No Yakupov?

The NHL announced the finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy today, for rookie of the year. The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association chose Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Huberdeau and Brandon Saad as finalists in a decision which can only be described as bizarre.

Not making the cut? Nail Yakupov, the rookie goal-leader (and co-points leader) who got better with each passing game. Justin Schultz, who finished four points out of the rookie scoring lead despite being a defenceman. Jonas Brodin, who played more than 23 minutes per game on a playoff-calibre blue line at the age of 19. 

Yakupov vs. Saad

Brandon Saad, the lone rookie from the Western Conference to make the cut (it’s funny how often the NHL’s best conference gets overlooked in the voting process, but that’s another story) is certainly a deserving member of the final group, but he’s had some advantages. Playing in Chicago is one, but his specific linemates is another. Saad played just over 600 minutes this year at 5-on-5; more than 500 of them came with Jonathan Toews and almost 400 of those also came with Marian Hossa on the other wing. Landings don’t get much softer than that. 

Yakupov played just under 600 minutes in those situations, but there were no constants for him. His most regular partner was Sam Gagner, with whom he played slightly less than half of his even-strength shifts. Due respect to Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Jones, and Ryan Smyth (players he spent more than an hour with) but Toews/Hossa they aren’t.

Despite that, at even-strength the battle was neck-and-neck; Saad finished with 2.22 points/60 and Yakupov with 2.20 points/60. On the power play, where both were regulars but Yakupov got a bit more ice-time, it wasn’t close – Yakupov had six goals and 10 points, Saad had three points.

One of these guys had a very fine rookie season, playing alongside two of the game’s best players. The other managed to make the same impact at even-strength playing with a rotation of guys, none of which are equal to Toews at this point in time, and then made an impact on the power play, too, despite being a year younger.

Brandon Saad was a fine rookie and will doubtless enjoy a strong career, but will it be better than Nail Yakupov’s? Was he better than Yakupov this season? I don’t think there’s a strong case for it.   

Yakupov vs. Huberdeau

In Jonathan Huberdeau comes a player with a similar context to his minutes as Yakupov. He played for a team that struggled this season, like Yakupov, and like Yakupov there was no Toews/Kane duo helping him along his way. The difference is that he played way more minutes than Yakupov did and wasn’t able to have nearly the same scoring impact.

Huberdeau averaged 14:32 per night at even-strength and 2:21 on the power play. Yakupov averaged 12:04 at evens and 2:28 on the man advantage. Huberdeau scored 22 points at even-strength and nine on the power play; with Yakupov the numbers were 21/10. Those totals look close until expressed as points per hour:

  • Yakupov: 2.20 PTS/60 5v5, 4.20 PTS/60 5v4
  • Huberdeau: 1.68 PTS/60 5v5, 4.87 PTS/60 5v4

Add in the fact that Huberdeau was starting nearly two-thirds of his non-neutral shifts in the offensive zone (Yakupov had a 51/49 split) and it’s pretty difficult to make a case that he was anywhere close to the same level of impact scorer that Yakupov was as a rookie.

Yakupov vs. Gallagher

This one I actually get, at least based on even-strength play.

Gallagher didn’t do much on the power play (he played 2:21 per night, the same as Huberdeau, and ended up with just four points) but he was dynamite at even-strength. He had a favourable zone start but the Canadiens also dominated in every category with him on the ice, and no rookie scored more at evens relative to ice-time (2.86 points/60) than he did. Toss in the fact that he’s chippy despite being undersized on the ice and basically the nicest guy you’ll ever talk to off the ice, and he’d have everything going for him even if he didn’t play in Montreal (which is a great market to have a solid rookie season in). 

At this point, Gallagher’s certainly the most deserving candidate still in the running.

The Bottom Line

Amazingly, the co-leader in point scoring and leader in goal-scoring likely won’t even be on the NHL’s all-rookie team. The PHWA also votes for the all-rookie team, and with Saad, Huberdeau and Gallagher in the top three for Calder voting it’s a pretty good bet those guys will get the three forward slots on the all-rookie team. 

