The Old Man Myth in Fantasy Hockey Keepers

I have been playing in fantasy hockey keeper leagues for many years. Like many of you who are reading this, you could say I am addicted to the game. If there has been one thing that has bothered me about fantasy hockey keeper leagues, more so the past few years, it’s the train of thought by most fantasy GM’s that once a player hits the golden age of 30 years old, that his fantasy value has to diminish. To me, this is nothing but The Old Man Myth in Fantasy Hockey Keepers in this column, I will explain why.

I will admit it, when I first started out doing keeper leagues, I had that mentality. It didn’t matter if my team was competitive or a work in progress, if a guy on my roster was 30 or older, he had to go. In hindsight, I can see that I was wrong in thinking that way.

Just going back over the past three NHL seasons, I looked into how many 30+ year-old players were in the top 20 scorers for the league. In this past season, there were 6 players over the age of 30 in the top 20 scorers. In 2013-14, there were 4 skaters over the age of 30 in the top 20 scoring. In 2012-13, the shortened season which only 48 games were played, there were 6 skaters in the top 20 scoring, and the scoring title was won by Martin St. Louis who was a spry 37 years-old at that time. Now of course, depending on your fantasy league setup, points can be a small portion of what you need to make your roster competitive. In my experience, points are what most tend to focus on as their primary category target.

My point is that even though a player is above the age of 30, that doesn’t mean their production goes away. Obviously, at some point in their careers, their value will diminish, that’s to be expected but so many look at that golden age of 30 and simply focus on that.

There was a study done last year by the UBC Business School that looked into NHL players and when they tend to reach their peak performance level. They broke it down into three sections; forwards, defensemen and goalies. I am not going to cover the entire study but I am going to share some highlights you may find interesting.

The study showed that in regards to forwards:

· They tend to develop their skills quicker than they decline.
· They perform within 90% of their peak in the 24-32 age range
· 25 years old is the most common peak age

In regards to defencemen:

· They improve and decline slower than forwards
· They perform within 90% of their peak in the 24-34 age range
· 26 years old is the most common peak age

In regards to goalies:

· Their performance does not vary much by age
· Between the age of 20 and 37 years old, their save percentage is between 90% and a small portion above 91%
· 28 years old is the most common peak age

Another interesting thing I found about the study was in regards to the elite players. The study showed that the elite players tended to develop quicker and hold their skill set longer. The forwards tended to have their peak years between 27 – 29 years of age but were able to hold that level into their mid to late 30’s. Defencemen didn’t hit their scoring peak until the ages of 29 – 34.

The main aspect of this study that stands out to me is NHL players are still well within their peak years past 30 years of age; all players at all positions. Also, just because a player is past his peak doesn’t mean he still isn’t an asset to a fantasy roster. Those are just, on average, the very best years you will get from them. They can still be a quality, productive player for years past their peak, or prime years. The decline starts at that point but it also tends to be a slow one for most, especially for the elite players.

Of course, in fantasy hockey, there are times when this type of “selling old guys for young guys” mentality may make sense. If your team isn’t competitive and you are looking to revamp your roster and build for tomorrow then it can make sense to move some of your older, productive assets. The issue you will run into in most leagues is the value on your return for those older assets. Most other GM’s in fantasy hockey simply don’t go looking to invest in older skaters and aren’t willing to pay a realistic price for the numbers they produce. They tend to undervalue them and offer “less-than-prime” value simply because of the age factor. It’s hard to change that mentality that once a guy turns 30 years old, he has little to no value in fantasy hockey. At least that’s been my experience.

Winning fantasy hockey is primarily based on numbers. Unfortunately, the number people tend to focus too much on is a players age and not their production. Fantasy GM’s need to stop being so narrow-minded towards age. It appears that players are performing at a normal rate well into their 30’s but yet fantasy owners are reluctant to bring in those older players for their fantasy teams. I realize there are times when it may not make sense, but if you are serious about winning at fantasy hockey, owners need to focus less on a players age and more on what they can offer their team when it comes to bragging rights in their league.

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