By Stan Smith and The Old Prof
Last week, we wrote an article where we looked at when NHL players reached their peaks. We then looked specifically at Auston Matthews to wonder why his scoring has been down this season compared to last.
Our conclusion was not so much that Matthews had reached his peak and now had declining skills. More to the point, we concluded that Matthews’ game was changing. Much like Steve Yzerman, who was a great goal-scorer early in his career – yet his team the Detroit Red Wings won no Stanley Cups, we believe that Matthews is changing (and growing) his game. He’s become a more well-rounded player whose defence and 200-foot game are improving.
That, we believe, will help the Maple Leafs be more competitive during the postseason.
Looking at William Nylander and Mitch Marner
Looking at William Nylander and Mitch Marner, are they peaking or still growing? Nylander, at 26 and 10 months of age, is still getting better in both his offensive and defensive games. Marner’s a year younger. His game reached a new level last season. However, he has seemed to have plateaued this season. It’s a high plateau, but perhaps a plateau nonetheless.
So, has Marner, at exactly one year younger than Nylander, reached his peak? Or does he have another level yet to reach? We will see. He’s been playing well, especially with newcomer Ryan O’Reilly.
Looking at Wayne Simmonds Compared with Jason Spezza
As for the older players on the team, two players come to mind first, as different examples. Those players are Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds. By the time both players joined the Maple Leafs they had long since peaked and were on the downward slope of their careers.
Spezza, at the age of 39, decided to retire but was still capable of playing at the level of a third or fourth-line NHL player. Simmonds’s game, at the age of 34, has deteriorated to the point where he could no longer contribute at the level of a fourth-line player. Yet he keeps hanging on thinking (or hoping) that he can go out there and make a difference, if even for just a shift or two. He still has the heart of a lion, but his body is failing him.
Looking at the Ageless Mark Giordano
As for the older players who are playing regularly for the Maple Leafs, at the top of the heap, by age, we have Mark Giordano. He seems to defy whatever our conceptions or misconceptions are about age and capabilities. He’s 39 years old and is the oldest skater currently playing in the NHL.
Giordano is performing at the same level as a lot of defensemen 10 years younger. In fact, they struggle to play at his level. He won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman at age 35. Did he peak at 35?
If you look at Giordano’s production over his career, it first looked as if he peaked at the age of 27 and then tapered off. He appeared to be nearing the end of his career at the age of 29. He then had a resurgence and appeared to peak at the age of 32. His production took a step down after that until, seemingly out of nowhere, he had the Norris-winning year.
During that season, his production was 30% higher than anything he had ever had. If we look at that season as an outlier, we can see that his production has deteriorated slightly each season since he was 32. However, his defensive game is so strong he is still, at the age of 39, performing at the level of a solid top-four defenseman.
In the 85 regular season and playoff games we have watched him in for the Maple Leafs, we have only seen him play one bad game. Interestingly, because the Maple Leafs play in Seattle later today, it was the 5-1 loss to Seattle when he went -3.
We’ll Spend More Time Talking about Maple Leafs’ Players
Not all NHL players peak at the same time. NHL players can peak at different stages of their careers, and a variety of factors influence when a player reaches their peak performance. That’s as true with the Maple Leafs as with other NHL teams.
Some players peak in their early 20s, while others continue to improve into their late 20s or even early 30s. Factors that influence when a player reaches peak performance include genetics, training habits, injuries, overall health, and wellness.
Additionally, different hockey players have different types of peak performance. Some players excel early in their careers because they have natural athleticism and physical abilities. Others might learn more as they age and come to develop more strategic and tactical skills later in their careers. These would allow them to perform at a high level.
Overall, one size does not fit all. This is an area that both Stan and I are interested in, and we’ll continue to write more about it from time to time. We’ll write more about other Maple Leafs’ players in the future.
As an organization, we believe this question about peak performance is important. If we can know when an NHL player might peak, and it can vary widely from player to player, we can do well to stock a lineup with solid players.