The History of 50 Goal Scorers After Age 26 [UPDATED 7/7/11]

Before you read this post, I want you to play the following thought experiment.

We've all heard the various hypothetical/rumored long-term deals bandied about for Ilya Kovalchuk, everything from a (now considered shortish) seven years to an unimaginable 15 years. It's generally assumed that any deal cap-friendly enough for the Kings (or Devils) would have to be in the 10 year (plus) range, front-loaded, to bring the cap hit down. Which means it's likely that whoever signs Kovalchuk will be getting him for 10 years or more. Which is -- um -- a long time.

Here's the thought experiment: You sign IK for 10 years at a $7MM cap hit. How many 50 goal, 40 goal and 30 goal seasons do you need to get out of him to make the deal worth it? Assume he's going to play all ten years. How many times does he have to hit each milestone?

Take your time. Get the number in your head and hold it there and don't change it. Ready?

Okay. Now, here are some charts. Actually, it's one chart, rendered in two different formats. The first is a series of screen captures (which you have to click on to get the high-res version), because I wanted you to see the color graphics which I couldn't embed in the second chart. The second chart is the same data as the first chart(s), but it's sortable.

What's in the charts?

The charts show every player in the history of the NHL to have scored 50 goals in a season at least once. It shows the player's output (goals only) for each season of his career, each season indicated by the age of the player in that season. So you can, for example, look down the first column to see who scored how many goals at age 18, etc.. The second row calculates the average number of goals for all the players in this group who were active at that particular age (e.g. at age 25, the average output -- for this elite group of once-or-future 50 goal scorers -- is 37 goals). The color charts use the following exciting color code:

red = 50+

orange = 40-49

yellow = 30-39

pale yellow with gray font = 20-29

gray with dark gray font = 10-19

white with gray font = 0-9

black = retired

pale green = lockout year

The black vertical line divides the chart between ages 26 and 27, because Kovalchuk is 27 and what we're interested in is, how well players of his caliber (defined broadly to include everyone who has ever scored 50 goals in a season) do after this age.

The red horizontal line is my subjective line in the sand, above which the careers post-age-26 are acceptable for a long term $7MM deal, below which, less than acceptable. Your results may vary. [2011 UPDATE: I omitted this line; it was previously in the neighborhood of Bobby Hull and Teemu Selanne.]

The first thing I invite you to do is to shrink down your page as much as possible, so you can see all the color charts on one screen. Don't worry about reading the data. Just look at the pattern of the colors, in relation to the vertical black line and the horizontal red one. Those of us feeling especially optimistic about signing IK at $10MM cap hit for 10 years, or whatever, ought to be somewhat alarmed to see that there really isn't that much red or orange to the right of the black line.

[remember to click on the colored charts to get the hi-res versions]

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Picture_2_medium

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Let me make some other observations:

  • Look at the numbers for the Great One and Super Mario. If you knew how they were going to perform from age 27 on, what kind of contract would you offer them? Neither one of them had careers to speak of after five years (age 32). Look at the other names in their neighborhood. Messier, The Rocket, Bossy. You wouldn't want to be paying $10MM a year (or even $7MM a year) for the careers of any of these guys after the age of 32.
  • Who has the best numbers from age 32 on? The sortable list is best for this. Or you can use the color charts and look for clumps of red and/or orange on the right side of the chart.
  • But there aren't any. The best you can hope for is (Esposito, Mullen, Gartner, Bucyk, Selanne) a bunch of 30 goal seasons with a 40 goal season thrown in once or twice. 
  • Before I ran these numbers, my vague notion was that the super big money for Kovy would be worth it if we got a couple of 50 goal seasons and maybe four or five 40 goal seasons out of him. And I thought I was being reasonable. How many players in the history of the league have been able to pull this off?
  • Esposito (five 50 goal seasons and two 40 goal seasons). Dionne (five 50 goal seaons and one 40 goal season). Bobby Hull (four 50 goal seasons and two 40 goal seasons). That's it. Three guys. Nobody in the last thirty years. But three of the biggest scorers in the history of the sport. They did it.
  • Gartner had a pretty good run of six 40 goal seasons. Mullen, too (one 50 and five 40s). Shanahan had four 40s and one of them was at age 37.
  • Bucyk scored 50 (for the first time!) at age 35. He's the oldest to do it. Shanahan and Bucyk both scored 40 at age 37. Selanne is the oldest player to have back-to-back 40 goal seasons (at age 35-36). Esposito had back to back 60 goal seasons at 31-32.
  • Just as an aside, look at Mike Bossy's numbers. Holy ****!
  • It occurred to me to look up how many players have tallied two 50 and four 40 goal seasons (or better) by age 27, as Kovalchuk has. Here they are:
  • Gretzky, Lemieux, Bossy, Robitaille, Yzerman, Bure, Kurri, Lafleur, Goulet, Ovechkin. There are two extremely pessimistic conclusions to draw from this comparison. (1) Six of these ten are the most spectacularly elite Hall of Fame players in NHL history; (2) none of them put up numbers to speak of after age 32. Ovechkin obviously hasn't had his chance yet. Three of these guys (at least) were limited by injuries (which is of course part of the problem; people get old). Lemieux, Robitaille and especially Yzerman became on-ice leaders with immeasurable value outside of goal-scoring. Maybe Kovalchuk is one of those guys. A hall-of-famer and a true leader. He hasn't demonstrated that yet. But neither did Yzerman, really.
  • With the sortable chart, it's fun to play with the columns to see which of these guys did the best (and worst at each age). Play around with it.
  • Also, check out the second row on the colored chart, which shows the average number of goals by this population at each age. Peak output is at 26-27, and declines from there, as you would expect. 

