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Photo Credit: © Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

When will the Canucks peak?

As the Canucks continue to build up their prospect pool and keep an eye on the future, that raises an essential question: When will the Canucks be ‘good’ again?

The Canucks are in a rebuild and will likely see improvement over the next couple of seasons as they accumulate more young players. That’s led me to explore the path of ageing curves and see where the Canucks players fit.

Former CanucksArmy writer and current Florida Panthers employee, Money Puck, talked about building a contender and the first two posts (first can be found here, and second post here) were dedicated to WAR (wins above replacement) and ageing curves. Naturally, his data is now two years old, but here are the GAR ageing curves for forwards:

And defencemen:

His conclusion based on that data was the forwards are in their prime between the ages of 22 and 26, while defencemen have a similar prime but a more definitive peak of 24-years-old.

As mentioned then, there will be exceptions to these, but the overwhelming majority will follow a similar trajectory. There will be players who buck the trend, and there will be players who fall off a cliff.

Hockey-Graphs writer EvolvingWild reinforced a lot of these ideas of peak and prime years this spring, as represented by these ageing curves.

It’s a different methodology, but as we can see, the peak/prime is around the same time frames. A steady climb to the peak at 24, then slight dip, then a decline as players start to become UFA eligible.

Lastly, DTM about Heart from Hockey Graphs provided some updated GAR data this summer. Petbugs from Canucks Army then graphed that data to show the peak aligns with the previous two sources:

With three previous pieces of research showing similar ageing curves, we can turn our attention to the Canucks; we can see where the primes lineup based on those aforementioned ageing curves. But first, some disclaimers:

  • Included are players who are already signed or are RFA for the 2018-19 season.
  • The ages used are what the players are for the majority of the season. There will be some variance due to when their birthday is, but the age used is what they are for the most days of the expected season.
  • I’ve only listed top prospects for each draft year – so for example when looking at Elias Pettersson and the 2017 draft class, you can add players like Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich as they are the same age and should follow the same curve.

What became clear is that the Canucks will again ‘peak’ again during the 2021-22 season. They should see some rewards for their efforts during the 2020-21 season, but the following year will be when the tables turn. That peak should ride for one or two more years following 21-22, and without more additions will slowly trend downwards from there.

Forwards

In the forward ranks, it’s clear that the Canucks best players will peak between the 2020-21 to 2022-23 seasons. Elias Pettersson, Jonathan Dahlen, and Brock Boeser will peak for another two-to-three years, but that is when the existing supporting staff has begun their fall off. Not every player will follow that similar drop-off, but some will and that secondary support won’t be able to help their best players.

Obviously, the Canucks prospects like Adam Gaudette, Kole Lind, and Jonah Gadjovich will hopefully fit into that supporting cast. It would just mean that every player they drafted would be making a tangible impact at the NHL level at the expected development time.

Defence

On the backend, we see the similar peak years

I’ve extended the ‘peak’ windows to replicate the forward group but just a reminder that defencemen will peak at 24-years-old and begin the decline.

I’ve only included the top of the heap defence prospects here, but even they come with question marks about making the NHL and what their overall ceiling is. What sticks out is that the only player that is currently playing on the NHL roster that will be here and in their peak is Troy Stecher. The remaining players are either starting their decline, like Ben Hutton and Derrick Pouliot, or are well past it.

Putting it together

When combing the forward and defensive groups, you get this outlook:

The front is a bit more ‘peak’ heavy due to players like Granlund, Baertschi, Gudbranson and Sutter being in their prime years. Which means, what you see from them now is what you are getting. 2021-22 is the year where Bo Horvat, Boeser, Pettersson, Gaudette, Dahlen, Jake Virtanen, Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, and Olli Juolevi are in their prime or close to the start of it.

Some of these players will buck the trend by extending their peak, entering it early, or falling off quickly. But you can’t be worrying about those black swans that will come out of nowhere and help.

Conclusion

Although that time-frame is reasonably clear, the question then is: is it enough?

If the Canucks win the lottery this year and can add a Rasmus Dahlin or Andrei Svechnikov, they can perhaps provide an impact earlier and for longer than the standard curve. That will help to ensure that the peak doesn’t happen and then pass without the ultimate prize.

