Daily Hab-it: The bounce back season
Published Wednesday, August 24, 2011 2:53AM EDT
Scott Gomez likes to spend parts of his off-season fishing in the bush in his native Alaska, and if that preferred pastime meant he was isolated from all forms of communication then it would have been a good idea for him to stay in the wilderness all summer long.
Right from the Canadiens post-mortem press conference held exactly four months ago this coming Saturday, Gomez's future with the team was a hot topic of conversation.
With the horrendous, career-worst season he went through the topic was certainly justified, but it was amplified by the vacuum of Canadiens news all summer.
It's not easy to defend a player like Gomez after a season like that, though I did try to make a case as to why he wouldn't – and shouldn't – be traded. If you peruse the comments that came in on that article, you'll see that most did not agree with my reasoning, to put it politely.
But one factor I did not touch on was raised Monday by former assistant coach Kirk Muller when he spoke to Mitch Melnick on the Team 990.
Melnick asked Muller whether Gomez's poor season was evidence of his skills deteriorating or if he simply needed to show more of a commitment to his career.
I found Muller's response to be extremely interesting.
Time to adjust
He began by telling a story about his own playing career when he was traded by the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Florida Panthers at age 30, the third time Muller was traded in a span of three seasons.
He said his initial reaction to it was telling himself he needed to get stronger to compete with the younger players, who were getting bigger with each passing year.
Muller was at a summer golf tournament one year and Mario Tremblay noticed his increased bulk and told him that after 30, you need to get leaner, not bigger.
Muller took the advice, changed his workout regimen and played four seasons with the Dallas Stars after the Panthers bought him out at age 33.
The point of the story, as I saw it, was not that Gomez was too bulky, but rather that his preparation to play at his age (he turned 31 last December) required an adjustment.
"Nobody wants to not do well," Muller said. "I see Gomer and it's tough when you're playing and you can't get going and people are upset and it's frustrating. It's not a good situation.
"I'm sure he went back to Alaska, did the stuff necessary to train, changed a few things. You know he's a proud player and he's a winner and he knows what's right and wrong. I wouldn't be surprised if he came back all rejuvenated and ready to show that he can still play."
Muller's belief in Gomez should come as little surprise because a coach, even a former one, will seldom call out a player in public.
But his answer got me thinking as to whether this is a common phenomenon that players go through when youth is no longer an asset.
So I looked at some high-level players who had long careers to see if the same thing happened to them, and I was surprised to see how many had.
Now, before I present what I found, I want two things to be clear. First, this is not an exhaustive list, in fact it is quite random. While the players I'm presenting here did bounce back from a one-year dip in production around age 30, there are others who didn't and whose production dropped off for good. Second, I am not comparing Gomez to any of these players, because the great majority of them are far better than he is. The list is meant to show that many talented players – and Gomez is a talented player, like it or not – have had a bad season around the age of 30 and were able to recover once they made whatever adjustments were necessary.
So here is the list, presented in alphabetical order.
In 2001-02, at the age of 29, Alfredsson's per game point production dropped slightly to 0.91. The two seasons prior to that, he produced at a rate of 1.04 (1999-2000) and 1.03 (2000-01) points per game. But over the three seasons following that down year, Alfredsson's per game point production was 1.0 (2002-03), 1.04 (2003-04), and 1.34 (2005-06) when he was 33 years old, setting a career high.
In 2006-07, at age 30, Doan's points per game was 0.75, continuing a decline from 0.86 in 2003-04 and 0.80 in 2005-06. But in 2007-08, Doan established a career high with 0.98 points per game, and followed that in 2008-09 with 0.89 points per game, his second-highest rate.
In 2007-08, at age 31, Elias got 0.74 points per game. His two prior seasons saw him produce at a per game rate of 1.18 (2005-06) and 0.92 (2006-07), but the two following seasons saw him climb back to 1.01 (2008-09) and 0.83 (2009-10, a season where Elias was injured to start the season).
In 2009-10, at age 32, Iginla had 0.84 points per game, continuing a downward spiral that went from 1.34 in 2006-07 (third in the league) to 1.20 in 2007-08 and 1.09 in 2008-09. But last season, Iginla was back up at 1.05, tied for 11th in the league.
Modano was pretty old when he went through his lull season, producing 0.58 points per game in 2003-04 at age 33, by far the worst numbers in his career to that point. His two prior seasons saw him produce 0.99 (2001-02) and 1.08 (2002-03) points per game, but after the lockout Modano jumped back up to 0.99 in 2005-06 before dipping back to 0.73 the following season, when he was 36.
In 1997-98 Roenick had the least productive season of his career to that point with 0.71 points per game at age 28 coming off seasons where he produced 1.02 (1995-96) and 0.96 (1996-97) points per game. But his climb back took the same trajectory with 0.92 points per game in 1998-99, and 1.04 in 1999-2000, when he turned 30.
In 2001-02, Sakic produced 0.96 points per game at age 32, his lowest rate since his rookie season as a 19-year-old. His two prior seasons were 1.35 (1999-2000) and 1.44 (2000-01), but his four following that "down" year had him at 1.00, 1.07, 1.06 and 1.22 at age 37.
In 2007-08, at age 31, Smyth had 0.67 points per game, down from 0.88 in 2005-06 and 0.96 in 2006-07. He did improve the following two seasons with 0.77 (2008-09) and 0.79 (2009-10).
Martin St. Louis
In 2005-06, the first year after the lockout and with Brad Richards having been removed from the defending Stanley Cup champs, St. Louis had 0.76 points per game as a 30-year-old. The two seasons prior to the lockout, St. Louis was at 0.85 (2002-03) and 1.15 (2003-04), but he climbed back to 1.24 in 2006-07 and 1.01 in 2007-08.
Burden is on Gomez to adjust
I have no doubt that many of you will take exception to this list for a myriad of reasons, most notably because it is incomplete. It would be just as easy to produce a similar list showing that a sub-par season at age 31 is a clear sign of decline.
The point I am trying to make is that Gomez has an opportunity here to extend his career and strengthen his legacy as a player by doing the things necessary to prove that last season was an anomaly, rather than an exclamation point on a decline since his career-best 2005-06 season.
The opportunity is there because Gomez is not too old to play this game at a high level, but whether or not he seizes that opportunity is a question only he can answer.