Nicklas Backstrom turned in one of his best seasons in 2016-17, as his 86 points were the third most of his career and most in any season since the glory days of 2009-10. This is quite a feat considering the impressive numbers Backstrom has put up over his career as well as the fact that he’s now 29 years old, which, while not old, is past the prime production of a player’s career.
Much has been made about the aging curve in Washington lately, as Backstrom’s running mate Alex Ovechkin showed signs of age catching up to him this past season. But there’s good news when it comes to Backstrom: The production we’ve grown accustomed to from him should consider for the foreseeable future.
Peter raised the question in Backstrom’s season review about what to expect from the Swedish center as he ages. I also talked about it recently with Adam Stringham on the Japers Rink podcast. During the podcast we discussed how other players similar to Backstrom have performed as they’ve entered their thirties.
In his age 20-29 seasons, Backstrom has totaled 728 points, 540 of which have been assists. Since 1995, only 12 other players have recorded 400-plus assists and 500-plus points in their age 20-29 seasons. The list includes players that have gone on to produce at a high-level well into their thirties such as Joe Thornton and Henrik Sedin. Only one player on the list, Scott Gomez, saw his career fall off a cliff at the age of 30, which is how old Backstrom will be in November.
Even more good news is that, when looking at which types of players age the best, we can expect a player like Backstrom to age better than most. Eric Tulsky, who previously was one of the best hockey analytic writers and now works for the Carolina Hurricanes, looked at this back in 2014. Below is Eric’s graph that shows how a player’s point production can be impacted by the aging curve:
As you can see, the typical player peaks around age 24 in terms of point production, but maintains the majority of that production until around age 30, which is how old Backstrom will turn next season.
However, the good news is that a player who relies on assists, such as Backstrom, does not see their production impacted by age as much as a goal scorer does. Here’s another graph from Eric’s piece that shows this:
Once a player hits 30, what you can expect from that player moving forwards differs greatly based upon how that player racks up their points.
The Caps have a lot to consider this offseason. More so than in recent summers, there’s some uncertainty as to what direction the club will take. But, one thing the Caps and their fans can be pretty certain of is that Nicklas Backstrom will continue to be the elite player that he is now.
Headline photo: Gregory Shamus
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