The writers as a whole got this one wrong. The funny thing is that I wouldn’t even have given Yakupov the top spot if it were up to me – another guy who didn’t make the cut, Jonas Brodin in Minnesota, would have been my choice. Maybe Yakupov’s exuberance rubbed the old-school guys the wrong way, maybe there were hurt feelings lingering back to the World Juniors – there was a lot of negativity surrounding the fact that he didn’t talk to reporters at times there. As for Brodin, other than the fact that he’s a defenceman in Minnesota I’m at a loss to explain why he was omitted. 

But it’s a bad year for voting, with Eastern Conference voters not seeing the West. It’s going to be interesting to see the finalists in other categories for precisely this reason.

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  • Klima's Mullet

    Yak will get the last laugh. He will go on to be a superstar in this league while the three finalists will end up as solid NHLers…maybe even the odd all star appearance. But he is the real deal and will be a household name. His work ethic and “coachability” are fantastic and he has “great team mate” written all over him. Want to bet who ends up with the most points over their careers? Yak all day…

    • Klima's Mullet

      At 5’9, Yak may score some goals in no hitters but if the Oil ever get to some meaningfull hockey as they did for a bit and then went 0-6, that will be it. He is a bit of a side show as he floats around whether the Oil have the puck or not and then shows some bursts.

      • Klima's Mullet

        Did you miss the Minnesota game? He got 2 against one of the heavier teams in a must win match-up. He’ll likely play with Nuge a bunch more next season which will do wonders for his game.

          • Rob...

            Not trolling. Making observations. Until these young players are made accountable and turned into complete players, you will get some decent individual scoring stats but that is all. Right now a great number of them just float around hoping for opportunities and that is accepted. Once Hall continued to do his patented turn over specials in neutral ice, Ruff benched him. That is what needs to be done in Edmonton.

          • Rob...

            Clyde I see you over in Flames Nation and know you are a fellow Flames fan. Give it a rest, this type of douche baggery is why everyone hates Canuck fans. I see a lot of Flames fans resorting to trashing the Oilers these days.. Like that somehow makes our plight better. I’d suggest it might be best to tone it down otherwise we’ll be eating crow by the spatula full over the next few years.

            Or if you want to troll, at least identify yourself. Nobody minds RexLibris types who openly state their affiliation before stating their opinions.

          • OilersBrass

            Absolutely am a Flames fan Kurt. And a Pens fan. But, I am also a fan of good hockey and nothing would be better than 2 strong Alberta teams. As someone who played at a high level and who is involved in player and athlete development, the Oiler model as I see it bothers me all most as much as the Flames lack of obvious needed moves over the past few seasons. As I said, right now, this Oiler management is allowing players to not be accountable in so many facets of the game. It allows the players to put up decent offensive stats but they are not playing the game. Then, when they don’t get nominated for an individual award, fans think the league is snubbing them. Not sure how this qualifies as trolling much less douche baggery whatever that is?

          • Rob...

            Junior A, then, College, a little in Europe and Senior AAA. Still have some ex teammates involved in NHL in various capacities. Not that playing at a high level ensures that anyone knows anything but have done Masters in Coaching as well. Most of my friends are Oiler fans.

          • OilersBrass

            I chose to leave the game but have some friends who have made a good living if you don’t mind the constant travel and not knowing what day of the week it is. Although I am coaching outside of Canada this summer, I am no longer chasing it as a living. If you truly love the game and would be willing, try to make some contacts. And, go for it. I do enjoy these discussion sites. Lots of passion and good opinions. Really interesting seeing how different things are in Calgary and Edmonton. I’m still not sure what a troll is though.

          • OilersBrass

            I have a few contacts from junior hockey. I should have gone to the WHL (would have had better contacts) when I was younger but chose not to so I could try to get a scholarship and play NCAA, but sadly that didn’t happen. Biggest mistake of my life.

            Hahaha, when they call you a troll they think you’re making stuff up or purposely saying things to get on their nerves. You’ll find a lot of people around this site have little knowledge of the game and get offended when you tell it how it really is.

          • You’ll find a lot of people around this site have little knowledge of the game and get offended when you tell it how it really is.

            I don’t even know or care what opinions you hold. The only offensive thing to me is your belief that being a fringe player who almost played college makes you some sort of authority.

