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*Province* Research Suggests Leaders Will Bounce Back


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If you read the abstract of the article in The Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, your first thought is likely that the Canucks are in deep trouble.

The learned piece, researched and written by University of B.C. Sauder School of Business professor James Brander and two former students, Edward J. Egan and Louisa Yeung, analyzes the relationship between age and performance in the NHL.

The Canucks have seven players who will be 30 or older when the 2014-15 season begins. The oldest – and certainly the most important -- of these are Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who will start the season at 34 and are coming off their poorest offensive performances in 10 years. Their longtime winger, Alex Burrows, who is coming off an even weaker season, will be 33, as will big-minute defenceman Kevin Bieksa.

The article states that, on average, forwards peak at 27 and defencemen at 28, while they begin to fall off noticeably at 32 and 34, respectively. That doesn’t seem to bode well for the Canucks’ core.

Actually, says Brander, it’s not so dire.

The research looked at data from the 1997-98 through 2011-12 seasons through the lens of individual players’ plus-minus and scoring performance. Goaltenders were rated on save percentage. Overall, 1,246 forwards, 635 defencemen and 152 goaltenders were included in the survey.

For those fancy stats people out there, Brander says he didn’t look at Corsi or Fenwick or other advanced statistics because that detail of information wasn’t available as far back as he wanted to track.

“Basically, all the measures of performance moved together,” he says. “If players are peaking in scoring and plus-minus at 28, they are peaking in everything. And we’re not comparing players against each other; it’s looking at each player.”

But back to the Canucks and the Sedins.

Brander acknowledges the twins were late bloomers, but not as much as you’d expect.

“Henrik was 29 at his peak, when he won the scoring title,” says Brander of the 2009-10 season. “Forwards typically peak at 27 or 28, so he was a year later. He’s been a point-a-game player since he was 25. He fits the model, but he was a year late. If you look at his decline, it’s actually very standard.”

Like many, Brander is of the opinion that the twins’ usage by coach John Tortorella this season –- a big up-tick in ice-time, a lower percentage of offensive zone starts, seeing time on the penalty kill –- was a major contributor to both Henrik’s and brother Daniel’s decline in points. He believes if their deployment is more strictly focused on offence, the twins’ output will return to normal levels.

But those “normal” levels aren’t those of the 2009-12 seasons. He doesn’t see them as point-a-game players again. Somewhere in the 60-point range is probably more reasonable.

The good news for Canucks fans is there is reason to believe the Sedins can be productive throughout the next four years of their new $7-million-per-season deals. Brander thinks the numbers for high-skill players –- he compares them to fellow Swede Daniel Alfredsson, who’s still playing at 41

–- show the Sedins can still be good players through age 37.

“They are Daniel Alfredsson types,” says Brander. “They’ve played a low-impact game most of their careers, they’re high-skill.”

Not surprisingly, Brander sees Ryan Kesler -– who turns 30 in August -– as the anti-Sedin.

Kesler has always played tough minutes and has had two hip labrum surgeries and one to his shoulder. Kesler was second to Pittburgh’s Sidney Crosby for most average ice-time per game (21:58 to 21:48) for forwards this season, but overall had fewer offensive zone starts and faced a higher quality of competition than the Penguins’ superstar.

Kesler had a good season with 25 goals, but his 18 assists and a minus-15 are concerning. Yes, the supporting cast was a factor, but it appears the 70-plus-point seasons of 2010-12 are in the rear-view mirror.

“One of the important sources of decline is cumulative injury,” said Brander. “Any 30-year-old NHL player has a lot of scar tissue. By the time they hit that age, they are going to be a little slowed by injury.”

Winger Alex Burrows is also a 30-something who’s due for a better, healthier season, but is likely to see his offence not reach the levels of the previous five seasons, because of age and/or not playing with the Sedins as much. Half-a-point per game is a reasonable expectation.

Chris Higgins, 30, is a little harder to project, but if he’s playing on a third line –- where he’s better suited –- he may have trouble getting to 40 points again.

The study’s findings that defencemen peak later than forwards -- and fall off later -- is good news for the Canucks.

Both Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa, 31 and 32 respectively, have two years left on their contracts and should continue to be productive players through that time frame. Hamhuis, after some early struggles, had a very good 2013-14 season and should still be at his peak. Bieksa had some swings in performance, but is still a solid player.

As for Alex Edler, 28, how can he not be a lot better? The same, to a lesser degree, goes for Jason Garrison, 29. Youngsters Chris Tanev and Ryan Stanton, both 24, are in pre-prime years where they should still be taking big steps forward.



West Coast 30-somethings

Core Canucks players who will be 30 or older at the start of the 2014-15 season (ages at start of season):

- Daniel Sedin (34)

- Henrik Sedin (34)

- Kevin Bieksa (33)

- Alex Burrows (33)

- Dan Hamhuis (31)

- Chris Higgins (31)

- Ryan Kesler (30)

Goal scorers’ numbers often drop off quicker

Why have Daniel Sedin’s goal-scoring numbers been in such a free fall the past two seasons?

There are numerous theories about the player who scored a career-best 41 while winning the NHL scoring title just three years ago. They include the concussion from the Duncan Keith elbow late in the 2012 season, and the perception his wrist shot doesn’t have the same zip.

Certainly, this season a lower percentage of offensive-zone starts and bigger minutes were likely a factor.

Sedin also finished with a shooting percentage of 7.1, the lowest of his 13-year NHL career.

UBC professor James Brander, one of the authors of a study on the effects of age on NHL player performance, believes Sedin’s goal-scoring dropoff may simply be age-related. But Brander added that there’s no reason Sedin can’t continue to make plays at a high level.

