, with the exception of Major League Baseball – and only largely due to the existence of Major League Baseball’s reserve clause which was in place for well over a century and prevented players from entering free agency against the team’s wishes – this era has, for the most part, never existed. In many cases, players stayed with teams and took extremely low salaries (compared to today’s salaries) because they lacked the rights to look elsewhere, not due to a sense of loyalty.
Certainly along the way, there had been big-name players who had bounced around during their careers. Probably the biggest names in three of North America’s “Big Four” sports played for more than one team. Gordie Howe played for two NHL teams (and three major league teams if you include his stint with the World Hockey Association’s Houston Aeros). Wayne Gretzky played for four different teams. Michael Jordan came out of his retirement from the Chicago Bulls to play two seasons with the Washington Wizards. Even Babe Ruth played for three different organizations – the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and the Boston Braves.
In the last 50 years, the Hart Trophy has only been won by 4 players (Jean Beliveau, Stan Mikita, Bobby Clarke and Mario Lemieux) who retired without ever changing hockey clubs. In the history of the NHL, only 10 Hart Trophy winners have started and finished their careers with the same team without making any stops between: Ted Kennedy, Milt Schmidt, Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach, Ebbie Goodfellow, and Aurele Joliat, in addition to the others mentioned above.
All of the top five scorers in NHL history played with multiple teams, as have the top five goal scorers. Players like Martin Brodeur and Steve Yzerman are an exception to the rule that came about long ago. If players can leave, they will leave.
Thus, last week, when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise left the Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils, respectively, it should have come as very little surprise. The main purpose of free agency is to give a player a say in the direction of their career.
While Suter and Parise joined a long line of players who left their original teams for greener pastures, not all have.
Of the roughly 700 players who played in the NHL last season, there are still 27 players who have spent at least 10 years with their original teams:
- Jarome Iginla – Calgary Flames – The Flames captain was actually drafted by the Dallas Stars in 1995, but his rights were traded to the Flames that year for Corey Millen and Joe Nieuwendyk. It was the rare trade that worked out well in the end for both sides. Nieuwendyk would lead the Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999, earning Conn Smythe honors and currently serves as the organization’s General Manager. Iginla made his debut with the Flames in the 1996 Playoffs. Since then, he has scored 516 goals with 557 assists, won the Rocket Richard, the Art Ross and the Lester Pearson (currently the Ted Lindsay) and led the Flames to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2004.
- Milan Hejduk – Colorado Avalanche – Colorado’s captain is the organization’s last holdover from the Nordiques era. Drafted 87th overall by Quebec in 1994, Milan Hejduk made his debut in 1998 and has been with the Avalache since. In 991 career games with Colorado, he has scored 794 points – 371 goals and 423 assists. He was part of the 2001 Stanley Cup team and won the Rocket Richard in 2003 with a career-best 50 goal season.
- Rick Nash – Columbus Blue Jackets – While there should be an asterisk here as Columbus has acknowledged that Nash is currently being shopped around, the Blue Jackets captain was drafted by Columbus with the first overall pick in 2002 and has been with the organization since. In 2004, he was one of the players – with Iginla and former Atlanta Thrasher Ilya Kovalchuk – involved in a three-way tie for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
- Brenden Morrow – Dallas Stars – Like most on this list, Morrow is the Stars captain, an honor he was granted prior to the 2006 season. Drafted in the first round by the Stars in 1997, Morrow has played 806 games with Dallas and crossed the 500-point threshhold for his career this past season.
- Pavel Datsyuk – Detroit Red Wings – In the 1990′s, Detroit had a notorious number of “steals” in the late rounds of the NHL Draft. In 1998, Datsyuk was taken with the 171st overall pick.In fact, Datsyuk was eligible to be drafted in 1996 and 1997 but was almost passed over in three NHL drafts. The Russian made his debut with the Red Wings in the 2001-02 season, helping the team to the Stanley Cup. Since then, Datsyuk has won another Stanley Cup, four Lady Byng Trophies and three Selke Trophies. In 732 career games, he is nearly a point-per-game player, with 718 points (240 goals, 478 assists) in 732 career games.
- Tomas Holmstrom – Detroit Red Wings – Holmstrom was drafted in the tenth round of the 1994 Draft by the Red Wings – a round that does not even exist any more. Since 1996, Holmstrom has won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings and has made a career out of parking himself in front of the net and screening opposing goaltenders. This past season, Holmstrom played his 1,000th career game – he has 1,026 overall. He has also scored 530 points in his career.
- Henrik Zetterberg – Detroit Red Wings – Zetterberg is yet another long-time Red Wing who was a late round draft selection by the team. He debuted with the Red Wings in the 2002-03 season, finishing second in Calder Trophy voting to Jackman. Since coming into the league, Zetterberg has scored 624 points (252 goals, 372 assists) in 668 games. In 2008, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy in the Red Wings Stanley Cup run.
