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Posted at 09:07 AM ET, 07/14/2011

Are the Caps’ young players in their prime?


(John McDonnell - TWP)
One of Ted Leonsis’s most interesting comments at the National Press Club this week — highlighted by both Michael Lee and the AP — concerned the young core of his hockey team.

“I do think our young players that form our core, led by Alex Ovechkin, it’s their time now,” Leonsis said. “They are not even in their prime.”

Now, I don’t want to go crazy on the semantics here, because Leonsis has phrased that thought somewhat differently on his blog in recent days.

“Youth. Players in their prime. Vets,” he wrote this week, describing his roster.

“We have kept the core together. They are all coming into their prime,” he wrote a couple days later.

And “coming into their prime” is a bit different than “not even in their prime.”

But just for fun, I asked my hockey nerd friends when the prime of a hockey player’s career begins.

They referred me, for example, to this analysis by Arctic Ice Hockey: on the peak point-per-game age of a hockey player (which I realize may not be the same thing as the peak overall game of a hockey player, but is still interesting):

The peak age is just slightly more than 25. The peak age actually falls at approximately 25 for a wide range of NHL equivalencies for the minors. This is also roughly the same result as you get if you restrict your dataset solely to players with careers longer than 200 games and you look at the number of NHL games played at each age. Other methods don’t give substantially divergent results - even the most or least restrictive datasets result in peaks between age 24 and 26.

Then there was James Mirtle’s look at the 40-goal seasons produced by players who reached 50 at least once:

Forty goals, during any era, was still a star turn, and an awful lot of players were pulling that off after age 30. But you certainly can see a definitive peak here, from 27 to 30, and it’s from that point onward the goals began to fade.

So, are the Caps young stars “not even in their prime?” Alex Semin is 27 and Brooks Laich is 28; both are clearly in their prime. Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, John Carlson and Karl Alzner are all between 20 and 23; they have clearly not yet reached their prime. That leaves Alex Ovechkin, who will be 26 before the next season starts, and Mike Green, who will turn 26 after the season’s second game. If they aren’t in their prime, they can certainly see it fast approaching.

Conclusion? I think you could realistically argue that the Caps’ young stars were not in their prime last season. I think that case becomes a lot tougher moving forward. Once four of your top five scoring forwards and your most dangerous offensive defenseman are at least 26, the “not even in their prime” argument sort of ends.

Note: This item originally included a link to a third chart on hockey aging that I accidentally was quoting out of context. I’ve deleted it, since the context invalidates its use here. Apologies.

By  |  09:07 AM ET, 07/14/2011

Categories:  Caps

 
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