Some of the current long-term contracts will be past their prime and would have to be replaced. These things are fluid, and as we all know things change quickly. A player becomes available, or another player plays well past the ‘prime’ and is an outlier.

We’ll spend some time looking at the makeup of the Canucks’ prospect pool over the next couple of weeks to see where there might be more gaps. But at first glance, they have some good building blocks and then quite a few questions marks — then again, every team has that. So it’s about working to align with that peak of the current players in the organization and maximizing that window as best you can.

Given all this information, the Canucks have a decent group of forwards that should have their top prospects peak closely together. There are a handful of secondary prospects within the same timeline, but it’s relying on them meeting their ceilings to provide support. The current Canucks supporting cast will be past their primes and appear not to be enough to push the top.

There isn’t enough on defence. This isn’t new. Unless you are getting a high-end top defenceman in the draft in the next two years, their peaks will be starting at the end of the Horvat peak and continue from there.

Goaltenders are hard to predict, but Thatcher Demko appears to be on a similar timeline as the groups above.

In a vacuum, the Erik Gudbranson extension isn’t terrible as the assets acquired won’t be helping this current group and his contract won’t be a hindrance to their salary cap structure. It does, however, reflect the misunderstanding of direction with the team, and add the cost of two assets (Jared McCann and 33rd overall) that would be following a similar path to the group they have. Not too mention the opportunity cost that was lost due to the contract that he just finished and will start next year.

The team will get better and will likely become a playoff bound team for a couple of years, but it will quickly shift into replacing players that are naturally graduating out.

  • Fred-65

    I like this article. I tend to drift off when viewing other stats and the extrapolation that numbers people tend to draw. Here’s my question how much of this data is based not on statistics but the fact at the end of an ELC and the big money is forth coming and long term contracts are signed is this more to do with players maturing seeing sports for what it is and like manyother in other businesses simply taking their foot off the pedal. Some are playing for the thrill or gratification they get by playing others are coasting. What’s needed is a insight into character rather than numbers maybe ??

    • Fred-65

      By the way now in my mid seventies and a Canucks fans for 40 odd years I’m hoping that success is a little closer, if you know what I mean. I’d hate for success the year after my big event LOL

    • liqueur des fenetres

      You’re right that things like maturity / aging, financial security, accumulation of injuries, etc. may all help explain why these numbers tell the story that they do. The role of management when presented with information like this is to try to understand the why, and see how they can ensure that the players they have on contract or look to sign prove to be the exceptions that the author(s) cites. There won’t be a fast or easy answer to this particular question, it will take time and a lot of data gathering but ultimately it could yield great value if it helps determine which vets to sign and which to avoid. But, you can be sure that a team that doesn’t value numbersis never going to invest in trying to solve this riddle.

  • This is a good example of analytics used wrong. Is it really clear that the Canucks will peak at certain ages? I could have swore that the Sedins won the Art Ross “past the theoretical prime”. And why it must one blindly accept that players will progress according to a set of averages and must ignore every exception (black swans) to the data? It’s one thing to use historical data to explain past performance but to dogmatically apply it to the future is arrogance and terrible decision-making.

    • Did I miss something? Where does Ryan say “the Canucks current prospects are guaranteed to have their best seasons at age 24 and they’ll be terrible after that”?

      Smart managers don’t plan around rare events, they plan around the most likely scenario. Ryan isn’t saying every player on the Canucks is going to peak at exactly 24 – he’s saying players tend to peak, on average, in the 23-27 range. The Canucks current group of prospects is *likely* going to peak around the 21-22 season, so it would be wise for management to keep their eyes on this timeline and do their best to build a team that’s going to be competitive around that time.

      Regarding the Sedins and “black swans” – by underlying numbers, the Sedins actually peaked a couple of seasons before their Art Ross winning years – right around 25-27, or almost exactly what’s predicted by the aging curves. The Sedins’ even-strength performance coming out of the lockout through around 2009 was absolutely mind-blowing. What changed and lead to their Art Ross wins wasn’t an improvement in their individual performances, which had plateaued, but a significant change in deployment and systems, with the Sedins getting heavy offensive zone time and changes to the power play that lead to crazy scoring rates on the man advantage.