“It’s not that unusual for goal scorers to drop off more quickly,” Brander said. “Looking at this outside the (study), the skills that lead to goal scoring tend to peak earlier.

“The most important single thing is reflex, so with high-end players it’s very common to see them become more playmakers and less goal scorers as time moves on.”

NHL netminders’ best can come and go

Goaltenders are known to be quirky and the portion of the UBC study on age and performance in the NHL that dealt with netminding showed surprising results.

Unlike forwards and defencemen, who show a distinct peak in their 20’s and fall-off in their 30s, goalies are all over the map.

“Maybe it was the smaller numbers (152) in the study, but there was very little systematic effect by age,” said UBC business professor James Brander, one of the authors of the study, which used save percentage as the metric for goaltenders.

“Goalies can peak anywhere from 23 or 24 to 40. And there is a lot of year-to-year variation. Goalies can be great one year, and have a poor year, then a good one the next year.”

Goaltending consultant Sean Murray said the pattern is consistent with what he sees in the industry.

“You look at Martin Brodeur (the New Jersey Devils’ 41-year-old goalie) and his understanding of the game has allowed him to stay in the game,” said Murray. “Goaltending isn’t a reflex position like it was when Grant Fuhr was playing 20 years ago. Now it’s about technique and position.”

Murray said goalies can have good seasons at a young age if the defensive system in front of them is conducive to that — offering Detroit’s Chris Osgood as an example.

He added that every season goaltending technique evolves and new adjustments come in, making it a challenge to stay on top.

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Like some of the more reasonable folk have been saying... the team didn't fall off a cliff this year. They are certainly in decline given their current makeup but this year was an anomaly largely brought on by poor coaching decisions and slightly compounded my natural decline due to age and a lack of depth/prospects to support them.

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I think the Canucks will be the most productive and have the best shot at the cup in a couple years when Horvat, Shinkaruk, Gaunce, Jensen and our 2014 1st round pick are all ready to play a big role in the NHL while the Sedins can still put up second line numbers

Go Canucks Go!

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If Kesler is traded, then this core is done.

Something that I would welcome whole-heartedly.

Look how good Columbus has become since they got rid of their core, starting with Nash. This is exactly what the Canucks need to do.

Gut it...move Kesler and Burrows out...hope they along with Edler and Hansen do the right thing and waive their NTC.

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Our top two players, earning $14 million combined for the next four season, should "rebound" to the 60 point level.

The soon to be 30-year old "heart & soul" of our team having played more tough minutes than anyone is in rapid decline as his body is breaking down.

We have little youth in the lineup today and the top prospects we do have in the system may or may not be ready to make the jump to the big team in the next season or two.

Yeah, I guess we should be optimistic.

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The Sedins getting 60 points is the problem, that's not near good enough. Maybe if they were more well rounded players or if this team had great depth that would be good enough, but it's not.

I look to them to help provide a good environment for the young guys to develop in by shouldering the pressure and going against other team's top lines.

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I like the optimism but I have even more optimism than that.

I dont need a short term fix optimism. I want a Stanley cup kind of optimism.

The only way that happens is if Kesler and Edler are traded, and Hamhuis, Garrison , Higgins and Hansen are likewise approached about a trade. Trade for as many 1st rounder in 2015 or grade A prospects as possible.

Tank hard to get into the top 5 next year.

This optimism is one where the teams makes excellent trades and rebuilds a fantastic new core around Tanev and Kassian Lack/Markstrom.

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Take a look at past Canucks in their 30s who rebounded.....Hmmmm...check their goal totals and see how the Canucks hung onto them and what the return was....history has shown it is VERY unlikely any of the forwards will return to form.

Look at the last 4 seasons's stats from some of the Canucks prominent scorers over the last 30 years and let me know why we should be optimistic that Burrows, Higgins, or the Sedins will rebound after dropping so low this past season. Cue the bass solo on this one!











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Looking at first-half vs. second-half stats of our four most played forwards shows how they were worn down over the year by Tortorella's system. All four picked up second-half injuries or got sick as well. They can bounce back, but not with this coach.

1st half - .367 GPG, .659 PPG. -----> Full Season Pace - 30 Goals, 54 Points
2nd half - .278 GPG, .444 PPG. -----> Full Season Pace - 23 Goals, 36 Points

1st half - .634 APG, .854 PPG. -----> Full Season Pace - 52 Assists, 70 Points.
2nd half - .448 APG, .517 PPG. -----> Full Season Pace - 37 Assists, 42 Points.

1st half - .317 GPG, .854 PPG. -----> Full Season Pace - 26 Goals, 70 Points.
2nd half - .094 GPG, .375 PPG. -----> Full Season Pace - 8 Goals, 31 Points

1st half - .268 GPG, .537 PPG. -----> Full Season Pace - 22 Goals, 44 Points
2nd half - .162 GPG, .459 PPG. -----> Full Season Pace - 13 Goals, 38 Points

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They should rebound ,..I remember Teemu Sellane having an off year in his early 30's and he rebounded ..The Sedins are very intelligent players and I believe they can still be a force..This all hinges on a coaching change IMO

I agree but I would add to that and say that Kesler Daniel and henrik need some support in the way of at least one top ufa signing to help carry the load as well as spreading around the.minutea a bit more.
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More like rejuvinated. "Beastmode" has been outscored at 5 on 5 since 2011-12. This is terrible for a team that wants to make the playoffs, let alone contend.

Did you read the op? It says the Sedins need cushy zone starts again. Without Kesler playing 20+ mins a night that ain't happening. Unless we get different top centers into the lineup. This core would be done.
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