March 15 2014 08:41PM
Matt Hendricks was a somewhat controversial addition by the Edmonton Oilers earlier this season. On the one hand, in a lot of ways he’s what the doctor ordered: tough, physical, capable of finding his way to the defensive zone without a map and compass and competent once he gets there. On the other hand, he’s also signed to a terribly risky contract for a depth player.
All of which makes his career scoring curve an interesting study.
Bring on the Chart!
First a quick note about the process here: all of these numbers are total projected points over 82 games played, with NCAA/AHL totals coming from Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract. The numbers are a 50/50 blend of Vollman’s newer numbers and Gabriel Desjardins’ old ones; Vollman’s totals are newer but Desjardins’ numbers have a larger sample of data. We’re also missing one season of ECHL data (at age 23) because there isn’t a calculated equivalency for that league.
We see slight dips in point totals both times Hendricks jumped a league. When he went to the AHL he posted a lousy 18 points/82 games total, and he fell very slightly to 23 points/82 games when he moved up to the majors. Overall, though, the NCAA and AHL and NHL totals match each other pretty nicely, which is a nice data point in favour of our equivalency process.
What It Means
Thanks to the work of people like Gabriel Desjardins, we know that forwards generally hit their scoring peak between the ages of 24 and 26, which fits pretty well with Hendricks’ age-26 season in the AHL on the chart above.
What about that sharp drop-off around age 30? It’s a bit of an extreme case, but it fits with what others have found. SBNation’s Eric Tulsky looked at this a few days ago (considering even-strength points/hour rather than points per game) and came to the following conclusion:
[W]e now have an estimate of how even strength scoring ability changes through a player's 30's. On average, players retain about 90% of their scoring through age 29, but the drop from there is pretty sharp -- they hit 80% at age 31, 70% at age 32-33, and 60% at age 35.
Tulsky notes that this is a population average rather than a hard-and-fast rule, and my inclination would be to think that marginal NHL’ers – people like Hendricks, who made the jump late and never climbed especially high up the depth chart – are more likely to be hit with a steep decline than higher-end players. I’m not backing that up with data here; that’s just what strikes me as likely.
Hendricks is in an extreme role with the Oilers right now, and his scoring might recover somewhat in other circumstances, but it looks like he’s a fourth-line level scorer right now and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was never more than that. He does bring things other than scoring to the table, but he also has a $1.85 million cap hit for the next three seasons – which is steep for a guy who looks a lot like a depth defensive zone specialist.
Some will doubtless say, ‘big whoop, it’s not a lot of money and he does valuable things (fighting, hitting, leadership, defence, etc.).’ That’s a fair take, but it’s also fair to think that there’s a decent chance Hendricks isn’t in the NHL a year or two before the end of his contract. In a lot of ways, the deal he’s on is similar to the ones Eric Belanger and Ben Eager signed in Edmonton, except for more money and longer term, and with clear signs that the decline in skill is already well under way.
Maybe that’s a fair risk for what Hendricks brings and maybe it isn’t (I lean the latter direction, but appreciate others will hold the former view), but it is a risk that team and fans alike should be cognizant of.