This past June, 35-year-old Mark Giordano won the Norris Trophy. Not only did he finish first in the balloting done by the Professional Hockey Writers Association – disclosure: I did not vote – he won the award in a landslide.
But now the Calgary Flames are entering a season where their oldest player, best player and on-ice leader will be 36 years old. He may say he’s young and fresh, but what are reasonable expectations for a player of his style and age?
We dug into the numbers – data via Natural Stat Trick – and took a look at all defensemen that scored 50+ points in a season from ages 35+ in what’s known as the Better Data Era (2007-08 to present). 50+ point years are indicated with an asterix beside the season.
Spoilers: Giordano is kind of a unicorn.
Giordano’s monster year came when he was 35. As you can see, he shot nearly 7% at even-strength. That’s pretty crazy, and likely to drop because of how crazy-high it is (as is his PDO). That said, he was a very strong possession player and that doesn’t disappear overnight.
Like Giordano’s, Gonchar’s big offensive year was seemingly powered by a big spike in his shooting percentage. He wasn’t a possession monster offensively or defensively, but he was pretty representative of the team he was on. His defensive numbers eroded a bit over time, but aside from a dip in his 36-year-old season his offensive rates didn’t collapse.
Lidstrom’s another unicorn. He entered the Better Data Era as a 37-year-old and posted sub-50 Corsi Against rates for three seasons, along with Corsi For rates north of 60. Heck, he ended his career with another insane year. Lidstrom’s a freak of nature.
Niedermayer’s underlyings were pretty tidy during his big year, not even being drive by a shooting spike. But his entire game became a bit sloppier and more high-event the following season.
Pronger’s 35-year-old season was his last full season, then injuries hit him and his shooting percentage imploded (in the few games he did play).
Rafalski’s final three seasons were all pretty tidy – Corsi For rate north of 60 and Corsi Against below 50.
Markov’s a bit of an outlier in this group because he was always pretty high-event in his post-35 seasons. A PDO spike likely contributed to his strong 2014-15 offensive season.
Our best guess
Generally-speaking, defenders lose their speed past the age of 35. Because of that, their defensive rates get higher (they allow more chances and better chances) and generally they become more high-event players. Rather than use their mobility to dictate the game’s pace, they’re more frenetic and reactive.
Right now, it doesn’t seem like Giordano’s speed is going to fall off a cliff… yet. Given that, his possession stats probably won’t change a ton – though his Corsi Against rate likely won’t be sub-50 again. His shooting percentage is bound to drop and his PDO will likely normalize a bit, so he won’t get the bounces as often – all things being equal.
In short? Giordano likely won’t have another 70 point season. But unless his underlyings completely fall off a cliff, a 50 or 60 point year isn’t unreasonable to expect.