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How Young Are The Thrashers?

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In the past I've criticized the Thrashers for filling their roster with too many old guys who are more likely to have a career collapse than a breakout. The 2008-09 team will be younger with Christensen (25) and Armstrong (26) replacing Hossa (29) and Dupuis (29) in the big deadline trade. Free agent departures Holik (37) and Recchi (40) will be replaced by Williams (28), Reasoner (31), while Hainsey (27) fills a spot left open by the waived Zhitnik (36).

On the other hand, it is important to remember that while the Thrashers have replaced five roster regulars with younger players--every returning player will be one year older. Getting younger is a bit like running down an escalator--if you pause for a moment you can quickly ride back up to the top. Each player's age is their age on January 1st of that season--which is roughly the half way point of NHL season.

The off-season changes led me to ask three questions:
  1. Just how young are the 2008-09 Thrashers?
  2. How do they compare to other NHL teams with respect to age?
  3. How do they compare to the Thrashers of 2007-08?
First let's take a look at last year. (Skip this paragraph is you don't care how I calculated the age number.) Below I have a table that lists every NHL by age for the 2007-08 season. What I have done is weight that age average by number of games played. So if someone played a full 82 game schedule they effect the team average more than someone who only played 8 games with a team.

The table shows that the Atlanta Thrashers were the 4th oldest team in the NHL in 07-08. An amazing 45% of all Thrashers games played were filled by a player on the wrong side of 30--only the Detroit Red Wings had more more games played by 30+ players. The difference between Atlanta and Detroit? Several of the Detroit 30+ club are going to be in the Hall of Fame once their careers end and none of the Thrashers old guys are likely to be so honored.

2007-08 Team Age
Rank/Team/Weighted Age (* indicates team made the playoffs)
01 DET 30.7 *
02 CAR 30.0
03 ANA 29.7 *
04 ATL 29.4
05 CGY 29.2 *
06 DAL 28.3 *
07 OTT 28.3 *
08 NJD 28.2 *
09 NYI 28.2
10 COL 28.2 *
11 NSH 28.0 *
12 TOR 28.0
13 VAN 28.0
14 PHI 27.9 *
15 TBL 27.9
16 STL 27.8
17 MIN 27.7 *
18 LAK 27.5
19 FLA 27.5
20 MON 27.4 *
21 NYR 27.2 *
22 BOS 27.2 *
23 PIT 27.1 *
24 SJS 27.1 *
25 WAS 26.7 *
26 CBJ 26.6
27 BUF 26.3
28 CHI 26.0
29 EDM 26.0
30 PHX 26.0

A couple of things jump out at me when I look at the entire NHL by age. In the West the playoff teams tend to be older. The Western Conference is noted for being more low scoring than the East lately--perhaps one factor in this gap is that top western teams typically employ older veteran type players who presumably make fewer mistakes.

The danger for those older teams is that they risk a performance collapse at some point if they cannot integrate younger players into their core. The Wings have done a good job of mixing youth and age of late, but I might be a bit worried were I a Flames fan. The biggest outlier in the West is San Jose--a team which regularly plays their young talent in crucial situations and eschews signing veterans on the free agent market.

In the Eastern Conference we see that most of the playoff clubs fall more in the middle of the age range. Teams like Pittsburgh, Montreal, Philadelphia and Washington have young stars in key positions.

So what about next season? I went through each team's depth chart at and assembled the most likely starting roster for all 30 NHL teams. Then I put in the estimated number of games played for every player (based on historical patterns) to produce team estimates for the upcoming season (see below). As expected Atlanta has moved down the list, but surprisingly still ranks slightly above average.

2008-09 Team Age
Rank/Team/Weighted Age (* indicates teams I expect to make the playoffs)
01 ANA 30.2 *
02 NJD 29.6 *
03 DET 29.5 *
04 CGY 29.1 *
05 COL 29.1
06 TBL 28.6 *
07 NYI 28.6
08 SJS 28.4 *
09 WAS 28.4 *
10 FLA 28.2
11 DAL 28.1 *
12 NSH 27.9
13 ATL 27.9
14 CAR 27.9
15 TOR 27.9
16 VAN 27.7
17 PHI 27.6 *
18 BOS 27.6
19 PIT 27.5 *
20 OTT 27.4
21 EDM 27.3
22 MON 27.2 *
23 MIN 27.2 *
24 BUF 27.0 *
25 CBJ 26.8
26 STL 26.8
27 NYR 26.7 *
28 PHX 26.1
29 LAK 26.0
30 CHI 25.8 *

So who are the projected big movers in terms of shaking up their average roster age? The five teams with the biggest decrease in age are CAR, LAK, ATL, DET and STL. In the case of Detroit I do not have Chelios on their projected roster yet, his inclusion would bump them back up considerably. The Blues talked about "rebuilding" and playing their young kids, but in reality their top six forwards were rather old last season. It appears that they are really going to play more kids this coming season.

The Chicago Blackhawks are projected to be the youngest team in the NHL and I also expect them to qualify for the playoffs which would be quite an accomplishment--it is far too early to start any "dynasty" talk, but the Blackhawks appear to have constructed the a foundation that will allow them to contend far into the future if they can keep it together.

Getting Younger
Team/Rank Shift/Change in Weighted Team Age
Carolina 2nd -> 14th (-2.08)
LA Kings 18th -> 29th (-1.53)
Atlanta 4th -> 13th (-1.47)
Detroit 1st -> 3rd (-1.25)
St. Louis 16th -> 26th (-1.04)

Which teams are climbing up the age rankings? Washington leads the way with a full season of Fedorov (39) and Nylander (36) pushing them up the rankings. San Jose's roster is mostly intact but a year older plus the addition of blue liners Dan Boyle (32) and Rob Blake (38). Edmonton also added some veterans such as Visnovsky and Cole. The Devils new faces include Rolston (35), Holik (37), Salvador (32) and they are certainly in a "win-now" mode. They are also just a Brodeur injury away from a very ugly season. The Avalanche have some young talent like Wolski and Stastny but Hejduk is now past 30 and they added veterans Foote, Salei and Tucker and if Sakic comes back they will get older still.

Getting Older
Team/Rank Shift/Change in Weighted Team Age
Washington 25th -> 9th (+1.72)
San Jose 24th -> 8th (+1.33)
Edmonton 29th -> 21st (+1.32)
NJ Devils 8th -> 2nd(+1.31)
Colorado 10th -> 5th(+0.93)

What does it all mean? I like to think of age as a leading indicator. Many of the top teams in the NHL are older and the clock is ticking for them. For example, Anaheim is great today but they will need to incorporate more youth in the near future to remain strong. The younger clubs can expect some pleasant surprises as their young guys have breakout seasons and their late-20s players experience career peak seasons.

The Thrashers are moving in the right direction as a rebuilding club, but they are not as young as many of the other rebuilding clubs. There still have quite a few veterans on this squad: Kozlov (36), Klee (37), Hedberg (36), Havelid (34), White (33) and Perrin (33). Realistically this club is 2-3 years from making any playoff noise and few of those veterans will still be around at that point.

The Thrashers have made some progress, but this club is not as young as you might think. The foundation for the next contending team is still incomplete--contrast this roster with the Blackhawks and Kings who have a foundation of great talent in place and only need to make a modest tweaks as they move forward.