The Washington Capitals will open the 2022-23 season on Wednesday, October 12. Before then, it’s critical that you prepare yourself for all the incoming narratives. The only way to be safe is to read my season preview series. You are safe here.
Today’s episode of Uncle Good Tweet Pete’s Preseason Season Preview is about how age decay could totally wreck the Capitals core this year.
The Washington Capitals are — clinically speaking — old as piss. As I’ve revisited a few times throughout this preview series, the team’s age decay is their biggest risk going into 2022-23.
Ovechkin is 37. Oshie is 36. Backstrom is 35. Hagelin is 34. Carlson and Eller are 33. Dowd, Jensen, Johansson, and Kuemper are 32. Hathaway, Orlov, and TVR are 31. Kuznetsov and Sheary are 30. All of those players are at least a few years past the traditional peak-performance age. Ovechkin is more than a decade past it.
Before he joined the Colorado Avalanche, analyst Dawson (“Don’t Tell Me About Heart“) Sprigings helped us understand how NHL players decayed as they age. Below is Evolving Hockey’s graph of the aging curve using Sprigings’ data. I’ve defaced the graph by noting the current ages of some of Washington’s older core players to give you an idea how of players like them tend to drop off.
That graph just suggests how players will decline as they get older, but we’ve also got compelling evidence with injuries. The big one is Nicklas Backstrom, who had played through hip problems for years before biting the bullet and undergoing a hip-resurfacing operation this summer, which sounds gruesome and only gets worse when you read about it, which I definitely recommend you don’t do.
Meanwhile, Tom Wilson, relatively a baby in swaddling clothes at age 28, had ACL surgery this summer that will keep him out at least until around Thanksgiving. A full recovery is expected, and for a player as fast and physical as Wilson a full recovery is also critical. The Capitals already depended quite a lot on Wilson to offset their on-ice slowness.
Carl Hagelin had a major eye injury last season and then suffered a lower-body injury last month. I’m not convinced we’ll see him play again.
Lars Eller‘s 2021-22 was one season removed from an injury-racked disaster season, and the results were not encouraging. He no longer appreciably drives play, and Dom Luszczyszyn’s model rates him barely in the black with a plus-0.4 in goals scored versus average.
And then of course there’s Alex Ovechkin, whose legend grows with each passing year that he resists the downward pull of age. He rarely misses a game.
Up until recently at least. It can’t last forever. More on that in a bit.
For now, the worst-case scenario for the Caps goes like this: the entire core hits a wall made out of time. There’s a sudden, system-wide drop in performance and production across forwards lines and defensive pairs. “Slow” no longer really captures it. We have to start calling them “torpid” or something fancy like that. With nearly all of their stars dimmed, the team drops from playoff contention and quickly down to the basement, forcing drastic moves from the front office.
So, uh, let’s avoid that?
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