AGE 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43
AVG@AGE 27 26 24 31 33 37 37 37 38 35 34 32 30 28 24 22 21 23 22 20 16 17 16 11 11 18
MEDIAN 28 26 24 31 32 36 37 38 38 35 34 32 29 27 24 22 19 25 22 21 14 16 14 7 10 18
HIGH 45 55 56 92 76 87 73 72 86 70 76 66 69 68 61 54 42 51 48 40 37 29 36 20 18 18

AGE 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43
Gretzky   51 55 92 71 87 73 52 62 40 54 40 41 31 16 38 11 23 25 23 9          
Br. Hull         1 32 41 72 86 70 54 57 29 43 42 27 32 24 39 30 37 25        
Dionne     28 40 24 47 40 53 36 59 53 58 50 56 39 46 36 28 31 7            
Esposito       3 23 27 21 35 49 43 76 66 55 68 61 35 34 38 42 34 7          
Gartner     36 48 35 38 40 50 35 41 48 33 45 49 40 45 34 12 35 32 12          
Messier   12 23 50 48 37 23 35 37 37 33 45 12 35 25 26 14 47 36 22 13 17 24 7 18 18
Yzerman 39 30 14 31 50 65 62 51 45 58 24 12 36 22 24 29 35 18 13 2 18   14      
Lemieux   43 48 54 70 85 45 19 44 69 17   69 50       35 6 28 1   7      
Robitaille     45 53 46 52 45 44 63 44 23 23 24 16 39 36 37 30 11 22   15        
Shanahan   7 22 30 29 33 51 52 20 44 47 28 31 41 31 37 30 25   40 29 23 6      
Jagr 27 32 34 32 32 62 47 35 44 42 52 31 36 31   54 30 25                
Andreychuk   14 38 31 36 25 30 28 40 36 41 54 53 22 28 27 14 15 20 20 21 20 21   6  
Selanne         76 25 22 40 51 52 47 33 33 29 28 16   40 48 12 27 27 31      
Sakic   23 39 48 29 48 28 19 51 22 27 41 28 54 26 26 33   32 36 13 2        
Bobby Hull   13 18 39 31 50 31 43 39 54 52 44 58 38 44 50               6    
Ciccarelli     18 55 37 38 15 44 52 41 44 41 21 38 41 28 16 22 35 16 6          
Kurri     32 32 45 52 71 68 54 43 44 33 23 27 31 10 18 13 5              
Recchi     1 30 40 43 53 40 16 28 34 32 16 28 27 22 20 26   28 24 14 23 18 14  
Bossy       53 69 51 68 64 60 51 58 61 38                          
Nieuwendyk     5 51 51 45 45 22 38 36 21 14 30 39 28 15 29 25 17 22   26 5      
Modano   29 28 33 33 50 12 36 35 21 34 38 33 34 28 14   27 22 21 15 14 4      
Lafleur     29 28 21 53 56 56 60 52 50 27 27 27 30 2       18 12 12        
Bucyk     1 10 21 24 16 19 20 27 18 26 27 18 30 24 31 51 32 40 31 29 36 20 5  
Goulet     22 32 42 57 56 55 53 49 48 26 20 27 22 23 16                  
M. Richard       5 32 50 27 45 28 20 43 42 27 28 37 38 38 33 15 17 19          
Tkachuk   3 28 41 22 50 52 40 36 22 35 38 31 33   15 27 27 25 13            
Trottier   32 30 46 47 42 31 50 34 40 28 37 23 30 17 13 9 11 4              
Hawerchuk 45 40 37 53 46 47 44 41 26 31 23 16 35 5 17 12                    
Turgeon 14 34 40 32 40 58 38 24 38 26 22 31 26 30 15 12 15   16 4            
Roenick   9 26 41 53 50 46 10 32 29 24 24 34 30 21 27 19   9 11 14 4        
Bondra         12 28 37 24 34 52 46 52 31 21 45 39 30 26   21 5          
Mullen             25 17 41 40 44 47 40 51 36 17 42 33 38 16 8 7        
McDonald     14 17 37 46 47 43 40 35 40 66 33 19 28 14 10 11                
Anderson     30 38 48 54 42 54 35 38 16 34 24 24 22 21 12 6                
Bellows 35 41 26 31 26 40 23 55 35 30 40 33 8 23 16 6 17                  
Iginla   21 13 28 29 31 52 35 41   35 39 50 35 32 43                    
Fedorov       31 32 34 56 20 39 30 6 26 27 32 31 36 31   12 18 11 11        
Nicholls     14 28 41 46 36 33 32 70 39 25 20 13 19 22 19 12 6 0            
Mogilny     15 30 39 76 32 19 55 31 18 14 24 43 24 33 8 12                
LaFontaine 13 19 30 38 47 45 54 41 46 53 5 12 40 2 23                      
Fleury     14 31 51 33 34 40 29 46 29 27 40 15 30 24 12                  
Middleton       22 24 20 25 38 40 44 51 49 47 30 14 31 13                  
Vaive     22 33 54 51 52 35 33 32 43 31 29 25 1                      
Roberts     5 13 22 39 22 53 38 41 2 22 20 14 23 29 21 5 28   14 20 3 4    
