Age Matters... Or Does It?
The Islanders have dealt with the (pardon the pun) age-old question for a while now. How many vets should you have on the roster? How many younger players?
While it's no question that most, if not all, of the kids on the Isles' current roster have talent to spare, the recent problem has been with taking that talent and giving it direction. Last year the Islanders attempted to provide direction by signing Steve Staios, Brian Rolston, and Mike Mottau. Mottau was traded halfway through the season; Rolston was waived; Staios finished the year but retired this offseason and is now a scout for the Maple Leafs. Needless to say, nothing really panned out (especially when you look at their stats on the Island).
On the flip side, youngster John Tavares is emerging as a leader and an NHL star, Kyle Okposo is on an upward trend, Travis Hamonic is easily becoming the best defenseman on the Isles' blueline, and other young players like Ryan Strome and Matt Donovan may have what it takes to crack the lineup. Win for the kids, right?
Well, not so fast. After all, Tavares has been pretty much been under Doug Weight's wing for three years. Hamonic also credits the older defensemen he played with (Staios especially) for helping his development, and in order for Strome and Donovan to succeed, they'll likely take their cues from the more experienced players in the lineup (which, by now, include guys like Tavares and Matt Moulson, and even Kyle Okposo). See where this is going?
Garth Snow isn't straying very far from his youth movement, although he's made it a habit in two straight offseasons to keep the focus on acquiring players with some mileage. Brad Boyes is, at 30, looking to get back to the form he had with the St. Louis Blues. He's only played in two playoff rounds his entire NHL career and posted four points in those eleven games. Matt Carkner, Eric Boulton and Lubomir Visnovsky have some years on them (Carkner admittedly only three seasons), but their trips to the postseason are few and far between. (Photo: Bridget Samuels/flickr)
In fact, of the veterans on the Isles roster, only Evgeni Nabokov has been part of serious playoff runs. The 36-year-old netminder has played 80 playoff games and posted beautiful numbers (2.29 GAA, .914%, 7 shutouts). There is something to be said for that kind of experience, in that the younger players looking for a backup spot (Anders Nilsson, Kevin Poulin) could definitely learn from it. (Side note: Goalie remains the oldest position in the lineup, with 30-somethings Nabokov and Rick DiPietro. Youngest position goes to right wing, with an average age of 26.)
Of course, playoff experience is more a result of the teams some of these players were on, rather than the players themselves. No doubt Visnovsky and Carkner could bolster the blueline, while Boyes and Boulton add skill and toughness to the offense. And while some of these signings/trades were meant as stop-gaps while the younger players develop in the AHL, they're also a way for the guys already on the Island to get a few pointers on the game. (Photo: Bridget Samuels/flickr)
Basically, there isn't a lot of weight to the "youth matters/experience matters" debate. Both have their perks; younger players are hungry to prove they belong in the NHL, while veteran players are savvy and can provide some stability to a younger lineup. What truly matters is talent and fit within a system. If the Islanders have chosen the "right" veterans (which remains to be seen), they will see improvement in the on-ice product.
Just for fun, let's throw out some age-related stats to wrap this up. I promise, there's a point in here somewhere. (Please note: there may be discrepancies to these stats, seeing as I did them myself and I counted any player who played over 20 games on the Island. Also, John Tavares factors heavily into the more recent Isles stats, whereas the 2006-07 featured Jason Blake in his career year, so... judge carefully.)
Average age of 2012-13 team by start of season (provided season starts on time): 27.3 years old
Average age of 2011-12 team: 28 years old
Average age of 2006-07 team (last team to make playoffs): 30.4 years old
Average age of 2011-12 top 5 scoring: 27.8 years old (John Tavares, Matt Moulson, PA Parenteau, Mark Streit, Frans Nielsen)
Average points per season: 62.2
Average age of 2006-07 top 5 scoring: 32.8 years old (Jason Blake, Miro Satan, Mike Sillinger, Viktor Kozlov, Alexei Yashin)
Average points per season: 57.6
Average age of goalies in 2011-12 (top 3 in GP -- Nabokov, Montoya, DiPietro): 30.6
Average GAA: 3.13
Average age of goalies in 2006-07 (three total- DiPietro, Wade Dubielewicz, Mike Dunham): 29
Average GAA: 2.79
(All info for stats provided by islanders.nhl.com and hockey-reference.com.)
Until next time.