  • Holmes

    Feels like the Canucks, in a few years, will look a lot like St.Louis now: good team, not great, dark horse for the Cup. Something big in Canuckland needs to change to alter that trajectory

  • TD

    A lot will depend on things out of the Canucks control. Do they win the lottery in the next two years. Adding Dahlin this year or Hughes next year will make a difference, where would Toronto be if they didn’t luck out and win the lottery (they had a 1 in 5 chance, that’s luck). Petterson looks like a stud, but he still needs to show it in the NHL.

    Why do they have to peak. An astute management team (not saying this is the team) could trade aging assets to restock. If you can strike gold with later picks like Benning did with Boeser, then you don’t have to peak. I get that the article is saying that is the peak for the current prospects, but I want to see where the team is in ten years. When Horvat and Boeser are about to go under the curve, but good drafting could have kept the pipeline full of good players at all ages.

      • Except that the facts clearly show that defencemen plateau between 27-31 and then fall off a cliff. The difference between 27 and 31 is negligible – the difference between 31 and 32 is significant.

      • CanucksArmy has argued that exact point several times. Makes sense to me – send Tanev to a team who needs a top-pair shutdown defenceman now, get back a solid return that can make your team better tomorrow. You could even try to bring back Tanev when he’s a free agent again on a cheaper deal when your team’s competitive, to play more of a depth role.

  • argoleas

    I wonder if we should look at this for the current Flames team and wonder if their acceleration of their rebuild was a bit short-sighted. In here I mean them playing hungry hippo with Dmen at the cost of high draft picks. The Flames look to be a win-now team, but I just do not see them as being SC-caliber team, and I do not see anything that makes me thing that will improve for them.

    This is a fate Canucks must avoid by short-changing the rebuild by accelerating it. I don’t mind them being competitive (whatever that means), and even barely making the playoffs next year (not that I predict that will happen). But that they do not suddenly go all Gillis and start trying to prematurely patch holes Ballard-style by sacrificing high picks as early as the 2019 off-season.

    As this team is stated here to peak starting 21-22, let your assets grow into this period, and keep using picks to continually restock cupboard and give yourself more chances to draft steals and hidden gems. I guess we can call this the Chicago Model.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      Calgary has a solid defensive core, they are a playoff bubble team this year. I would suspect they will improve slightly in the next year or two. A Cup contender, probably not? With the draft picks they traded away, after 2020 it will be a challenge.

  • argoleas

    Another interesting question. When is the most optimal time to surround/augment the team with UFAs? If this team starts to peak in 21-22, should any such deals be done only starting summer of 2020? In other words, no E.Kane next season, or a Karlsson/Doughty in 19?

  • NeverWas

    Do you guys need some help with your analytics? still using regression lines with an R-Squared value of 0.17 seems kind of silly to me and for the untrained eye, represents a false visual…. like that bell curve is obviously not representative of the data.

    Also, are you adjusting for injuries? players who are replacement level and don’t play passed 30? what about only using players that qualify as top 6/4? I feel confident the bottom half would skew the “high-end” peak curve a bit.

    Also, GAR seems like a poor choice for defensemen for the fact there value comes from keeping pucks out of the net and not necessary putting up points… wouldn’t that totally under value defensemen like tanev and/or hammer? who was a fantastic shutdown defensemen (team Canada, gold medal worthy) into his late twenties.

    Finally, your plot points for your first couple graphs are average plot points, which means each point would be normally distributed as part of a bell curve so you basically just plotting the mean and putting a regression line to it so while its visually intuitive… its statically irrelevant to a certain degree.

    Maybe things are a bit different in financial modeling but I feel like a savvy statistician would be ripping holes in your analysis. that said, at a high level this all make sense in a general way… but it cant be applied to a team. Your maco models have far to much deviation to be applied accurately at a micro level.

    Send me your Data!!! Ill crunch it for you guys!! First model is free 🙂

    • crofton

      Good point about 6/4 players and the bottom 6/2 skewing the curve. I think that’s a serious flaw to the argument of declining performance. Looking froward to your first article on the subject

      • NeverWas

        Would love to assist in some of the models. I hope one day they reach out and I can apply some of my financial modeling techniques to sports analytics. I think there are some pretty cool concepts that can be taken from business modelling and applied to sports analytics… Would love the opportunity to try it out at least!!!

