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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  • Quicksilver ballet

    I suppose I could see why he didn’t get nominated even though he was tied for most points and led in goals, but there are other really notable names omitted from this list too so it’s not like just the Oilers got snubbed.

    Can’t wait to see Yak on a line with Nichushkin cause Monahan is going to be gone and Lindholm is too small. Maybe they can even get a big Russian veteran to centre the line (Antripov), then we can have the Canadian boys and the Russian line.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I did not get last year how the writers did not select Nuge, when he won the race by 20 points, and now Yakupov or Schultz did not get nominated.

    Then there was a Gretzky debacle. There’s a conspiracy.

  • DSF

    Don’t really look at it as 2 East and 1 West finalist. Look at it as 2 Eastern Time zone, 1 Central Time zone, 0 Mountain Time zone, and 0 Pacific Time zone, and the voting makes
    perfect sense.

    Can’t really see us changing the votes now, so…Yak for Hart!!

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Goes to show, the players surrounding the candidate are as important as the nominee himself. The candidates need to be with players who can help make them better.

    Oilers need look no further than who was paired up the last 3 first overalls in their rookie season. Playing along side of guys like Horcoff, Gagner, Hemsky etc etc, all players who feel a 90% try factor is good enough for this team, Hall and Yak never had a shot.

    Continue to build around these fab 5. There’s not much value outside of this group. Liquidate whatever’s possible to move up in this draft. Hopefully the likes of Hall,Eberle,Yakupov,J.Schultz and RNH can contribute to a successful candidate next spring.

  • Rob...

    Total douche baggery and laziness by the voters. I didn’t expect Yakupov to win, but he should have been a nominee.

    Was it Spec or Dregger who admitted that they send in their votes at least a week before the end of the season? What an embarrassment and direct indication that they do not deserve the privilege of voting.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The fact yakupov isn’t even in the group is kinda a slap in the face in my opinion. But whatever Yak will be the better player in the long run 🙂