FanPost

The Fountain of the Opposite of Youth

                                                          Images_medium 

                                 Panthers veterans Cory Stillmanand Bryan McCabe on their way to the BAC.


The "new" NHL landscape has drastically changed over the years and we're now seeing many young players in high profile positions league wide. In fact, the league's leading scorer can barely grow a mustache; this is no longer an old man's game. For years the Florida Panthers organization was a "seniors complex" with all of its aging stars way past their prime. When GM Dale Tallon took command of the Florida Panthers, many believed that a rebuild similar to what he had done in Chicago would take place in the organization; out with the old and in with the new-- and it was thought that new meant youth. However, on closer inspection Tallon has simply retooled the existing roster, and focused less on youth this season (remember, he did stock up the proverbial prospect pantry last summer) and instead formed a veteran hardworking bunch that as of now is on the cusp of a playoff push. Are older players now the new market deficiency that smart general managers exploit?

TEAM

< 25 skaters

Youth Avg. Age

< 25 skaters pts

Team pts

% of team pts

Florida

7

21.86

107

331

32.3

Atlanta

6

20.33

115

367

31.3

Carolina

6

21

77

354

21.7

Washington

10

22.4

175

344

50.8

Tampa Bay

6

21.67

140

382

36.6

 

Many people believe NHL clubs live and die by their youth (for the purpose of this article, youth will be defined as under 25 years of age), so how is a group of ragtag veterans - including a line dubbed "Century Village" -  with an average age of 27.36 (including 6 players over 30) competing to a degree where they have a fighting chance to make a postseason push? The answer isn't that simple to evaluate, but when looking over the statistics, one realizes that youth is perhaps slightly overrated at least in terms of a single season.

When one considers that the youth of the Panthers organization isn't playing as key a role in the scoring as say the youth of the Washington Capitals, the situation might appear dire. Thankfully veterans such as Marty Reasoner, Radek Dvorak, and Stillman have amassed impressive point totals (224-252) comparable with those of under-25 players with, for example, the Hurricanes (Skinner, Sutter, McBain) and Caps (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green) things begin to look a lot more hopeful. Keep in mind, these are accumulated points - not goals - so this isn't a direct analysis of a team's offensive output, but it is rather shocking to learn the old timers are competing with the young guns. 

Of course, there are a different  number of players considered veterans on the Panthers (13) than the youth of the Capitals and Canes (16), but when you consider the average point totals of a Young Capital (17.5) and Cane (12.8) and compare it to a Veteran Panther's point average (17.2) the Southeast division arms-race looks a lot tighter than at face value. Sure, the Capitals and Hurricanes aren't scoring goals like they have in the past but they are still the 15th and 10th best offenses in the league respectively.

For a club like the Panthers (17th in offense) to successfully match their cheaper (salary-wise), older roster against a revered collection of young talent in the Southeast is testament to Tallon's tinkering ability. Tallon is paying on average 2.61 million per veteran skater paying approximately $151,744 per point where as McPhee is paying the Capitals youth 2.88 million each which approximates to $164,571 per point. That differential might seem small but over the course of a season the disparity becomes a noteworthy figure and can make the difference between a profitable season or a year in the red. If at the beginning of the season someone told you a makeshift group compiled of players like Weiss, Booth, and Wideman could compete in terms of points totalled with the youth of the Capitals you probably wouldn't believe them or consider them part of the ticket sales department of SSE. That's the point of this new Panthers system though-- individually they might not be miraculous, but as a group this is a fierce force that can match any advisary. For a much cheaper price, the Panthers are so far this season competing with the big guns, and it's not with their youth, who are costing the team so far this season $280,794 per point scored (a drastic price difference) but with their experienced vets.

 Perhaps this mirrors the model employed a year ago by the Phoenix Coyotes under GM Don Maloney which featured inexpensive veterans buying into a team-first mentality. The team was able to make a playoff experience, change its culture, and do it all on the cheap. Maybe with this in mind, aged veterans won't come to South Florida to retire but instead look to make one last stand. Perhaps experience will result in wins where it otherwise has failed this organization in years past.

For Panthers fans though, this is familiar territory. Not long ago this strategy was thought to be a cop-out by management and ownership, so it will be interesting to see if the train continues moving forward and Tallon sticks with a makeshift model or eventually cashes in on the spoils of losing seasons. Conventional hockey wisdom might say to build young like the Capitals, but this isn't a conventional hockey market and perhaps unconventional planning and building is the ultimate answer to the seasonal sorrows found at the BankAtlantic Center come April.

 Could youth really be overrated and expensive? Probably, especially when we're now seeing entry level deals that exceed the contracts of many talented veteran players-- consider that recent 1st overall pick, Taylor Hall could be looking at a $3.75 million dollar pay check with bonuses this season, $750,000 more than Panthers leading scorer Stephen Weiss who is 6 points above Hall's season totals. In the past it was thought that entry level deals were prime for exploitation, and that teams could cheaply and efficiently fill their rosters with young inexperienced players-- but all of a sudden with the New NHL things have changed and the old and hated building process of Keenan and Martin (banking on aging veterans) looks to be a winning strategy in this hockey market. Perhaps Tallon is onto something and perhaps the quest for the fountain of youth with aspirations of hope built into the draft should be aptly changed to the quest of the Fountain of the Opposite of Youth-- because these old goats are on the path of doing something none of the scoring leaders of the past have managed to accomplish in the last 10 years.

As the season progresses the wear and tear of an 82 game season will surely have its affects on the older Panthers squad, but right now just past the midway point the cardigan-wearing veterans are carrying this team to the end of familiar territory and into the promised land.

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