History is against 41-year-old Joe Thornton coming back next season and being an impact player.
But we know that. This year, Thornton was already betraying significant cracks in his game. His 31 points in his age-40 campaign for the San Jose Sharks were his lowest since his rookie season 23 years ago.
Time, as fellow past-his-prime warrior Rocky Balboa mumbled, is undefeated.
However, digging through Hockey Reference, a few interesting stats revealed themselves. Historically speaking, is there even a chance of a rebound season from Jumbo?
On the Way Down?
In the NHL’s century-plus history, there have been 115 campaigns by 40-or-older skaters (age as of February 1st that season). Not surprisingly, 56 of those seasons were authored by 40-year-olds; 34 were forwards.
This was the average line for a 40-year-old forward: 57 Games Played-13 Goals-23 Assists-36 Points.
That’s 0.63 Points Per Game (PPG). Thornton put up 0.44 this season, a bit short of that benchmark.
Can Thornton Rebound?
This 0.44 PPG was a sharp decline from last year’s 0.7 and the last half-decade’s 0.79.
Historically speaking, is there a chance of a rebound in his Age-41 season?
15 of the 34 40-year-old forwards played another season.
Did any of these 15 forwards score at a higher clip at 41 than 40?
Predictably, some forwards experienced sharp declines from 40 to 41. However, two of them improved their production as they got older: Daniel Alfredsson went from a 0.55 PPG in 2012-13 to a 0.72 in 2013-14; funny enough, Jaromir Jagr went from a 0.78 to a 0.82 in the same period of time.
I’m sure the San Jose Sharks would be thrilled if Thornton matched Alfredsson’s rebound.
However, chances are, Thornton will continue to decline. It’s just nature.
41 and Not Done
Overall, there have been just 17 41-year-old forwards in league history:
Can Thornton produce at a level on par with the upper half of this list? This would go a long way toward bringing next year’s San Jose Sharks back to respectability.
If Patrick Marleau re-signs with San Jose, as expected, Thornton and Marleau would form the seventh 41-or-older duo in NHL history:
• 2013-14 New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur (41), Jaromir Jagr (41)
• 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings: Chris Chelios (46), Dominik Hasek (43)
• 2006-07 Detroit Red Wings: Chelios (45), Hasek (42)
• 2002-03 Detroit Red Wings: Igor Larionov (42), Chelios (41)
• 1979-80 Hartford Whalers: Gordie Howe (51), Bobby Hull (41)
• 1973-74 Minnesota North Stars: Gump Worsley (44), Dean Prentice (41)
• 1967-68 Toronto Maple Leafs: Johnny Bower (43), Allan Stanley (41)
Interestingly, the average line for a 40 and 41-year-old forward are nearly identical:
At least that bodes well for Thornton and the San Jose Sharks. A rebound would be manna from heaven, but if the 41-year-old can even hold serve next year, that would be useful. Maybe pre-preseason games in Switzerland will help?
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