- Ales Hemsky – Edmonton Oilers – Hemsky was the Oilers’ first round pick in 2001 and joined the team for the 2002-03 season. While injuries in the past few years have significantly cut into his playing time (he has missed at least 10 games in each of the last 4 seasons), he has still managed to play in 559 games and score 431 points (124 goals, 307 assists). In addition, he scored 17 points during Edmonton’s run to the Final in 2006.
- Shawn Horcoff – Edmonton Oilers – The Oilers captain was drafted in 1998 by Edmonton at 99th overall and made his NHL debut during the 2000-01 season. Since then, Horcoff has played in 765 games with the Oilers and scored 19 points during Edmonton’s 2006 Stanley Cup Final run.
- Stephen Weiss – Florida Panthers – Weiss was drafted by the Panthers in the first round in 2001 and made his debut during the 2001-02 season. Since then he has played in a franchise-record 637 regular season games with the team, which is especially significant because until this season, Weiss had never played in the playoffs.
- Pierre-Marc Bouchard – Minnesota Wild – Bouchard was drafted in the first round by Minnesota in 2002 and made his NHL debut in the following season. Since then, Bouchard has played in 522 games and scored 327 points (98 goals, 229 assists). Injuries have plagued Bouchard’s career – he missed essentially the entire 2009-10 season (he played in the opener) due to a concussion. Over the past 3 seasons, he has missed 149 games. Still, Bouchard remains the longest-tenured player on the Wild roster.
- Andrei Markov – Montreal Canadiens – With the 162nd overall pick in 1998, Montreal selected Andrei Markov. He would come over to North America in 2000 and make his NHL debut. In that time, the defenseman has played in 636 NHL games, scoring 369 career points (81 goals, 288 assists). After the lockout, Markov started to emerge as one of the league’s premier scoring defensemen, scoring 217 points in the first four seasons. However, leg problems began to hamper Markov’s career as he missed 37 games in 2009-10, 75 games in 2010-11 and 69 games in 2011-12. A large portion of his missed games occurred between November 11, 2011, and March 10, 2012, when Markov did not appear in an NHL game due to knee surgery.
- Martin Erat – Nashville Predators – In the 1999 Draft, Nashville notoriously selected goaltender Brian Finley in the first round. Finley would appear in exactly two games for the Predators and give up 10 goals. However, deeper in that draft, Nashville selected Martin Erat at 191st overall. Erat debuted with Nashville in 2001 and has played in 687 games since then while contributing 460 points (159 goals, 301 assists). While he has not appeared in every playoff game in franchise history, he has appeared in every playoff series.
- David Legwand – Nashville Predators – In the 1998 Draft, the Nashville Predators drafted David Legwand at second overall with the first draft pick in franchise history. Legwand made his NHL debut in the final game of the inaugural season and has been in the lineup ever since. As the only player from the inaugural season who has never left (goaltender Chris Mason appeared in three games in the Predators inaugural season, but has made some stops in between), Legwand holds virtually every franchise career record, including points, assists and games. In Nashville, Legwand has played in 846 games and has scored 501 points (188 goals, 313 assists) – the only 500-point scorer in franchise history.
- Martin Brodeur – New Jersey Devils – Perhaps the most shocking part of Martin Brodeur’s career is that when he was selected twentieth overall by the Devils in the 1990 Draft, he was not the first goaltender taken. That honor went to Trevor Kidd, selected by Calgary. While Kidd would go on to have a fairly decent career with Calgary, Carolina, Florida and Toronto, playing in 387 games and recording 140 wins and 19 shutouts, Brodeur would simply become one of the – if not the – best goaltenders in NHL history. Since joining the NHL, Brodeur has appeared in 1,191 games, winning 656 with 119 shutouts – all NHL records. Brodeur also holds the record for most playoff shutouts (19) and most single season wins (48 in 2006-07). He won the Calder in 1994, the Vezina four times, the Jennings five times and has three Stanley Cup rings.
- Patrik Elias – New Jersey Devils – Selected by New Jersey at 51st overall in the 1994 Draft, Elias made his NHL debut in the 1995-96 season. In 1,042 career games, Elias is the Devils all-time leader in goals (361), assists (566) and points (894). He has been a part of two Stanley Cup winning Devils teams and is the franchise’s all-time leader in playoff goals, assists and points as well.
- Rick DiPietro – New York Islanders – Rick DiPietro was the first overall pick of the New York Islanders in the 2000 Draft. Supplanting Roberto Luongo as the Islander’s goaltender of the future, DiPietro made his debut in the 2000-01 season. Prior to the 2006 season, DiPietro signed a 15-year contract that will run his time on Long Island through the 2019-20 season. However, DiPietro’s career has been anything but smooth. After signing the contract, he played in 62 games in 2006-07 and 63 games in 2007-08. Of those 125 games, DiPietro won 58 of them. In the past four seasons, DiPietro has been plagues by injuries – to put it lightly. Since his 63 game season in 2007-08, DiPietro has played in more than 10 games in a season just one time and has not played in more than 30 in any of them. In the past four seasons, he has only played in 47 games and has only won 14. For comparison’s sake, in the 2011-12 season alone, 24 goaltenders played in at least 48 games and 35 won at least 15.
