“We’re wasting Giroux’s prime!”
As a Philadelphia Flyers blogger, I hear that all the time. I’ve said it as well. As I contemplate blog topics I consistently find myself reverting back to the thought that our shiny new defense prospects will not be “impact” players for 3-5 more years. It may not be until then that a Stanley Cup “window” truly opens for the Flyers.
Claude Giroux is 26 years old and he is one of the premier players in the National Hockey League. In 289 regular season games over the past four years, he has earned 303 points. Over the same period of time he has earned 35 points in 28 playoff games. He is unquestionably a #1 center in the NHL and is being paid like one for the next eight years ($8.275M AAV).
When looking at the future of the Flyers, we find that Shayne Gositsbehere is 21, both Sam Morin and Robert Hagg are 19, and Travis Sanheim is 18. The Flyers forwards are all slightly younger than Giroux. Wayne Simmonds will turn 26 this off-season and Jakub Voracek will turn 25. Brayden Schenn will turn 23 over the summer and Sean Couturier is only 21. Scott Laughton is only 20 years old and figures to develop alongside the defense prospects.
So, the question remains, do we give up assets to win now, while Giroux is in his prime? Or do we exercise patience and risk wasting the best years of a superstar?
I believe in the latter and here is why:
Claude Giroux is an elite player who will be able to perform at a high level well into his early 30s.
I’m going to attempt to prove my assertion by using the formula of Eric Tulsky, a pioneer in hockey analytics who also writes for BroadStreetHockey.com and his blog Outnumbered. He has done a fair amount of work in the area of “player decline.” In other words, Eric has created formulas for the aging curve of the average NHL player. In this article, he asserts that the average NHLer peaks in points per 60 minutes at the age of 24. Eric also concludes in this article that power play production stays relatively steady until age 35.
In a similar article, Hawerchuk (@behindthenet) does a similar study and comes to the same conclusion. Although he measures points per game (as opposed to points per 60mins), he comes to the conclusion that a players peak is between the ages of 24-26.
The individual case of Claude Giroux looks to be proof of these models. Giroux had his most productive season in 2011-2012, during which he turned 24. However, he has stayed very productive since then. Here is a chart of Giroux’s production both at 5v5 and on the power play over the past few years, measured in points per 60 minutes:
Over the past three seasons Giroux’s ice time in these situations has remained relatively steady. He has averaged 14:20 per 60 minutes at 5v5 with only slight variation (between 14:06-14:31) and 3:44 of power play time per 60 minutes (between 3:39-3:53 all three years). Therefore, if we assume that Giroux will be the number one center for the next 6-7 years, we can assume his ice time will remain close to those numbers.
Below are two charts. They each project Giroux’s production in the upcoming years. Using Eric T’s model, we can assume that Giroux will retain 90% of his pts/60 at age 29, 80% at age 31, 70% at ages 32-33, and 60% at age 35. Because there were no hard figures in his research for power play decline, I gave some simple estimates. His numbers at age 29 remain the same, while he retains 95% at age 31, 90% at age 32-33, and 80% by age 35.
Each chart assumes Giroux playing 82 games, averaging 14:20 5v5 TOI/60, and 3:44 PP TOI/60. The first chart uses the 24-26 year old averages production to come to conclusions. Therefore, the baseline/peak numbers are 2.25 5v5 pts/60 and 7.4 PP pts/60.
The chart below measures the same thing as the chart above. However, in this chart the baseline/peak numbers are adjusted to Giroux’s 2011-2012 season. Therefore, the base numbers are 2.6 5v5 pts/60 and 7.63 PP pts/60.
What do these charts tell us? Assuming Giroux declines like the average NHLer, he will still be a 65-75 point player into his early 30s. Of course, there are other factors that factor into this scenario. For example, an unforeseen injury (see: Chris Pronger) could throw all plans out the window.
As important as it is to have a #1 defenseman to be a Stanley Cup contender, it is equally important to have a #1 center. So, what constitutes a #1 center?
Well, as a point of reference the only centers to average overa point per game last season were Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Giroux, Tyler Seguin, Evegeni Malkin, and John Tavares. Other #1 centers like Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews, and Matt Duchene fell slightly below the point per game mark. However, they ended the season in that 65-75 point range.
Waiting for the defense prospects to mature may not be fun. It may seem like Giroux’s best years are being “wasted.” However, when we see that Giroux is fully capable of being a #1 center for the next 7 years, we understand that our Stanley Cup window may not have started yet.