Estimating the effects of age on NHL player performance

James A. Brander 1 , Edward J. Egan 2  and Louisa Yeung 1
  • 1 Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, 2053 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z2 Canada
  • 2 National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 1050 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
James A. Brander, Edward J. Egan and Louisa Yeung


Using NHL data for the 1997–1998 through 2011–2012 seasons, we examine the effect of age on scoring performance and plus-minus for NHL skaters (non-goalies) and on save percentage for goaltenders. We emphasize fixed-effects regression methods that estimate a representative age-performance trajectory. We also use a method based on the best performances over time, a method based on the age distribution of NHL players, and a “naïve” specification that does not correct for selection bias. In addition we estimate individual age-performance relationships to obtain a distribution of peak ages. All methods provide similar results (with small but understandable differences) except the naïve specification, which yields implausible results, indicating that correcting for selection bias is very important. Our best estimate of the scoring peak age is between 27 and 28 for forwards and between 28 and 29 for defencemen. Both forwards and defencemen exhibit near-peak performance over a wide range, going from about 24 to 32 and 24 to 34, respectively. Goaltenders display little systematic performance variation over most of the age range from the early 20s to late 30s.

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JQAS, an official journal of the American Statistical Association, publishes research on the quantitative aspects of professional and collegiate sports. Articles deal with subjects as measurements of player performance, tournament structure, and the frequency and occurrence of records. Additionally, the journal serves as an outlet for professionals in the sports world to raise issues and ask questions that relate to quantitative sports analysis.