What is the Average Career Length of an NHL Player?

The average NHL career is around 5 years. Most NHL careers end due to age, injuries, the demanding nature of the sport, or simply a lack of production. While around 5 years is the average, some players have had NHL careers span well over 20 years.

An NHL career is something to be proud of. Only the best of the best make it to the league, and nearly every Canadian kid like myself once dreamed of making it to the NHL. But how long do hockey players normally last in the NHL before calling it quits?

Read on to learn not only how long an average career is, but also some of the reasons why NHL careers end. I’m also going to go over some of the longest careers in NHL history.

Key Takeaways

  • The average NHL career only lasts around 5 years. It is a very competitive league and there are always new players becoming eligible to play, so holding onto your roster spot can be difficult at times.
  • There are many reasons why NHL careers end, such as: age, injuries, the demanding nature of the sport, or a player simply not producing enough for a team to want to keep them on a roster.
  • While it isn’t the norm, many NHL players have had NHL careers spanning over 20 years such as Chris Chelios, Gordie Howe, Mark Messier, and Jaromir Jagr.

Reasons Why NHL Careers End

There are many reasons why an NHL career can end, and this section is going to go over a few of them.


First and foremost, the age of a player often contributes to their career ending. As players age, they become less explosive, less fast, and more susceptible to injuries. While some players can play into their late 30s and early 40s, many retire before that as their body simply can’t handle it.

People generally reach their physical peak in their late 20s or early 30s, and once they pass that, their age will slowly begin to creep up on them. And with hockey being such a competitive sport, there are always newer and younger players looking to replace the older ones.


Of course, injuries have been known to cut an otherwise-promising career short. Hockey is a very physical contact sport, and injuries are not uncommon. This could be anything from a broken bone, to concussions, to strained muscles, and everything in between.

While many players can fully recover from injuries with enough time and physical therapy, other players never get back to their previous selves and their injury could end up costing them their career.

Some NHL careers that were cut short due to injury include Pavel Bure, Mario Lemeiux, Mike Bossy, and Bobby Orr.

Demanding nature of the sport

In some cases, the demanding nature of being an NHL player is what ends a career. Being a pro athlete takes a ton of work, time, dedication, and sacrifice, and many people simply aren’t willing to do that for more than a couple of years.

It can be draining and difficult for not only your body, but also your mind. There is a lot of internal and external pressure, and players need to put in a ton of effort to keep their spot on an NHL roster.

People also have other goals in life, such as running a business or being with their family, and doing these while also being an NHL player is a tall order. Many players are content to make good money for a couple of years, and then shift their focus in life to something else.

A lack of production

In some cases, it is the lack of production that a player has that leads to their career ending. Not everyone has the skill needed to stay in the NHL year after year, so if a player can’t produce for their team or realize their potential, teams will often move onto someone new.

Every player has a role on their team, whether it is to score goals, play great defense, win faceoffs, make hits, or kill penalties. If a player can no longer perform their role up to acceptable standards, teams will move on from them.

While they may find a home with another team, plenty of players will simply have their NHL careers end quietly when no team decides to pick them up.

The Longest NHL Careers

While a 5-year career might be the norm for many players, several players have enjoyed careers that have lasted much longer. The longest NHL career as a player (in terms of seasons played) is 26 seasons, by both Gordie Howe and Chris Chelios.

Howe played from 1946-47 to 1979-80 and became one of the best players ever, and Chelios had a career that began in 1983-84 and went until 2009-10, and has the most playoff games played by any NHL player in history.

There are many other popular players that have enjoyed a long 20+ year career in the NHL, including Mark Messier, Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Marleau, Ron Francis, Zdeno Chara, and Joe Thornton.


Here are a few frequently asked questions about NHL careers, as well as their answers.

What is the shortest career in NHL history?

Throughout the history of the NHL, there are hundreds of players that have only played a single game in the league. It is impossible to narrow down precisely as time-on-ice has only been tracked for a little over 20 years.

What do players do after retiring from the NHL?

This depends on the player, but many of them may get into coaching, start other business ventures, retire to spend more time with their family, or even become analysts on TV.

Final Thoughts

I hope that this guide has been able to help you learn not only the average career length of NHL players, but also why so many careers in the sport only end up lasting a couple of years.

Who is your favorite player that only ended up having a short NHL career? Let me know in a comment below!

About Kale
Being from Canada, hockey is essentially a way of life. I instantly fell in love with the game since I was being put on skates. From playing as a child (and the occasional street hockey game with friends today) to being a fan for over 20 years, I’m here to share my knowledge and passion for hockey. Email: kale@hockeyhow.com

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