  • rediiis

    This is fine for early analysis. I think more wiggle room is needed for some stellar players, i.e. Petterson, Horvat and Boeser will be productive in a longer curve. Goalies like Demko and Dipietro could really raise the bar for others.

  • Fortitude00

    Sorry your wasted your time although an interesting hypothesis. I would bet half of these players will not be with the team in 3-5 years. Canucks have Horvat and Boeser and the rest are big question marks. Canucks still need to fin a #1 Center or equal talent 32 Center to Horvat, 2 top line defence man(Juolvei possibly is one) and a top 10 goalie(possibly Demko). We don’t know if Demko turns into Scheneider or Markstrom and if he turns its Marky we are in for a long wait. So until the Canucks find 4 more key postional players they are not peaking anywhere.

  • defenceman factory

    No business seeks to manage its assets toward peaks and valleys. Financially a team is better off being a perennial playoff contender than to gear up for a cup run then take most of a decade retooling for another cup run. The desired revenue stability is frustrating for fans and their associated bloggarts.

    The Canucks are implementing this philosophy and it is what leads to moves like the Gudbranson and Sutter trades and the Ericksson signing. This is not Benning’s philosophy, although he may agree with it, this is the vision he is expected to implement. Endlessly slagging on Benning for not doing something that is not the vision for this team is as futile as complaining to your local bank manager about interest rates.

    I don’t think Benning has been particularly good at achieving the vision he is expected to implement. The fact the goal posts he is actually aiming for are quite a distance from the ones Canucks Army wishes he was aiming for explains the level of criticism Benning receives on this site. This article about timing a large number of players to peak and fade at the same time clearly shows the chasm between the Canucks vision and the vision Canucks Army wants them to have.

    • Dirk22

      This makes no sense. If they wanted to be a perennial playoff team would they not try to keep building the prospect pool by accumulating picks? How does acquiring these middling veterans make that scenario happen? Build the pool like Tampa and Toronto who will continue to be able to infuse young players into already good teams.

        • Dirk22

          My narrow viewpoint? I guess so because I’m still going to need help understanding a few things.

          “Financially a team is better off being a perennial playoff contender than to gear up for a cup run then take most of a decade retooling for another cup run” – DF

          From what I’m getting, this philosophy you say they’re going for is to build a mediocre team that has a shot at making the playoffs year after year instead of a really good one that can compete for the cup?

          This is not Benning’s philosophy, although he may agree with it, this is the vision he is expected to implement.” – DF

          And that this philosophy comes from ownership and not from Linden or Benning? This is my favourite type of take from Benning apologists! Let’s win the fans back by not going for a cup!

          “The Canucks are implementing this philosophy and it is what leads to moves like the Gudbranson and Sutter trades and the Ericksson signing.” – DF

          And to ensure they meet this vision, they are focused on getting veterans who can help them right now instead of future assets who may make them better down the road – like into, an actual playoff team! Brilliant!

          “I don’t think Benning has been particularly good at achieving the vision he is expected to implement.” – DF

          So why did they resign him? Love the way you take the onus off of him here as well.

          “The fact the goal posts he is actually aiming for are quite a distance from the ones Canucks Army wishes he was aiming for explains the level of criticism Benning receives on this site.” – DF

          Your posts are normally intelligent and while I disagree with a lot of what you say I can understand, mostly, where you’re coming from….expect for now. Are you actually saying their goal is not to compete for a Stanley Cup? What ‘goalposts’ are you talking about. That’s among the dumbest things I’ve ever heard on this site and that is really saying something.

          “This article about timing a large number of players to peak and fade at the same time clearly shows the chasm between the Canucks vision and the vision Canucks Army wants them to have.”

          Ian McIntyre, who is a shill for Linden and co. just wrote an article yesterday, justifying the Gudbranson extension because any assets they received from the trade would not meet the timeline of when the current Canucks prospects peak. Here’s his quote: “And since NHL players peak statistically in their early to mid-20s, this group needs to be fortified not with more draft picks, but with players who contribute now – or at least starting next season.” So he’s literally arguing for as you said, “timing a large number of players to peak and fade at the same time.” This idea comes directly from management – IMAC is their mouthpiece! So in conclusion, the Canucks ARE trying to coordinate players ‘peaking’ at the same time – they are just coordinating a) the wrong ones (ie. Guddy) b) not enough to sustain anything relevant, as in the perpetual playoff team you’re saying they;re going for.

