It’s a question that Tom Kostopoulos is faced with before the start of every season.
Will this one be the last?
And every year, Kostopoulos gives the same answer.
There’s a good chance, he says, but he also leaves the door open.
“We’ll see how the season goes,” Kostopoulos said.
If this season - Kostopoulos’ 17th as a pro, is indeed his last, there likely won’t be a farewell tour across AHL hockey rinks. The 36-year-old Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins captain often prefers to wait until the grind of a season has ended and he and his family have time to reflect.
That’s the approach Kostopoulos took when he made up his mind to sign another one-year AHL deal and return for the 2015-16 season.
“Going into last season I figured it would be my last, but as the season went on, and throughout playoffs, I was feeling good,” he said. “I thought I could do it again and my family enjoys it here and they were good with it.”
A look at his numbers over the last few seasons indicate Kostopoulos hasn’t declined. If anything, he’s remained remarkably consistent.
In 2013-14 he scored 22 goals and 47 points in 71 games with the Penguins. Last season, he appeared in 72 games and tallied 16 goals and 44 points.
Even in the playoffs, when most players feel the toll of a long season, Kostopoulos continued to produce with three goals in eight games in 2015.
Production and consistency have been the hallmarks of Kostopoulos’ career. He’s the organization’s all-time leader in games played (478), goals (138), assists (206) and points (344). Kostopoulos is also first in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s postseason rankings with 18 goals and 35 assists for 53 points in 76 contests.
Since beginning his pro career in 1999-2000 as a member of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins inaugural team, Kostopoulos has played in 1,172 regular-season matches between the AHL (542) and National Hockey League (630). He’s one of seven players in hockey history to have appeared in at least 500 games in both leagues.
They are totals that Kostopoulos will continue to build on this season, while he also continues to serve as captain and veteran leader in the room.
“I still enjoy playing and I like being out there,” he said. “If I can help anyone in anyway I don’t mind doing that.
“The young guys are still teaching me things too. But it’s definitely a nice role I have here where I can help the younger guys.”
It’s a role that’s appreciated beyond the players as well. Head coach Mike Sullivan is well aware of what Kostopoulos can contribute as a player, and he’s just as appreciative of what he can provide as a leader.
“We believe Tom Kostopoulos is an extension of our coaching staff. He’s been around the game a long time and has a lot to offer these young kids,” Sullivan said. “He’s a quality person and that’s one of the reason he’s the captain of this hockey team.”
It’s a position that Kostopoulos didn’t imagine he’d ever be in when he turned pro in 1999 and joined the Penguins during their inaugural season. Now that his career will likely end - at some point, in the place where it began, Kostopoulos feels fortunate.
“You never know with hockey. It’s a small world,” he said. “(Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) took care of the players back then and they still do today. It’s a nice spot for me and my family to come back to.”