What is the Average Age of Retirement in the NHL?

Average Career Length of an NHL player

Have you ever wondered about the career length of an NHL player, let alone think of the average retirement age? Apparently, it is difficult for a newly drafted player to get the opportunity of featuring in the NHL games.

But once he gets the opportunity to do so, he may continue to make a regular appearance for his team. How long will he actually play in the league and when will he be expected to retire?

The average NHL player plays on average 4.5 years. However, when looking at the data in detail, the top 25% of players played an average of 12 years, whereas the bottom 75% played an average of 2 years.

Now there is a lot that goes into figuring out what the average length of a career is, so let’s dig into the numbers.

What is the average age for an NHL player to retire?

There are many factors that determine a hockey player’s retirement. Sometimes, a player’s retirement age can be influenced by how many injuries he had during his career, what position he played, and when his career peaked.

Forwards and Defencemen tend to retire earlier since they peak at around 24 to 30 years old. After that, their performance reaches a significant decline.

Goalies, on the other hand, retire late because they peak later than Forwards and Defencemen. Moreso, their performance has a negligible decline as they continue to age.

In a nutshell, the average retirement age for NHL players is over 29 years old.

Breakdown of the Average Career Length of an NHL Player:

Draft Year Number of Players Who Played in NHL Average Games/Player Median Games/Player Highest Total Games Played by One Player Top 25% Players average/game Bottom 75% Players average/game
1998 122 336 164 1212 911 148
1999 98 265 132 1330 771 101
2000 106 298 81 1264 901 116
2001 108 339 198 1148 876 162
2002 91 352 207 1240 861 136
2003 119 385 242 1250 970 190
2004 113 310 207 1158 800 150
2005 100 304 142 1081 819 133
2006 78 341 196 1074 716 156
2007 93 301 154 983 766 156
Averages 102 323 172 1174 839 144
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The first thing to look at is the average games a player has played in the NHL and it is 323 games or given our ‘70 game’ season that would work out to 4.5 seasons. Fairly simple, right?

Well, if you look at the median, which is the number directly in the middle of your sample, you get a different picture. When you look at the Median of the players throughout the years, it is 172 games played or about 2.5 years.

When the median differs significantly from the average (172 to 323) you need to assume that the data is skewed in some direction – so we need to dig a little deeper.

Deep Findings

Well, looking at the raw numbers, it was obvious that there were a few guys at the top who played a lot of games, and a bunch of guys at the bottom who had played, comparatively, only a few.

I divided the groups into the top 25% of games played and the bottom 75% of games played. This highlighted a significant difference between the players at the top and the bottom of the league.

The top 25% played on average 839 games or 12 years in the league, whereas the bottom 75 played an average of 144 games or 2 years in the league. This is quite the difference.

Furthermore, if you look at the numbers another way, the top 25% of players in a draft year who end up playing in the NHL play 66% of the available games versus 33% for the other 75%

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Analysis of the average length of an NHL Player’s career?

From our analysis, an NHL player features for an average of 4.5 years in hockey. Apparently, the really good players get to make many more appearances, while everyone else gets a warm cup of coffee in the NHL.

When you go back and look through the names in each of the seasons from the drafts that were used, you will certainly recognize some of the names in the bottom 75%, but there are many more thoughts of ‘who is that?’.

When you look at the top 25% of players the first few players will stand out as all-stars, hall-of-Famers, but after that, you quickly get into players that we would probably label as average NHL players who would play 7 to 10 years in the league.

So I think that the most accurate statement to make about how long a player plays in the NHL is: most of those who make it will play for a year or two, a regular player will play about 7 to 10 years, and the all-stars play for 12 to 15 years.


So we all knew that it was hard to make it to the NHL, but now we also know that once you get there, it is also extremely hard to play a lot of games in the league.

If you make it to the league, you are more than likely to play for less than 2 years. Even if you play the average of 4.5 years that a player ‘typically’ gets, you are doing above average.

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This goes to highlight how impressive the level of play is for those players who manage to play in the league for any significant amount of time. Really, anyone who plays 600 or 700 games plus has had a phenomenal hockey career.

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