Here’s a prediction for how Alexander Semin, the Washington Capitals’ enigmatic winger, will produce this upcoming season:

He will score 26 goals — making it the sixth consecutive season in which he finishes above 25 in that category — but only eight will come on the power play. He’ll get 31 assists and finish with just 57 points in 70 games. His shooting percentage will be an above-average 12 percent.

Capitals fans might think the prediction is unfair; only 51 players since the lockout have scored 40 goals in a season, and that group includes Semin and the majority of the NHL’s top-producing players. Plus, Washington saw more than 57 percent of even-strength scoring chances go in its favor when Semin was on the ice, his individual Corsi was second-best on the team and his 166 goals are the NHL’s 24th best since the lockout.

So why such a pessimistic prediction?

Semin, 27, is an essential piece of the Capitals’ offense, but elite goal scorers are becoming an endangered species. Only five players scored 40 or more goals last season, and there have been only 19 skaters with 40-goal seasons in the last three years.

History suggests elite goal scorers are often average goal scorers by the time they turn 27 years old. Most goal-scoring wingers peak between ages 23 and 25, and then the decline begins to accelerate after age 26.

Quite a few of these stars did their damage early in their careers, with 32 (or about 63 percent) scoring a 40-goal season before the age 27. Almost 75 percent hit the mark before turning 28, but 13 managed to light the lamp 40 or more times in a season after age 29 (25 percent).

Players who have had similar seasons at the same age and production level give us clues as to what we can reasonably expect from Semin in 2011-12. A similar season is one in which they play the same position and have similar era-adjusted boxcar stats, like goals and assists along with time on ice. Some players will be more similar to Semin in terms of overall career, others in regards to the two most recent seasons.

A few of the similar wingers produced elite seasons at age 27. Henrik Zetterberg had 43 goals and 49 assists and won a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy. Dany Heatley followed up back-to-back 50-goal seasons with 41.

What are the chances Semin scores 40 or more goals in 2011-12? Almost non-existent (0.1 percent), but the probability he scores 30 or more is about 27 percent.

Goals scored in 2011-12 Probability (x or more)
20 96.9%
25 72.8%
30 26.8%
35 3.4%
40 0.1%

So, you see, I’m saying there’s a chance.

Neil Greenberg also writes for Russian Machine Never Breaks. Follow him on Twitter: @ngreenberg.