Iginla vs Naslund: A Tale of Two Captains…
Jerome Iginla, the Calgary Flames Captain (30, and playing in his 11th NHL season), has, for the second time in his career, scored 50 goals in a season. His final (and 50th) goal came against the Vancouver Canucks in the last game of the season Saturday, April 5th, 2008. Iginla also managed 48 assists on the season, bringing his point total to 98, a career high.
The Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, are captained by Markus Naslund (34; 14th season), who finished the 2007-2008 campaign with 25 goals and 30 assists for a total of 55 points – his lowest total in ten years.
Both captains used to appear together in Nike commercials, and both have been elite players in the NHL. In fact, their numbers were virtually identical until recently. However Iginla is off to the Stanley Cup Playoffs; Naslund is just…off, his Vancouver Canucks having been eliminated from the Playoffs prior to the season ending match up between the Flames and the Canucks (which could have been one hell of a winner-take-all battle for the final playoff spot if things had worked out just ever so slightly differently (read: if the Canucks had bothered showing up for any one of the six games they lost in their final seven games of the season)).
Let’s take a closer look at Jerome Iginla’s and Markus Naslund’s respective careers and see how they match up:
Goal Scoring: As you can see, Naslund and Iginla had a series of remarkably similar years, until the 2005 – 2006 season, after which Iginla started to pull away.
That’s all well and good, you might say, but perhaps games missed due to injuries, or other absences, caused Markus Naslund to falll behind Jerome Iginla’s goal production. Let’s have a look at the Average Goals per Game:
Again, very similar numbers, then Iginla pulls away, doubling Naslund’s production with a rock-solid 0.6 Goals per Game in the ’07-’08 season.
What about Assists?
Naslund had some great years between the 2001 – 2002 season and the 2005 – 2006 season. Think Todd Bertuzzi and a healthy Brendan Morrison might have had a little something to do with that?
And here are their respective Average Assists per Game over the same period:
Finally, here’s a look at Average Points per Game – you’ve seen this pattern before:
The easy conclusion to reach? Markus Naslund’s best days are far behind him, while Jerome Iginla continues to improve, posting his best year to date.
But does that tell the whole story? What about that most key of key factors: age? Let’s have a look at those same charts adjusted for the four year age difference by pulling Iginla’s stats back four years. Where does that leave the comparison of the two Captains?
Iginla and Naslund have charted very similar goal-scoring paths when you compare them at the same age – even the shape of the curves is very similar.
Here are the Goals per Game charts, once again adjusted for age:
Again we see broadly similar shapes to the curves, although Naslund’s rise in production didn’t feature the huge breakout year Iginla had in ’97-’98.
Let’s take a look at Assists:
It’s the same story for Assists per Season. Note the downward trend as the players hit 30.
And here’s the chart for Assists per Game:
We can see both players peaking at the 29/30 year-old mark.
Finally, here’s the Points per Game chart, again, adjusted for age:
So what is the correct conclusion to draw?
Well, Naslund is quite clearly in decline, on every measure, and has been for some time: his best days are over. iginla, on the other hand, and despite his career-best season, may very well have just crested his peak. There’s no questioning the intensity and desire of Jerome Iginla – that’s a given, night in and night out – however for all his fight, there’s one opponent he just won’t be able to beat: time. And it just might be worth it for the Calgary Flames’ management team to keep that in mind when it comes to the next contract negotiations if they want to avoid paying nearly a quarter of a million dollars per goal, as the Vancouver Canucks did this seaons with Naslund.