What is the Average Career Length of an NHL Player?

What is the average length of an NHL player’s career? Many hockey fans wonder about this. They have no idea the exact career length of these players just because hockey players have different spans of their careers. Some have a long career spanning decades, and some have 2 to 5 years.

Commonly, the average career span of NHL players is five years. But if you evaluate the NHL player’s career data, you will notice that the top 25% of players have a career span over decades – 10 – 12 years, and the bottom 75% have a career range from 2 to 5 years.

So, how can one figure out the career length of these players as there is a lot to dig out? To find accurate information regarding this question – it’s time to jump into the details of the NHL player’s career.

Data and Method – To Estimate the Average NHL Career Length

Different questions and variables come up when calculating the average NHL career length: 

  • How many games should a player play to be considered active in a year?
  • Will a player count an active player in the NHL for a decade if he only plays one game each year?
  • How do you account for the gap between the top NHL players and the bottom players who play only one game each year?

To answer these roaming questions in our minds, here is how we approached these questions to find a somewhat suitable conceptual picture using the available data.

  • Data collection is based on a player’s draft year and counts for ten years of the draft contract, for example, from 1998 to 2007.
  • The time passes, most of these drafts do not have any current players playing in the NHL and are near to the recent year dates.
  • Only some drafts have maximum dozen players to play compared to the other non-active players.
  • Remember that this data counts only drafted players, not those hired as free agents. Counting free agents will only increase the complexity of deeming the sample size of players.  
  • Goalies are also excluded from this data as goalies only play for a limited amount of games compared to the rest of the players.
  • A season is based on 70 games, including injuries, receiving minors, and healthy scratches. So, if a player plays 70 games over five seasons, it would count as one season, not five in actual analysis. But for some, 70 is like a good bar to stick with.

To understand the above calculative method, check the data below:

Draft YearNo. of Players Played in the NHLAverage Games / Players Median Games / PlayersTotal No. of Games Played by One YearTop 25% Players Average / GamesBottom 75% Players Average / Games
19981223361641212911148
1999982651321330771101
2000106298811264901116
20011083391981148876162
2002913522071240861136
20031193852421250970190
20041133102071158800150
20051003041421081819133
2006783411961074716156
200793301154983766156
Averages1023231721174839144

The first thing to check in the table is the average number of NHL games a player played – 323. So if the 70 games set (one season) applied to it, it would be a total of 4.5 seasons – right?

And if you look at the median of players directly in the center of the table, the average median is 172, which is about 2.5 seasons.

Apparently, looking at the difference between the median and the average, that is 172 to 323, which indicates that data got skewed in direction – to adjust it, we have to dig deeper.

What to Do When Digging A Little Deeper?

Well, to dig deeper, as I stated earlier that I divided the data into the top 25% of players and the bottom 75% of players. The leading players played almost 12 years of their career which rounds about 839 games, while the bottom players only played approximately two years or 44 games – quite a big difference. This highlighted a huge gap between top and bottom players’ career spans.

Moreover, if you look at the data the other way round, you will notice that the top 25% of players played about 66% of available NHL games, contrary to the 33% of NHL games the other 75% played.

So, What To Say About The NHL Career Of A Player?

I guess it is acceptable to say that the estimated career length of an NHL player is about five years. When looking at the data of these players’ careers, you will recognize many names at first looking at the top 25% of players. Some of them are Hall of Famers and all-stars, but as you scroll down the list, you will see the names labeled as average, the bottom 75%, who played some games for 7 to 10 years.

The good players play well and for many years with their full passion, whereas the other players get a warm cup of tea in the NHL. I think it is more appropriate to say that the top all-star career goes about 12 to 15 years, the average player’s career ranges from 7 to 10, and the bottom player’s career length is 2 to 5 years.

The Bottom Line on What is the Average Career Length of an NHL player?

Everyone knows it is a dream of every ice hockey player to make it to the NHL, and it is not easy to step into NHL for any player. Furthermore, if one gets into the NHL but staying in the NHL actively is tougher. One has to put a lot of effort into his career.

So, when a player gets into the NHL, his playing career will last approximately two years. Hence, if a player plays for about 4 to 5 years, it will consider above average, which is quite good. This indicates how notable a journey the other players who play for 7 to 10 years effectively. And what a mighty and phenomenal career the high top class Hall of Famers – the career span of about 15 years – marvelous!

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