With players dominating at a younger age, will Lord Stanley become a sippy cup?
I’ve been noticing that the peak of NHL players has significantly shifted in my lifetime. When I was growing up, the peak age for NHL players was between 25 and 30. Evidence indicates this has changed dramatically over the past decade, to the point where I’m testing a new theory that the peak age for NHL players has shifted to be between 18 and 25.
Why the shift?
A lot of reasons. National teams are turning out draft-ready 18-year-olds who not only have the bodies of pros, but who’ve probably done multiple media training classes before finishing high school. Post lockout, the game has gotten faster, and these kids have grown up during the non-obstruction era and capitalized on it. Gone is the era of saying a young player needs to “do his time” or “learn how to be a pro.” We’ve been spoiled with “generational talents” seemingly one season after the next, and it seems that the best rookies are consistently able to make meaningful contributions in their very first seasons.
I’ve decided to test my theory about peak NHL performance aging down. I’ve decided to gamble on the NHL Playoffs using the cumulative average age of teams as the tiebreaker; I’ll put my money on the younger team. I’ve looked at the numbers two ways: first I’m looking at the average age of just the top six forwards and top four defensemen who play the most minutes. Secondly, I also looked at the average age of the entire playoff roster, excluding goalies.
I’m using the “age gap” only as a tiebreaker in betting, so there needs to be a meaningful difference to make a wage based on average age. For instance, both Calgary and Colorado are extremely young squads (making this my favorite first-round series), but the difference in average age isn’t statistically significant enough to sway my bet. Similarly, the average age of the Blue Jackets top six/top four is 1.8 years younger than the Lightning, but when you look at the full rosters, they’re exactly the same—an average age of 25.6. In that scenario, I’m not going to pick the #8 seed over one of the best teams in recent history based on a one-year age gap of their top players.
But there are four series I’m picking based on age difference, betting on the younger squads.
I’m picking the Maple Leafs over the Bruins.
Average age of Maple Leafs Top 6 forwards/Top 4 defense = 25.9
Average age of Bruins Top 6 forwards/Top 4 defense = 27.3
Average age of entire Maple Leafs starting lineup (without goalies) = 26.1
Average age of entire Bruins starting lineup (without goalies) = 26.9
This is another series I’m excited about. I think it’s a toss-up, but I’m putting my money on the more youthful Leafs and their baby-faced assassins—Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Reilly—to overcome old-man Chara and 30-somethings Bergeron and Marchand.
I’m picking the Hurricanes over the Capitals.
Average age of Hurricanes Top 6 forwards/Top 4 defense = 26.3
Average age of Capitals Top 6 forwards/Top 4 defense = 29.2
Average age of Hurricanes starting lineup (without goalies) = 25.1
Average age of Capitals starting lineup (without goalies) = 28.1
Okay, you were probably comfortable with me using average age as a tiebreaker between the coin flip of a series between Toronto and Boston, but am I really picking Carolina to upset the defending champion Capitals?! I am, and here’s why. The Caps have logged some serious miles this year, and Carolina is significantly younger as a squad. Whether you’re looking at the Canes top six forwards and top four defensemen or the entire roster, both boast an average age about three years younger than the Caps—not to mention the Canes underrated blueline is even younger at an average age of 24.6. So, as much as I’d like to see Ovie crappy-flop in a Washington D.C. fountain again, I’m choosing AGE before those BEAUTIES.
I’m picking the Jets over the Blues.
Average age of Jets Top 6 forwards/Top 4 defense = 26.8
Average age of Blues Top 6 forwards/Top 4 defense = 27.9
Average age of Jets starting lineup (without goalies) = 26.3
Average age of Blues starting lineup (without goalies) = 27.0
Similar to the Bruins vs. Leafs, I think most people believe the Jets vs. Blues series will be quite competitive. I’m banking on the slightly younger Jets squad to gain the slight advantage in what is likely to be a real battle.
I’m picking the Islanders over the Penguins.
Average age of Islanders Top 6 forwards/Top 4 defense = 27
Average age of Penguins Top 6 forwards/Top 4 defense = 28.2
Average age of Islanders starting lineup (without goalies) = 27.4
Average age of Penguins starting lineup (without goalies) = 28.1
I guess this one will go down about as well as picking against the Capitals, but the numbers don’t lie! That’s why I’m picking the Islanders over 31-year-old Sidney Crosby and his Penguins. Here it comes down to the Islanders top six forwards and top four defensemen having an average age that’s over a year younger than the Penguins.
Do I know if this is going to work? No idea, but I’ve been saying the NHL is a young man’s league for quite some time now, so I thought it was time to put my money where my mouth is. I’ll check back after Round 1 to let you know how this newfangled theory is working out for my pocketbook.
I’ll take Marner at 21 over Chara at 41!