Friday, May 20, 2011

Study: When do great goal scorers peak? Has Alex Ovechkin already flamed out?


Washington Capital LW Alex Ovechkin's goal scoring skills have been on a noticeable hiatus since around the Olympic NHL break during the 2009-10 season. Have NHL's defenders figured out how to blunt the efforts of the recently labeled 'one trick pony'? Will Ovie's breakaway speed or shot accuracy ever re-surface? Are the best year's behind him?

In this article I'm taking a look back at the greatest goal scorers of the modern-era NHL in an effort to determine where Alex Ovechkin compares at this stage of his career, and what to expect from Ovie going forward.

This study is based on NHL players who have scored 500 or more career goals. All players on this list skated during the current era in which NHL teams played between 78 & 84 regular season games.

NOTES REGARDING THIS STUDY:

* January 31st was used as my basis to determine a players age for his given statistical season.
* For a season to be counted here, the player must have played a minimum of 60 games.
* Formula used: GS (goals scored) divided by GP (games played) = GPG (average goals per game).

Here are all 33 players to have notched their 500th career goal since 1982 (and their top 3 peak goal scoring ages):


Marcel Dionne (ages 27,29,31)
Guy Lafleur (ages 23,24-25[tied],26)
Mike Bossy (ages 22,24,25)
Gilbert Perreault (ages 25,26,28)
Wayne Gretzky (ages 21,23,24)
Lanny McDonald (ages 23,24,29)
Bryan Trottier (ages 21,22,25)
Mike Gartner (ages 25,28,31)
Michel Goulet (ages 22,23,24)
Jari Kurri (ages 23,24,25)
Dino Ciccarelli (ages 21,26,27)
Mario Lemieux (ages 23,27,30)
Mark Messier (ages 21,22,35)
Steve Yzerman (ages 23,24,27)
Dale Hawerchuk (ages 21,22,23)
Brett Hull (ages 25,26,27)
Joe Mullen (ages 29,31,34)
Dave Andreychuk (ages 26,28,30)
Luc Robitaille (ages 21,23,26)
Pat Verbeek (ages 23,25,26)
Ron Francis (ages 23,25,26)
Brendan Shanahan (ages 24,25,27)
Joe Sakic (ages 23,26,31)
Joe Nieuwendyk (ages 21,22,23-24[tied])
Jaromír Jágr (ages 23,24,27)
Pierre Turgeon (ages 22,23,24)
Mats Sundin (ages 21,25,30)
Teemu Selänne (ages 22,26,27)
Peter Bondra (ages 27,28,29)
Mark Recchi (ages 22,23,24)
Mike Modano (ages 23,25,29)
Jeremy Roenick (ages 22,23,24)
Keith Tkachuk (ages 23,24,25)

Statistical tidbits:

* Despite a history of stars entering the NHL during their teen years, not one modern-era NHL 500+ goal scorer has had a career top-3 goal season before the age of 21.
* Of the 101 best goal scoring seasons listed here, just 17.8% occurred after the age of 27.
* Average peak goal scoring age: 25.04

What do these statistics say about goal scorers in general?

NHL goal scorers tend to peak statistically earlier in their careers than goalies, hard-workers and other less skilled positions such as defense (in general). Factors may include faster skating speed & a youthful willingness to sacrifice their bodies around opposing goal creases on a more frequent basis.

After peaking relatively early, most goal scorers generally seem to "plateau" around the 30-45 goal mark for a number of years before fizzling out completely.

Prognosis for Alex Ovechkin.

In case you're wondering, Alex Ovechkin will be 26 years old at the beginning of the next regular season.

Unless Alex Ovechkin shows up in the best shape of his career and/or the Washington Capitals re-institute a more wide open offense (similar to the 09-10 season), Ovechkin will be hard pressed to score 50 or more goals again in the NHL. If Alex's best goal-scoring years are behind him, he won't be alone. Of the 33 modern-era 500+ goal-getters in this study, 12 players all had their best 3 goal scoring years at age 25 or earlier. In case you're wondering: to date, Ovechkin's 3 best goal scoring years were age 22,23 & 24 -- the exact same as Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi, Pierre Turgeon & Michel Goulet.

The good news for Washington Capitals fans is that even though we may see 'Ovechkin-lite' from this point forward (no pun intended) he may still be a force to contend with, as this season's post all-star and playoff performances prove. Ovechkin's physical presence alone still intimidates opponents on a nightly basis and probably will for the foreseeable future.

Sources:
* Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NHL_players_with_500_goals
* The Internet Hockey Database: http://www.hockeydb.com

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