This week we look back to February 2003...and 'ageism' in fantasy hockey?
This past week Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau signed on to remain in San Joe for the next three seasons. They’re two players that have been fantasy stars the past decade, at times elite, but almost always very productive. Their longevity (and the amount of grey in their beards) got me thinking…
This year, more so than past ones, I have been keenly aware of fantasy player’s ages. I don’t know why that is. It might be that age has always been a huge factor and I’ve only recently realized just how much of an impact it can have on player value. This is also my first year on twitter, exposing me to more transactions than ever before, offering insight into how a lot of poolies put together transactions.
What has become obvious is that ageism - negative thoughts about people, or a group of people based on their age - is prevalent in many pools.
Before going any further I’ll acknowledge the obvious. At 36, 37 or 38 years of age (or earlier, for some guys) a player’s skills can diminish to the point that they are no longer productive. In this case it makes sense to consider age as a huge factor when evaluating someone’s value.
When I speak about ageism in this post, I am talking about those players that have entered into their 30s, and in doing so have forfeited a significant amount of their fantasy value even though they are still effective.
It’s quite remarkable the difference in worth for a player at say 28; someone in his “late 20s” who you can build a five year plan around and use as a cornerstone piece. Compare that to say, Daniel Sedin at 33. He is expected to slow down soon, a risky play over the next three seasons.
All things being equal, naturally you would prefer to have a younger player on your roster. The rationale being that he has a greater chance of retaining value longer than an older player. That is one hundred percent true and I fully support it. However, where poolies may be making an error is when the younger player has a higher perceived value than a more proven veteran because of his age, and of perceived production in the future.
A perfect example would be Matt Duchene and Patrick Sharp. I bet if we polled most managers Duchene would be seen to have higher value. Based largely on the fact he is 23 years old, while Sharp is 32. This despite the fact that Sharp will likely shoot more than Duchene (approximately 290 to 240), have a better plus minus on Chicago compared to Colorado, and has proven to be a consistent 30 plus goal scorer.
Over the next three seasons there is a strong argument that Sharp will be the superior fantasy asset, even if we assume the Duchene continues to develop (something that is not assured, mind you). If we further the comparison to years four or five (at which time Sharp would be 36 or 37, it is possible, maybe even likely, that Duchene would surpass him in value. But think of what that means in a one for one trade. If you are sending Sharp for Duchene in return you’re making a transaction based on the hope that in approximately four years you’ll start to see a return on investment. Or, you are hoping hat Duchene takes a massive step forward in year one and Sharp regresses to the point that Duchene is simply better (this seems unlikely, based on recent data). It’s the allure of the untapped, latent potential in a 23 year old high draft pick that can cause some poolies to bail too early on a proven veteran.
The example above is just one that helps further explain a point, but I’m sure you can think of countless other situations in your pool where a player just entering his early to mid 30s is cast away in favor of a blue chip prospect. In some cases this may be worth the risk (with high upside youngsters like MacKinnon, Drouin…etc) but more often than not the best value can be found with veterans that have an established level of production.
Getting back to Marleau and Thornton (900 words later) – I want to look back a decade ago to when these guys were just a couple of 20 something’s and marvel at the consistency they’ve displayed since.
February 2003 Rankings
It’s incredible to think that 10 years later both players are still close to as relevant as they were back then. 53 games into this season Thornton is seventh in league scoring with 55 points and a plus-16 rating, while sitting in a tie for first in assists with some Kid. Meanwhile, Marleau is twentieth with 48 points, a plus 10 rating, and fifth in the NHL with 187 shots on net.
There are absolutely no guarantees with older players – they break down, they get relegated to lesser roles, and they ultimately retire. That is a fate that eventually catches up to all players. A friend recently reminded me that when it comes to hockey battles “Father Time remains undefeated” and it’s true. But young stars and prospects come with their fair share of risk as well.
The key to being a successful manager is not parting ways with a successful veteran when there are still years of mileage left. Thornton and Marleau are fantastic examples of why a “3” at the beginning of your age doesn’t equal fantasy irrelevancy; in some cases you’re just getting started.
Darren is a fantasy hockey writer for Dobber Hockey. You can follow him @FantasyHockeyDK
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