          • OilersBrass

            Actually played 4 years of college and was a captain and all star. And, that does not make me an authority as I stated earlier. All of these articles elicit opinion and discussion. That is what these sites are for. You seem offended by my opinions and I am not sure why. I can understand you not agreeing with them and that is fine. I like and appreciate how passionate Oiler fans are. I respect that.

          • Rocket

            Actually I’m impressed by the passion & hockey knowledge of the nation site fans that comment.

            On these sites you can have an interesting discussion unlike TSN’s website or Puck Daddy.

            I only read & comment on the nation sites because I actually might learn something & contribute to the conversation.

            Other sites are troll central.

          • OilersBrass

            You’re just proving my point by being ignorant.

            We were just talking hockey and having a conversation, and it had nothing to do with you. Never did I once say I had authority over anyone. I’ve stated on this site many times that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I never tell anyone they’re wrong or that they’re stupid.

            Fringe player hey? Now you’re the one being offensive.

          • 1. I don’t think “ignorant” means what you think it means.

            2. You never said you are an authority yet you are the one who tells people “how it really is”?

            3. Are you suggesting that I don’t have a right to respond to comments you’ve made on a public comment board? I know you weren’t talking about me. So what? Your attitude of superiority based on nothing but a middling level of success as a player is baffling.

            4. This is similar to number 2 above, but how can you reconcile “I never tell anyone they’re wrong” with “You’ll find a lot of people around this site have little knowledge of the game and get offended when you tell it how it really is”?

            5. Yes fringe player. I’m not sure what you’d prefer. How else do you describe someone with the credentials you presented?

          • DSF

            Calling someone out because of their “playing credentials” is really classless.

            The man has come here and presented well reasoned, logical arguments to back his option.

            Attacking him personally because his opinions don’t fit your narrative is offensive.

          • DSF

            Shooting percentages are irrelevant to awards as was stated earlier.

            An award is given for what a player achieves during the season, not what he would have done had he not been as good.

            Shooting percentage is an achievement in the minds of most of those that vote on these awards, as opposed to a detriment.

            Just like most of them will view +/- as an actual stat.

            On the playing credential front. You could win 6 Stanley Cups and that doesn’t necessarily make you wiser about the coaching side or the management side of the game.

            Most of the players that I have played with form their opinions around what their coaches have drilled into them, and what “seemed” to work. Also the things that they themselves tried to develop.

            Some of these things are right and some of these are dead wrong.

            Experience helps but it isn’t everything.

          • Can you show me where I “called him out” on his playing credentials? I called him out for pretending his playing credentials give him the authority to “tell people how it really is”. These are obviously very different things.

            I’d suggest “personal attack” does not mean what you think it means.

            As for my narrative – can you tell me what that might be? I don’t know/care what his opinions are, so I’m uncertain how they may or may not fit with my own.

    • OilersBrass

      Agreed, but I think Huberdeau is going to be just as great of a player. In a couple of years Huberdeau will be the point leader for the Panthers, and that will carry on for a long time. He’s a very skilled player.

  • Rocket

    Please everyone, try not to have the last word on the loser who remains nameless. I suppose that an unnamed lover of the Canucks is probably severely depressed because the team is done and half of its fans are jumping off the wagon, calling for heads – even though the team is mediocre now, they will be worse next year when they are forced to trade Luongo and some of their gutless but better players for more Zack Kassians. The other half of Canucks fans are like Bieksa, crying foul and playing the victim to bad officiating. Similarly, Wild got a sniff but they’ll be done in 5 games. Both teams will enjoy 2 home playoff games and will be in worse shape next year. Couldn’t get any better for an Oilers fan on this site. Karma’s a bitch…

  • Rocket

    Nail didnt come to the Oilers to win the Calder,he came here to help the team win a Stanley Cup,the fun the team had pushing Yakupov forward at the end was nice to see.

    I believe Yakupov earned the Calder based on his point and goal totals,his inconsistant and low minutes and for the ways he was scoring his goals.

    Now Nail has a fire under his ass to show the NHL what he can do with a full season, I believe Nail will hit 50 goals next season if we give him the minutes and right linemates.

