By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me on Twitter @LeonLifschutz
Since the Bruins second round exit, fans have already turned their attention to next season. This past week, my BNG colleague Mike Cratty looked at what a homerun offseason could look like examining some possible options for the Bs in free agency and the trade market. Much has also been made of what could become of the Bruins core. Will Zdeno Chara retire? It looks like not. Will Torey Krug move on in free agency? Sounds like there is a good chance. What of the rest of the veteran core, now well into their 30s and with lots of regular season and playoff miles? Colleague Matt Barry believes there is still some time for this group. David Krejci, who earlier in the year bristled at the question of the group’s age, agrees sharing the following sentiment.
David Krejci on if this Bruins core still has a few more Cup runs left:— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) September 4, 2020
“I still do feel we have something left in the tank.”
NHL front offices are tasked with a number of things including predicting the future. They do so every time they make their rosters whether it be player acquisition or doling out contracts. It is not an exact science. Players are human after all. They get injured, have personal lives, don’t always fit in a system, and sometimes get unlucky. The one thing that happens to every player though – they get older. Getting older can be a good a thing. Moving into their early 20s players gain strength, experience, and better decision making (well, most of us do). But at some point in time, as all of us adult league heroes know, age catches up with you and things are just a little harder than they used to be.
In this three part series we will do our best Don Sweeney impressions to try and predict what the future might have in store for key Bruins’ players. In part one, we will examine what aging curves can tell us about player performance. We will also discuss who makes up the current core and who could make up the next wave. In part two, we will look at the veteran core, players who have been around since the Bruins last Stanley Cup and continue to drive the bus. In part three, we will look at the players that make up the young core, supplementing the veterans and who have the ability to influence both the present and future of the storied original six franchise. For both groups, we will examine each players current trends and make predictions about their outlook and expected performance for the upcoming seasons.
Examining Aging Curves
There has been a number of studies on how aging effects player performances. The first significant study came from Hawerchuck in 2013 and look at points per game. More recently, the folks at Hockey Graphs and Evolving Wild have been using a comprehensive WAR (wins above replacement) stat to examine year over year performance. For our purposes, we are going to lean heavily on the work of Eric Tulsky who looked at agings impact on year over year scoring rates, goal scoring versus playmaking, and possession numbers. The folks at Hockey Graphs also looked at goalie aging curves . At the risk of oversimplifying, goalies have similar trajectories to skaters. Here is a visual of aging curves on a number of different stats.https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
So what are our key takeaways from all this great research and the nice visuals? First, NHL players peak around 24. They stay at their peaks until about 28. At that point they start to slowly decline with the trend becoming more significant into the early 30s. By the mid 30s, players typically fall off a cliff. The effect of age is most noticeable on goal scorers. Playmakers can hang on for a little bit longer. On the powerplay, players stay at their peak a little longer with strong performances, though not peak, in the early 30s before falling off a cliff in their mid 30s. Possession numbers, generally speaking, mimic point production. Defenders and goalies may be able to hang on a year or two longer but generally follow a similar curve.
For our purposes we will look at Bruins’ players offensive numbers and possession numbers. I’ve grouped points into all situations for a couple of reasons. First, the Bruins rely heavily on their power play. Second it made the visuals look a little cleaner I will be sure to point out any situations where the numbers have noise, for example in the case of David Krejci. For offensive production I’ve chosen goals, total points, first assists, and individual expected goals. First assists are more indicative of player performance than second assists, which can be pretty random. For possession, I’ve chosen Corsi (shot attempts) and expected goals percentage. All player stats were converted to per 60 minutes rate stats to avoid discrepancies due to injury or average time on ice. For the goalie position I’ve chosen goals saved above average (GSAA) and quality starts. All stats come from Natural StatTrick and Hockey Reference.
The Bruins Core Players
Our first task is to decide who makes up the Bruins’ core. There is some debate over how many players make up a core. For Pittsburgh it’s been just three players – Crosby, Malkin, and Letang. For other teams its been more like five to six players that management has tried to build their team around. St. Louis last year had close to ten regulars who were long term parts of their team and core. For our purposes we will count a player as a part of the core if we anticipate they can have a strong impact on team performance and they will be a long term member of the team. Being a long term member means they are under contract or under team control with little expectation of being traded.
The Veteran Core – With those parameters in mind, our older core is made up of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Zdeno Chara. All five have been Bruins for more than a decade with three being draft picks and four never playing for another NHL franchise. Inclusion of Chara can be debated but with his recent comments its hard not to picture Big Z playing for the Bruins next year. He is still the captain and averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per game this past season. Torey Krug was considered for this list but he doesn’t have the longevity of the others on the list and there is a decent chance he leaves in free agency.
The Young Core – The young core was a little harder to determine but we ended up with David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Charlie Coyle, Jake Debrusk, and Brandon Carlo. David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy were easy choices. The two already lead the team in several statistical categories and are on team friendly long-term contracts. Charlie Coyle is the third player included on the list. Coyle is an all situations player trusted by the coaching staff to the point it’s not surprising to see him lead all Bruins’ forwards in ice time in some games. The 28 year old is also locked up long term team to a reasonable contract. The last two members of our young core are Brandon Carlo and Jake Debrusk. There was debate among my BNG colleagues over the inclusion of those two. However, they seem like two young players with the likelihood of staying power. Both are under team control for a number of years and already play in the top half of the lineup. It really seems like the Bruins coaching staff and management are hoping Carlo and Debrusk can keep growing and help the team in substantial ways.
We have examined aging curves and how they can help us in predicting player’s future performance. We have also decided who makes up our veteran core and our young core. With that in mind, please join us in part two when we examine how much tread is left on the veterans. We will follow that up with part three where we will try and forecast what the peak performance could be for the younger core of players. After our exploration of both groups we will do our best to draw some conclusions around how long this iteration of the Bruins’ has left in it’s Stanley Cup window.