Yesterday the Leafs partook in their annual golf tournament and pre-camp media rounds, where Joffrey Lupul touched on a topic that has popped up throughout the summer—the Maple Leafs have gotten older.
[pull_quote_center]I’m really excited with a lot of the guys we picked up. Robidas, Polak, Winnik . . . just a little bit of a veteran presence throughout the lineup is going to do a lot for us on and off the ice. The last couple of years we’ve been one of the youngest teams in the NHL and now we’ve added some more veterans, guys who have played in the playoffs. That’s going to be good for us.[/pull_quote_center]
Last year, James Mirtle charted out the average height, weight and age of every team in the league according to their opening night roster. The Leafs started last season as the fourth youngest team in the league. How do they look going into 2014-15?
|Nikolai Kulemin||27||Mike Santorelli||28|
|Jay McClement||30||Dave Booth||29|
|Mason Raymond||28||Daniel Winnik||29|
|Dave Bolland||27||Leo Komarov||27|
|Frazer McLaren||25||Petri Kontiola||30|
|Colton Orr||31||Peter Holland||23|
|Carl Gunnarsson||26||Matt Frattin||26|
|Paul Ranger||29||Stephane Robidas||37|
|Mark Fraser||27||Roman Polak||28|
|Average Age||27.7||Average Age||28.3|
***Note: There is one extra player incoming because the Leafs were so tight against the cap last season that they were unable to have a full roster up to start the season. I also put Holzer as the 7th D-man because he’s cheap and it makes more sense for him to sit in the press box over a young kid, but there is a variation there.
It is also important to recognize that the rest of the team, obviously, got a year older.
|2013-14 Maple Leafs||27.7|
|2014-15 Maple Leafs||28.3|
***I put Bodie on the team and took off Ashton. That’s my guess at what will happen, but that can change.
It is noteworthy that Mirtle was more exact in his calculations than I. He calculated the exact age based on what day of what month each guy was born. I simply rounded to the year. I’d wager a guess that, using his method, the Leafs average age is probably a little higher than that.
That said, you can see the Leafs are slightly older, and have now moved up from one of the youngest teams in the league to the middle third of the pack. Last season, Anaheim started the year with an average age of 27.4 and that placed them as the 11th youngest team in the league. The average age last year was 27.8.
Of the teams that had an average age over 28 years old, 70% made the playoffs last year:
Earlier this summer, Eric Tulsky wrote an article on how scouts favour older veteran players (a good read I recommend checking out). In the comments section he notes:
[pull_quote_center]I talked to the team about it and they noted that with the really young guys, you don’t really know what you have yet. They generally don’t want a guy moving way up and then way back down the ratings, so they are a bit cautious with moving him up early in his career.[/pull_quote_center]
We certainly saw Carlyle and the coaching staff hesitant to move young, less-established players up the roster last season. Rielly was fast-tracked because he’s Morgan Rielly, but players like Carter Ashton weren’t getting looks in the top 6, and Peter Holland was pushed way down the line-up once the team started getting healthy; he wasn’t getting a sniff of playing with the Leafs top players or on the power play anymore. Even a guy like Nazem Kadri, who has outscored Bozak two straight years now, doesn’t play over the more veteran player.
In a recent interview with The Hockey Chat, Carlyle said:
[pull_quote_center]Our plan is for Dion to play 22-25 minutes. When Dion goes over 25 minutes it can be taxing on him. Over 82 games it wears. I think we were guilty of putting Dion in some tough situations, but in fairness, who were we to give those tasks to? We are trying to ease people into the league and unfortunately the burden quite often fell on Dion. The minutes he logs are difficult ones. With our additions, we hope to take some assignments off of his plate.[/pull_quote_center]
Although he doesn’t say the same thing outright about the forwards, it’s a safe assumption he felt the same way about that group. As has been noted here before, the Leafs top line and second line were both pretty well the highest-played top line and second line in the league. With a collection of productive veterans on the team this time around, there should be more options with the roster, and the staff should feel more comfortable playing these guys. They aren’t looking at Carter Ashton, Jerry D’Amigo, Josh Leivo and two heavyweights the second someone gets hurt this season. There are established players playing down the roster.
Furthermore, Tulsky has looked at scoring rates by age and concludes that the peak scoring range is between 24 and 25, but when players get older?
[pull_quote_center]On average, players retain about 90% of their scoring through age 29, but the drop from there is pretty sharp — they hit 80% at age 31, 70% at age 32-33, and 60% at age 35.[/pull_quote_center]
Granted Tlusky has not done the work on it, but he alludes to it and I am inclined to believe that, as NHL players advance in age, their minutes and quality of competition increases and that drops their scoring rates. They aren’t playing the easier minutes and feasting on players of a lower calibre. Patrice Bergeron, for example, had 31 goals and 73 points at age 20, both career highs, but I’d bet his minutes are consistently more difficult now and he’s currently a more effective player in the aggregate.
When Dave Tippett went to Phoenix, they became well known throughout the league for signing veteran castoffs and they made the playoffs in his first three years, including a trip to the final four. Under Pat Quinn, the Leafs were well known as one of the oldest teams in the league, but they were also very, very good. The Red Wings have seemingly been old for a decade now. They make the playoffs every year.
The Leafs aren’t that old yet. They aren’t even in the top 10 oldest teams in the league. But what has been one of the youngest teams in the league consistently for nearly five years has now finally added some experience and littered their roster with legitimate NHL veterans who can produce and contribute.