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Looking at how ‘old’ teams actually perform in the NHL

The Pittsburgh Penguins are set to be one of the oldest teams in the NHL for the 2022-23 NHL season.

Arizona Coyotes v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins were already one of the oldest teams in the NHL, and that average age has only managed to increase this offseason.

With the re-signings of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust, and Rickard Rakell, as well as the trades and free agent signings that sent out John Marino and Mike Matheson in exchange for Jeff Petry, Ty Smith and Jan Rutta, the Penguins are looking like a team that is going to have an average over 30 for this season.

As of this moment there are 11 players on the roster already 30 or older, and two more that are 29 years old. That includes five players that are age 34 or older, including all three of their core players (Sidney Crosby, Malkin, and Letang).

The concern there is obvious. Younger teams tend to win the Stanley Cup, older teams tend to have more injuries, and it does create some questions in a big picture outlook as to what the team will look like in the future. At this point, though, everybody already knows the team is going to have to go through a massive rebuild three or for years down the line. That puts everything on the immediate future and being as good as they can possibly be in the short-term. That has been the theme of this offseason, and while there are still some concerns to be worried about (looking at you, bottom-six forwards) it has been promising being able to keep all of Malkin, Letang, Rust, and Rakell on the roster while also making what looks to be real upgrades to the defense.

Still, that age thing is going to be a talking point now and in the immediate future. So how much does it actually matter? I decided to go back and look at every team in the salary cap era that finished a season with an average of 30 or older to see how they actually performed during that season. The results might be somewhat better than you think.

In general, these teams did fairly well.

Since the start of the 2005-06 salary cap era there have been 19 teams with an average of 30 or older. Only six of those teams missed the playoffs, and three of those teams were the New Jersey Devils between the 2012 and 2015 seasons.

Here is the complete table.

Of the teams that missed the playoffs, you have those three Devils teams that were just simply not very good teams, regardless of age.

You have this year’s Islanders, who had a lot of factors going against them other than age (home arena not being ready for two months, COVID issues, schedule issues).

You have the 2017-18 Red Wings who were already starting a rebuild.

You have the 2010-11 Calgary Flames who missed the playoffs by a single point.

Of the 13 teams that did make the playoffs, seven of them won at least one round, and four of them reached the Conference Finals. Another three ended up reaching the Stanley Cup Final while one (the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings; the second oldest team on the list) actually won the Stanley Cup.

If you organize it by age, six of the seven oldest teams on this list made the playoffs, and four of them advanced to at least the second round.

As far as Stanley Cup Final teams go (since that is what everything is measured by), they tend to sit in the top-half of the league in terms of age during the salary cap era.

The Average rank by age of Stanley Cup winning teams in the Cap era is 12th oldest in their championship season, while six winners were in the top-eight of oldest teams (including three in the top-five). There have been seven Stanley Cup runners up that were among the top-10 oldest teams in the league in that given season, including five that were in the top-three. There have been eight Stanley Cup Finalists (including several winners) in the cap era whose average was between 29.0 and 29.9 and just narrowly missed the age 30 cutoff here.

In the short-term, I am not really sure age is that big of a deal as long as the older players on your roster are actually good. That is why so many of those old Red Wings teams were able to make the playoffs and go far and even win it all, while so many of those Devils teams stunk. One team still had a lot of talent. The other did not. The latter team went from the Stanley Cup Final in 2011-12 to missing the playoffs three years in a row in large part because of the exodus that saw both Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk leave within a one-year stretch. Talent matters. The good news for the Penguins is that most of their older talent is still able to play at an extremely high level (especially as it relates to Crosby, Letang, and Malkin, the three most important players on the team).

On the list of concerns for the Penguins over the next two or three years the state of the third-and fourth-lines and goaltending rank way higher for me than the age of the team.