    Nail is a Rushnadian and he will bounce back and shove this snub down his critics groove tubes.I bet he scores 50 next season.With any luck he will be challenging for the Rocket Richard within two years.Without luck 3 years.

    Nail will be the first Oiler consistantly double shifted here in decades next year or Ralph needs help.His one-shot scoring ability will need to be consistantly pumped onto the first line at the FIRST SIGN of a slump with the RigHands and that means never more than 3 losses without a change.Gagner can give us another excellent 2nd line showing,now we just need to work on that 3rd and i think Cheechoo needs to be given dam serious consideration because of how he sees the ice and his finishing abilitys,we have the men who can put it on his tape for him and he certainly has enough left in the tank to revive his career and break onto our 3rd line,hopefully with Torres and a big centerman more aggressive 2 inches taller and 15 lbs heavier than Horcoff.

  • There is absolutely an Eastern bias among NHL hockey writers … in fact, an Eastern writer once told me that.

    When I was a sports reporter at a small daily in the 2000s, my one trip to “The Show” was covering the Heritage Classic in Edmonton in November 2003. It was a lot of fun – but not for the reasons that everyone else thought it was fun. For me, the neat part about the experience wasn’t the game (the NHL game was awful; the alumni game not much better), the seating (terrible sight lines) or surviving the weather (sitting out in the cold for eight hours loses its novelty around Hour 3). Rather, it was the chance to schmooze with the men and women who cover the NHL.

    I struck up a chat with one of the writers from a U.S. newspaper, who shared all kinds of stories, including a hilarious one about how he thought he was going to freeze to death when he drove from Saskatoon to Prince Albert on a 40-below day to watch Mike Modano play for the Raiders in the late 1980s.

    Anyway, I asked him about voting for the NHL awards. I was curious to know how it worked. Specifically, I wanted to know how awards that shouldn’t have been so close ended up being close (i.e. Mark Messier barely edging out Ray Bourque for the Hart in 1990). And I wanted to know if there was such thing as an Eastern bias in the awards voting. I told him that I thought Trevor Linden deserved the Calder over Brian Leetch and that Rick Meagher completely stole the Selke from Esa Tikkanen. (Yes, I know – I needed to get a life).

    But the reporter, not surprisingly, was very straight-forward and matter-of-fact. He said, yes, there’s an Eastern bias, but not really an intentional one. It was more geographic. He said that, the reality is, there’s a “bloc” of hockey writers on the East coast that simply don’t see a lot of the Western Conference teams play very much, mainly due to the time zone differences (and the fact that they’re busy covering their own team).

    Plus, he said, because there isn’t a lot of “residual” coverage of the NHL in those eastern markets – i.e. there isn’t really even a lot of “word-of-mouth” that goes on around the league down there, certainly nothing like you’d see up in Canada, where (Toronto aside), the working media in each NHL city try hard to keep tabs on the goings-on of other teams in the league.

    Consequently, he said, if you’re a player who’s doing big things out anywhere west of Detroit (especially Western Canada), those “big things” better be VERY big. He said a lot of writers on the East Coast vote for awards like the Calder based on who they’ve seen … or sometimes, it’s by a simple glance at who’s leading the scoring race for rookies. So if there’s a rookie hotshot out west, his boxcars needed to be across-the-board-better than everyone else.

    In Yakupov’s case, he needed to win the rookie scoring title outright. No ties. And, even though he led in goals, he probably needed to hit 20 to really stick out. His numbers needed to completely outshine Huberdeau in order for the eastern writers to vote for someone they didn’t see. The only thing that the writers out east would have known about Yakupov is that he was the No. 1 pick last June and he slid down the ice after scoring a game-tying goal against LA. That’s it.

    I’m not saying Yakupov deserved the Calder, but I thought he should have been nominated. As for Schultz – again, I think it’s a case of too-bright, too-early and on the wrong stage. If he’s a rookie on the Rangers blueline, he’d have been nominated and we’d be hearing Brian Leetch comparisons.

    That said, I still have no idea why Saad or Gallagher were nominated. I didn’t even know they were in the Calder conversation until 24 hours ago.