What If NHL Players Really Peak at 24-25?

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cropped-IMG_0073.jpgI was perusing articles about the NHL recently and came across this one about 3 Myths About The NHL That Won’t Go Away.

One of the three was about when players hit their prime:

3.  Players Are At Their Best Around Ages 27-30 

Another great myth of the NHL is that players hit their prime just before they turn thirty. In reality, they are usually long past their peak performance by that time.

According to this oft-cited study, players hit their peak points-per-minute at 24 and their peak points-per-game at 25.  Though “Prime” does extend roughly to about the age of 29.

Now, go back and look at the free agency market, not just the guys who hit the market, but the ones who signed for big bucks to stay where they are. How many of them were past 29, but are now getting paid as if the teams is expecting them to just be hitting their prime, which they may not be. Makes you really think about how things work doesn’t it?

For example, let’s look ay my favorite team, the Islanders. Common wisdom is that the Isles were quiet during the off season because they were a playoff team last season, but a young one, and another year of maturity should see the team improve. But, should they expect the guys they have to be getting better? I think there’s an argument to be had on both sides of that assumption.

On the one hand, if 24 is the peak points per minute, and 25 the points-per-game peak, what should we expect from the young Islanders?

We assume that, for the team to be better than last season, the following guys are going to improve with age: Bailey, Cizikas, Lee, Nelson, Okposo, Tavares, Leddy, Hamonic, Hickey, deHaan.

Now let’s look at that group, by age:

Bailey (25)

Cizikas (24)

Lee (25)

Nelson (23)

Okposo (27)

Strome (22)

Tavares (24)

deHaan (24)

Hamonic (24)

Hickey (26)

Leddy (24)

Strictly speaking statistically, it might be safe to assume that some of those guys already are as good as they are going to get, especially the ones who are already over 25. For what it’s worth, if it’s true that players start to decline after 29, can we see why what the market for Kyle Okposo will be as a FA might actually wind up being more than he really is worth on a long-term deal? He may have already had his best seasons.

Personally, I do think the Islanders are correct in assuming some of these guys will be better though. Specifically, Strome and Nelson, who are under the 24 year mark, and should improve after having an entire season under their belts, and Hamonic and Leddy should also be better defenders, who traditionally take a little longer to develop than forwards. Add in a youngsters who have not spent an entire eason in the NHL yet, and the improvement they see during the season, and it’s possible the Isles will be better.

But, if a significant number of those guys are as good as they are going to get, and we start to see some decline from guys who aren’t considered old by NHL standards yet, but who are on the other side of what this study says, guys like Boychuk(31), Neilsen (31), Grabovski (31), Kulemin (29) and even the group of 27 year olds, (Okposo, Clutterbuck, Strait, Grabner), who likely are at their best already, and I could also see where there’s a possibility that this team needs to be thinking about now instead of the next season and should be going for it.

At the end of the day, however, I look at the ages of the current team, and the prospects that are coming in the next couple of seasons, and I think Islander fans have every reason to be excited about this team. But I might not be too surprised if some of these supposed “young” players, have already maxed out at the top of their game.

 

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