- Daniel Alfredsson – Ottawa Senators – Given Daniel Alfredsson’s long, distinguished career in Ottawa, it may come as a surprise that he has not received an NHL award based on his play since winning the Calder in 1996. Despite 1,082 points (416 goals, 666 assists) in 1,131 games, all Alfredsson has ever garnered was a selection to the Second All Star Team in 2006. However, he does hold the Senators records in games, points, assists and goals. In addition, he led the Senators to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, becoming the first European-born captain to do so.
- Chris Neil – Ottawa Senators – Neil was drafted 161st overall by the Senators in 1998. He made his NHL debut in the 2001-02 season and, since then, has become known as one of the most rounded-enforcers in the NHL. While Neil has had over 100 penalty minutes in every one of his NHL seasons, he has also scored at least 20 points in 5 of those. In 731 games, Neil has racked up 1,861 career penalty minutes, but he has also scored 200 points (90 goals, 110 assists).
- Chris Phillips – Ottawa Senators – Chris Phillips was the first overall pick of the 1996 NHL Draft. He made his debut in 1997 and – with the exception of injuries during his second season – has been a remarkably reliable and consistent part of the Senators roster, including appearances in at least 80 games in each of the last 6 seasons. While never known as an offensive threat, Phillips’ reliability has allowed him to compile respectable numbers in the scoring column – in 1,025 career games, Phillips has scored 256 points (65 goals, 191 assists).
- Jason Spezza – Ottawa Senators – Spezza was drafted second overall in the 2001 NHL Draft (Ilya Kovalchuk was first). He made his NHL debut in the 2002-03 season and has been one of the main contributors to the Senators lineup since then. In 606 games, he has scored 616 points. In 4 of the 7 post-lockout seasons, including this past season, Spezza has been at least a point-per-game player. Spezza is also remarkably young for a player who has been in the league as long as he has and will not turn 30 until after next season.
- Brooks Orpik – Pittsburgh Penguins – Brooks Orpik was selected in the first round by the Penguins in the 2000 Draft. He debuted during the 2002-03 season and won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009. In 585 games, Orpik has scored 111 points. Obviously, in the next few years, as Crosby, Malkin, Fleury and Letang get older, they will join Orpik, but as it stands, Orpik is the only home-bred Penguins player who has been with the team for 10 years.
- Patrick Marleau – San Jose Sharks – The Sharks drafted Patrick Marleau with the second overall pick in 1997 (Marleau’s current linemate Joe Thornton was drafted first overall). The following season, Marleau joined the Sharks lineup and has remained there ever since. He has become San Jose’s franchise leader in goals (387) and points (443) while earning a reputation as one of the most dependable players in hockey. Amazingly, in Marleau’s 14 years in the NHL, he has never missed more than 8 games in a season. In the past 3 seasons, he has not missed a game at all. In fact, Marleau’s durability has allowed him to play 1,117 games while only being 32 years old. Additonally, Marleau has been a consistent producer for San Jose, scoring at least 30 goals in 6 of the last 7 seasons.
- Barret Jackman – St. Louis Blues – Jackman was drafted 17th overall by St. Louis in 1999. In the 2001-02 season he made his NHL debut, coming onto the roster full-time during the 2002-03 season. During his first full season, Jackman beat Rick Nash and Henrik Zetterberg to win the Calder Trophy as the League’s top rookie. Since coming up, Jackman has played in 519 games, scored 19 goals and added 107 assists.
- Vincent Lecavalier – Tampa Bay Lightning – It’s almost hard to believe that the Lightning existed before Vincent Lecavalier. However, the Lightning captain was not drafted until 1998, when Tampa Bay took him with the first overall pick. In 2000, Lecavalier became the youngest player ever to be named captain of an NHL team when he earned the title at the age of 19. While the title would be removed a year later, he would be renamed captain in 2008. With 998 games played, 373 goals and 842 points, Lecavalier is the Lightning’s all-time leader in those categories. With two games played next season, he will become the franchise’s first 1,000 game player. In 2007, on the back of a 52 goal season, Lecavalier won the Rocket Richard. More importantly, in 2004, he and the Lightning won the Stanley Cup.
- Daniel Sedin – Vancouver Canucks – Daniel Sedin was officially taken second overall by the Canucks in the 1999 Draft (“officially” because he and twin brother Henrik were called at the same time), making his debut in the 2000 season. While he and Henrik share similar traits in their playing styles, Daniel has been the “goal-scoring” brother. In 859 games with Vancouver, Daniel has 279 goals and 718 points. In 2011, on the back of a 104 point season, he won the Art Ross Trophy and was voted as the Ted Lindsay Award winner.
- Henrik Sedin – Vancouver Canucks – Henrik was drafted with his brother Daniel in 1999 and made his debut in 2000. In his career, he has played in 892 games, scored 171 goals and 747 points. With 576 assists, he is the franchise’s all-time leader. He has played in more games and scored more points than his twin brother, largely due to an injury to Daniel in 2009. In 2010, with 112 points, he won the Art Ross Trophy and was voted the Hart Trophy winner.