          • DJ_44

            Stating Ian McIntyre speaks for management is beyond stupid; stating his thinking is managements thinks is even worse.

            McIntyre’s article was terrible, and frankly, he constantly demonstrates a imperfect understanding of the hockey. He does try to be a bit more positive than the majority of the Vancouver media, but that’s not hard to be.

            Successful, championship teams have success because they draft and develop well. Getting first overall picks definitely goes a long way to doing that. Simply trading players, any players, for picks, any picks is not the definition of successful drafting. The Canucks have been incredibly successful at drafting over the last four years (take out the high first rounders if you like so we do not hear that excuse). Successful team continue to have a pipeline of players ready to play so they can sell off assets while they have good value, to maintain the pipeline.

            The Canucks are close to, but not at the stage where their prospects can step into NHL positions and be successful. That transition will start next year and hopefully continue. Gudbranson is not old, he is 26. By signing him, they increased his value by having contract certainty and reasonable term (up to 29 yrs old). When a RHD shows they can step up, he can be moved.

            Anahiem is an excellent example — probably the best, with teams like Pittsburgh, and Chicago pre stupid contract extensions).

          • defenceman factory

            You did pretty well actually but still a couple things I’ll clarify. First please don’t confuse me trying to explain what I think is happening with Canucks management with agreeing with it.

            The primary objective of the Canucks is not to win the cup it is to make money. Trying to fill the age gap of no 20 something players on the roster was exactly to avoid the boom bust cycle many franchises go through. I think the Canucks honestly believed the trades would get them back into the playoff picture muchfaster than waiting for picks. These people aren’t complete morons they knew full well this would lower their trajectory toward a Stanley Cup.

            Did you really quote IMAC at me? Is there anything you believe that guy couldn’t rationalize? He will spout off like a puppet exactly what he is told. You must have gathered by now Canucks management is not always truthful. They say what they want you to believe and IMAC is quite reliable in repeating it.

            I find the bleating on and on that Jim is incompetent an entirely inadequate explanation for the decisions the Canucks make. If Benning wasn’t at least trying to implement the plan they wanted he would be gone.

  • Puck Viking

    They never will peak.. this management group just continues to go one step forward and 2 back. Like WTF were they thinking resigning gudbranson to that contract. Just terrible. Like they honestly just dont get it.

  • BC SPORTS FAN

    Hi Puck Viking, I totally agree. Signing Gudbrandson to a 3 year contract just set us back another 3 years. Benning has been trying to trade him but 30 general managers said no thanks.

  • DJ_44

    Nice article, Ryan. I am intrigued by the GAR metric, and the aging curves scaled for different players petbugs presented at the start of the season and referenced here.

    Relating to team composition , however, how do the what do the aging curves look like for the championship teams over the past decade? Maybe a graphic of all player curves on the team, aligned to age during the championship season?

    Does it really matter where the player is on the aging curve for a championship team, or is more a factor of total GAR for the players on the team.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Interesting data, and rather heartening. It does underscore the lack of defensive prospects…
    I wonder if the data skews younger given that the majority of NHL players have short careers? Can it be weighted to account for quality of player (e.g. plot data forwards who score 50 or more points at least once; Or only include players who play more than 200 games?).

    • NeverWas

      Yeah exactly…. maybe they already accounted for that but they didnt really explain it so it leaves some ambiguity for the reader. Also, to my previous comment when they used average plot points on those first couple graphs and then added that regression line… from a statistical perspective i dont really get that…. a regression line or trend line is supposed to take multiple plot points from all the data and then calculate is own average based on standard deviation, regression, etc… but when you use average plotted data, you take the intuitive nature of a trend line away and your basically just visually displaying the graph.. not applying a real trend line based on the entirety of the data.. its like taken an average of an average… so this trend lines are made up of averages and wouldnt have the same “weight” as the true/full data would.

      Who knows, maybe they are just doing the best they can with the resources they have. it is a free blog after all…