Bure     34 60 60 20 6 23 51 13 58 59 34 19                        
Shutt     8 15 30 45 60 49 37 47 35 31 35 14 18                      
Richer   21 20 50 25 51 31 29 38 36 23 20 22 14 12 15 14                  
Barber       30 34 34 50 20 41 34 40 43 45 27 22                      
LeClair       2 8 19 19 26 51 50 51 43 40 7 25 18 23   22 2            
Kariya     18 50 44 17 39 42 33 32 25 11   31 24 16 2 18                
Ogrodnick     8 35 28 41 42 55 38 23 22 13 43 31 17 6                    
Larouche   31 53 29 23 9 50 25 34 18 48 24 20 28 3                      
Neely 16 21 14 36 42 37 55 51 9 11 50 27 26                          
Geoffrion   8 30 22 29 38 29 19 27 22 30 50 23 23 21 17 5                  
Pronovost           16 20 21 30 21 40 43 52 33 40 28 24 22 1              
Martin     44 37 52 52 49 36 28 32 45 8 1                          
Leach     2 13 23 22 45 61 32 24 34 50 34 26 15                      
Kehoe     8 33 18 32 29 30 29 27 30 55 33 29 18 0                    
Kerr       22 21 11 54 54 58 58 3 48 24 10 7 0                    
Kovalchuk 29 38 41   52 42 52 43 41 31                                
Sheppard       38 22 4 24 36 32 52 30 37 29 18 25 10                    
Hejduk         14 36 41 21 50 35 24 35 29 27 23 22                    
Maruk     30 28 36 31 10 50 60 31 17 19 21 16 7 0                    
Gare     31 50 11 39 27 56 46 20 26 13 27 7 1                      
Lecavalier 13 25 23 20 33 32 35 52 40 29 24 25                            
MacLeish       2 1 50 32 38 22 49 31 26 31 38 19 0 10                  
Simmer     8 1 2 0 21 56 56 15 29 44 34 36 29 11                    
Graves     7 9 7 26 36 52 17 22 33 23 38 23 10 17 9                  
Bullard   1 36 22 51 32 41 30 48 27 27 14                            
Stevens         5 12 29 40 54 55 41 15 13 14 14 23 3 10 1              
Hodge       6 10 25 45 25 43 16 37 50 23 25 21 2                    
Heatley       26 41 13   50 50 41 39 39 26                          
Hadfield       3 5 14 18 16 13 20 26 20 22 50 28 27 31 30                
Carpenter 32 32 28 53 27 9 19 16 25 8 25 11 10 5 5 4 9 2                
Ovechkin     52 46 65 56 50 32                                    
Carson 37 55 49 21 21 34 37 11 9 1                                
Secord     16 23 13 44 54 4 15 40 29 15 6 14                        
Grant     0 3 34 29 34 18 32 29 50 10 2 12 10                      
Stoughton     5 23 6       56 43 52 45 28                          
Simpson 11 26 56 35 29 30 24 24 8 4                                
Redmond     6 9 27 20 42 52 51 15 11                              
Crosby 39 36 24 33 51 32                                        
Chouinard     17 28 50 31 31 23 13 12                                
Leeman   4 5 9 21 30 32 51 17 9 15 4 2   0                      
Loob           30 37 31 18 50 27                              
W. Babych     27 26 54 19 16 13 20 17                                
Cheechoo         9 28   56 37 23 12 5                            
Perry     13 17 29 32 27 50                                    
J. Richard     13 27 17 12 2 10 3 52 15 9                            
Stamkos 23 51 45                                            

 

I'm not arguing against signing Kovalchuk. I like Kovalchuk. But when people decry the lack of "balls" of Kings management, and wonder why they don't just "man up" and sign the guy at $100MM/10 years, this is why. He won't be worth it in ten years. Or even five. But he will be more than worth it at the right price, with a contract that is not only affordable, but is a valuable tradable asset five years from now. Instead of an albatross.

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