Taking a look at players 30-plus who stand a good chance of hitting career highs in 2013-14
The column from last week (about players who are under 30 but have already peaked) got excellent feedback, so I figured why not also focus on the flip side – players who will be age 30 or older at the start of next season but still will be candidates to achieve a new career high in points in 2013-14.
I've broken down the list into three separate groups – (1) those who are most likely to achieve a career high next season, (2) those with a pretty good shot of getting there, and (3) those where it's not as likely but still quite possible.
Group 1 – Most likely to achieve a career high in points next season
Chris Kunitz (age 34; career high = 61 points in 2011-12)
Francois Beauchemin (age 33; career high = 36 points in 2005-06)
Kunitz and Beauchemin are pretty easy picks, since if you project their scoring pace this season to a full 82 games it would blow away their previous career highs (as of March 25, Kunitz is on pace for 102 points over a full season, Beauchemin for 48). Given that they will be 34 and 33 years old next season and have never scored at anything close to their current pace, you do have to allow for their scoring rates to come back to earth at least somewhat. But even if that happens, all it would take is just over 60% of Kunitz's scoring pace from this season and just over 75% of Beauchemin's for each to still establish a new full season career high in 2013-14, and that seems easily achievable.
Niklas Kronwall (age 32; career high = 51 points in 2008-09)
Kronwall has done exactly what his fantasy owners (and the Red Wings) had hoped, namely step in to become the #1 defenseman in Detroit and contribute to the team's offense from the blue line. Sure, his +/- has been shaky, but he looks like pretty much a lock to improve upon his career high in points next season based on what we've seen in this campaign.
PA Parenteau (age 30; career high = 67 points in 2011-12)
Many people (myself included) figured Parenteau's scoring pace would go down this season after being separated from the offensive dynamo that is John Tavares and finally having the security of "big contract" money safely in his pocket. But he's proven his doubters and detractors wrong big time, putting up point per game numbers this season with Colorado and giving every indication that he'll carry that same scoring pace into next season (and beyond).
Group 2 – Good shot at achieving a career high in points next season
Paul Martin (age 32; career high = 37 points in 2005-06)
Martin has responded from his poor first season in Pittsburgh with a great campaign; his scoring pace is way up and his veteran presence is clearly helping the defensive corps and the team overall. More than 40 points next season looks to be a great bet, and the only reason I didn't put him in the first group (instead of Beauchemin) is Martin did gain some benefit of prime offensive minutes this season while Kris Letang was out hurt, plus some of the younger Penguins defensemen (Matt Niskanen, Simon Despres) might step up more next season to take away points that would otherwise be his.
Steve Ott (age 31; career high = 46 points in 2008-09)
Tomas Kopecky (Age 31; career high = 42 points in 2010-11)
Ott has regained some of the scoring touch he had back when he was a "multi-cat" standout with Dallas, and my guess is he'll have a good shot of beating his career highs if, as expected, Buffalo cleans house of some of its other top nine forwards at the trade deadline, giving Ott an even more prominent role next season. For Kopecky, it's a situation where his veteran presence is meshing well with the young forwards in Florida. He's getting the second most ice time among all Panther forwards, and more than two minutes of PP time per game. This situation should continue next season, in which case he should be a good candidate to best his previous career high in points.
Dan Hamhuis (age 30; career high = 38 points in 2005-06)
Hamhuis has gone from a somewhat disappointing (as a former 12th overall pick) 20-something point guy in most of his seasons with Nashville to a more productive player in Vancouver who still can be counted on for defense but also looks to be progressing offensively at this second stage of his career. He's even getting more PP time per game than either Kevin Bieksa or Jason Garrison this season. All things considered, 40 points next season seems well within reach.
Group 3 – Some chance at achieving a career high in points next season
Curtis Glencross (age 30; career high = 48 points in 2011-12)
Lee Stempniak (age 30; career high = 52 points in 2006-07)
The situation with Glencross and Stempniak is similar to Ott's – their scoring pace this season is above that of their career highs, and if they're still around after other offensive capable Calgary forwards have been shipped out at the trade deadline or over the summer that could actually help them even more next season in the form of added ice time and PP minutes. The risk is if that happens, then more defensive focus will be placed on them next season, perhaps at the expense of their production.
Fedor Tyutin (age 30; career high = 34 points in 2008-09)
Tyutin reminds me of Jordan Leopold from a few seasons ago (or the already discussed Francois Beauchemin) in that although there are other more offensively talented defensemen around him on Columbus (like Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski and Nikita Nikitin), his steadying veteran presence on a young team on the rise will go a long way toward continuing to get him enough ice time and PP minutes to beat his career high, just like Leopold did in 2010-11.
Mike Ribeiro (age 33; career high = 83 points in 2007-08)
Martin St. Louis (age: 38; career high = 102 points in 2006-07)
Ribeiro and St. Louis are the biggest reaches on this list, but guess what – their current scoring pace is at or above their career best (Ribeiro is at an 87 point pace, St. Louis at 102.5 as of March 25). Like Parenteau in Colorado, Ribeiro going to Washington has been a huge win-win for everyone involved. And what else can be said about St. Louis? Yes, at some point his wheels will fall off, but he's given us no reason to figure that will happen next season versus further down the road. Would you really bet against him given how he's playing, and with a still improving Steven Stamkos by his side? After all, this is a guy who's defied the odds for his entire pro career.
The Final Verdict
There are a lot of things to keep in mind when reading this column, most notably that circumstances can change between now and next season (and even during next season) that would significantly affect these predictions. First and foremost, if some of these players change teams, it probably is more likely to hurt them rather than help them, since they have shown success and have a good thing going where they are now. For example, Tomas Kopecky and Steve Ott are rumored to be on the trading block right now, and if either one goes to another team he'll probably end up back in his more familiar third or fourth line role with reduced power play time, making it much less likely that he'll exceed his career high next season. Also, it might be that some of the current teams for these guys bring in new players that slide them down in the depth charts. The key will be to see what happens at the trade deadline and over the summer.
And keep in mind that with guys like Kunitz and Beauchemin, the fact that they did so well this season means "the secret is out" and as a result they'll cost you more in drafting or trade, maybe even too much to justify owning them despite great expectations. Or if you already own either one, now might be the ultimate "sell high" opportunity. In contrast, the players in the second and third groups (with the exception of well established stars like Ribeiro and St. Louis) are more likely to be hidden gems where you can pay a very reasonable price (in trading or drafting) to get them.
But the overall key here is that just because a player is on the other side of 30 doesn't mean he can't still improve. And in many cases (particularly one year leagues or limited keepers), these often are the kinds of guys you want to target over young up and comers who might indeed make a big splash in their early 20s but where there is also far more risk of them falling below short term expectations.
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