Jarome Iginla-The Aging Of A Star Player

Alot of discussion has taken place recently about the age of the Flames and whether the veterans can bounce back from down years. Intuitively , the age of 30 or just after seems to be the beginning of the decline of players. I thought I'd go in to some historical stats and compare Iginla to his peers from recent NHL seasons. Not all is equal for sure, but by comparing to 5 players - things average out pretty well and we certainly can identify some trends that can give a pretty good reading


What to expect from Iggy ?


Jarome Iginla will end his career as a 500 goal  and 1000 point career player – how much can be expected from him over the final 3 years of his contract ?

I pulled the goal stats (only) for 5 reasonably comparable players. Two of the comparables have career numbers that will be most likely less than Iggy’s, one very close, and two with higher final totals than Jarome is likely to attain. The 5 that I used were( in order): Brian Bellows, Lanny McDonald, Pat Verbeek , Brendan Shanahan and Brett Hull. All were goal scoring wingers (right hand shots), whose game was more power than finesse, with the exception of HullI who, at least early in his career, was pretty much all about the shot.  I wanted to see how Iggy performed in stages of his career relative to these guys and extrapolate what can be expected.

All of the players, with the exception of Hull (who was 23), played in the NHL as 20-year-olds. A couple began their careers at 19, but for the purpose of this comparison, I started at 20.

For the 5 year period of 20-24 the control group averaged 31.5 goals per year, with a steady increase from 23 goals at 20 to 41 goals at 24. Iggy averaged 30.6 during that stretch; pretty good considering that was the start of the trap era. He trailed the cohort early on, but his 52 goal campaign at 24 brought him back up to very near the group average.

From 25-29 the group had the strongest showing – averaging 42.8, the strongest 2 years being 25 and 26 (both 46.8). Iggy trailed every year throughout this stretch averaging 37.5 goals per year. He was denied his 27 year old season because of the lockout, which is too bad – peak of his career – and presumably he’d be on the cusp of the 500 goal mark by now. Given the era, and losing one year - it can easily be argued that Iggy should be dead centre in this group during the peak of his career.

From 30-35 the group quickly starts to tail off, but Iginla beats the averages. In his 30 year old season Jarome scored 50, outdoing the group at 37.4. Jarome’s 35 goals at 31 beats the groups 33.2, but that was brought down by an 8-goal Bellows campaign. Last year at age 32, Iginla’s 32 goals ranked ahead of the group average by 5.6 goals.

So what does the future hold for Iginla at 33 and beyond? For these 5 players, the next 3 seasons averaged 27.8, 24.6, and 19.6 goals. Assuming Iginla can beat the cohort by the same amount that he has averaged for the last 3 years, (6.7 goals on average), the projected goal totals would be 35, 31, and 26--taking him to the end of his 35 year old season and the end of his contract (and ending with 533 goals). If he plays to 39,  another 80 career goals and a shot at 600 are not out of the question. 

What is important to note is the following :

  •  From 20-24 the group's goal average increased every year
  •  From 25-29 the production was the highest
  •  From 25-29 – the variation from year to year was the smallest – the average goals stayed in a fairly tight range – 40.4 to 46.8.
  •  From 25-29 – numbers could trend back up after a down season, but the bounce-back was less than 5% (2 goals)
  • From 30-34 the numbers declined – with a small increase one year (32 to 33) of 1.4 goals on average for the 5 players
  • The average of the group bounced back up significantly at 37, because 3 of those players had retired by that year – and the only data was Hull at 30 goals and Shanahan’s 40.
  • Iginla’s post-30 numbers are better than this group so far. Owing to his great conditioning – he has slipped less on average than this group did.
  • Of the 25 seasons played by the 5 players studied, after they turned 33 there were no 50 goal seasons, one 40 goal campaign, and 7 others of over 30.

I believe Jarome will continue to outperform this group for the next 3 years, and because of his conditioning, even beyond. This group scored 30 goals roughly a third of the time after they turned 33 – I think Iggy will get there at least twice more in the next 3 years. Only once (4%) did any of those guys score 40 in their mid to late 30’s – I would put Jarome’s chances at less than 10% to do that. If Iggy scores fifty he would be the only the 3rd player to do it after 33 – Jagr at 33 in 05-06 with 54,  and Johnny Bucyk  at 35 scored 51 in 70-71.

Winning at hockey is more than goal scoring, and I recognize Iginla's other intangibles; but the 5 players listed above also had those qualities - and all except Hull were captains. Jarome could smoke the record of these guys in the mid to late 30's - but if he averaged 10 -15 goals per season above this group - he will have outscored an outstanding group, but still not have enough to score 50.

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