Roos looks at six players who are defying time
With todayâ€™s emphasis on fitness, conditioning and nutrition, plus advances in injury diagnosis and treatment, more players than ever are enjoying very long NHL careers. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that 35 players who suited up for an NHL team in 2012-13 had either already reached the 1000 regular season game milestone or did so during the campaign.
But we all know that even the best of players will eventually start to fade if they play long enough, often morphing from fantasy studs to duds in the process. The key for fantasy hockey GMs is sensing when a playerâ€™s stats are about to head downhill, before itâ€™s already too late.
With that in mind, over the next two weeks Iâ€™ll look at 12 skaters who are among active leaders in games played (and are both under contract for 2013-14 and still considered fantasy relevant â€“ sorry Roman Hamrlik, Ryan Smyth, Adrian Aucoin, and Hall Gill) and divide them into two categories â€“ starting this week with six â€ťDefying Father Time Guysâ€ť whose numbers shouldnâ€™t decline much (if at all) in the very near future, and concluding next week with six â€śLast Legs Guysâ€ť whose stats are likely headed downhill, and fast.
Iâ€™ll save my â€śFinal Verdictâ€ť for next weekâ€™s column, where Iâ€™ll talk about overall criteria to use in assessing and valuing these kinds of players.
Defying Father Time Guys
Ray Whitney - Age: 41; Career Games Played (regular season + playoffs): 1364
Whitney is the oldest of the â€śDefying Father Time Guysâ€ť and has played the most career games by a good amount. But heâ€™s also arguably still the most productive, having scored a truly amazing 106 points in his last 114 regular season games.
Letâ€™s not kid ourselves into thinking that Whitney can keep up this pace well into his 40s. But thereâ€™s also no reason to figure that heâ€™ll do any worse this season than he has in the recent past, especially given not only his style of play but also the fact itâ€™s the last year of his current deal and heâ€™ll want to do all he can to either go out in a blaze of glory or to play well enough to secure one last contract. Plus, itâ€™s not like heâ€™s in danger of losing his top six spot with Dallas, which has managed to stockpile a number of centers but doesnâ€™t have many other scoring wingers on its roster.
And if youâ€™re still on the fence about whether Whitney has another very good season or two in him, just go ahead and ask yourself â€“ at this point would you bet against him succeeding, after heâ€™s beaten the odds time and time again throughout his career?
Daniel Alfredsson - Age: 40; Career Games Played (regular season + playoffs): 1299
Although Alfredssonâ€™s last point per game season was back in 2009-10, most everything seems lined up for him to have a very solid year for his new squad. After all, heâ€™s always been a workhorse with immense talent; but you have to figure that the chance to play with so many of his Swedish countrymen in Detroit (the Red Wings have eight other Swedes on their current roster), plus the need to step up and perform in order to take attention away from those who are irate about his decision to leave Ottawa, will reinvigorate Alfredsson and provide him with even more motivation than he had in the recent past.
Given his age and Detroitâ€™s depth at forward, it would be expecting too much to count on Alfredsson approaching point per game numbers. But 65-70 points is not out of the question, and he shouldnâ€™t slip much below that number if he chooses to pay one or two more years on a good team where he still is able to skate alongside top quality linemates and get the ice time heâ€™s accustomed to receiving.
Kimmo Timonen - Age: 38; Career Games Played (regular season + playoffs): 1095
Every season Timonen shows up another year older, and yet every season his production remains rock solid. Itâ€™s not quite like the move Groundhog Day, but counting last season (where his total projected to 53 points over a full year) heâ€™s scored between 43 and 55 points in six of his last eight campaigns. Thatâ€™s pretty amazing consistency, especially from a player whoâ€™s now well over 35 years old.
Of all the players on the list, Timonen is arguably the biggest threat to retire after this season, which is when his current deal expires. But with Philly perhaps finally about to turn a corner, and no other young defensemen apparently ready to step in and take on Timonenâ€™s top pairing minutes, the chances are pretty good that heâ€™ll be convinced to return for yet another season (or more). And guess what â€“ his stats will most likely still be just fine if he chooses to do so.
Marian Hossa - Age: 34; Career Games Played (regular season + playoffs): 1170
Itâ€™s pretty easy to predict that Hossaâ€™s stats will continue to be very good, since heâ€™s really never had a poor season. And although 2012-13 saw his point scoring pace slip somewhat, it still wouldâ€™ve put him at just under 65 points for a full season, which would be great for most players, especially ones whoâ€™ve suited up for as seasons(14) as he has.
Yes, Hossa has been plagued by injury issues since turning 30; but there is a silver lining in that those same issues have made it so he hasnâ€™t played in more than 90 games (counting the regular season and playoffs) since 2006-07. And not having that kind of mileage will help him stay stronger in the long run. Overall, I think Hossa is a pretty sure bet for high level production for the next three (or even more) years, with it unlikely that heâ€™ll finish with less than 65-70 points in any of those seasons and with perhaps the best shot of any of the over 1000 games guys for 75+ points at least one more time.
Joe Thornton - Age: 34; Career Games Played (regular season + playoffs): 1250
Like Hossa, Thornton just seems to keep chugging along. Sure, heâ€™s no longer in the mix for scoring titles or Hart trophies, but the fact remains that he hasnâ€™t finished with less than 70 points in a full season (i.e., one where he played in 70+ games) since before Y2K!
And even though Thornton is a big guy (6 ft. 4 in., 235 lbs) and has played nearly as many NHL games as the 40 year old Alfredsson (not to mention 73 games overseas during the past two lockouts) his style of play makes it easier to envision him continuing to succeed, as his size gives him space on the ice and his vision and passing skills arenâ€™t likely to diminish much with age.
There is some concern that Thorntonâ€™s numbers might nose dive once heâ€™s no longer a true #1 center, whether on San Jose (he has one year left on his current deal) or a new team. But Thornton should be able to continue to produce even in a somewhat diminished role, along the lines of Hall of Fame center Ron Francis going to Carolina at age 35 and still enjoying several more productive seasons as the 1A center for the Hurricanes (to Jeff Oâ€™Neillâ€™s 1B).
Patrik Elias - Age: 37; Career Games Played (regular season + playoffs): 1252
The ink was barely dry on Eliasâ€™ new deal with New Jersey, when lo and behold Ilya Kovalchuk made his retirement announcement. And although according to Frozen Pool, Kovalchuk and Elias almost never shared the ice for the Devils, the announcement still raised concerns that defenses might now be better able to focus on Eliasâ€™ line, and that in turn would hurt his production.
But not only has Elias seemed to take things in stride, heâ€™s also the kind of player (with strong character and work ethic) where this might end up helping his stats, as heâ€™ll be motivated kick it up a notch by seeing himself as having to play an even more important offensive role. And that should be enough to compensate for the loss in overall team offense with Kovalchuk no longer being in town.
In the end, it might be a stretch to see Elias hit 75 points again during any of the three years of his new deal, but 60-70 each season does not seem unrealistic.
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