Who other than Connor McDavid plausibly deserves the Calder Trophy?

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Anyone following the Calder Trophy race this season knows that Connor McDavid’s injury has badly hurt his chances of winning as award which almost certainly would have been his otherwise. The trouble for voters is that McDavid has been so good since coming back that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to give the trophy to anyone else.

To me, the field breaks down into some obvious piece:

  • Connor McDavid
  • Artemi Panarin
  • Shayne Gostisbehere
  • Colton Parayko
  • One of the goalies
  • One of the other forwards

Panarin is the obvious player to vote for. He has 64 points as of this writing, giving him a 14-point lead on the rookie scoring field. Ordinarily that would probably be enough, even though voters tend to factor age (he’s 24) and experience (he played his first KHL hockey in 2008-09 and has thus spent parts of seven seasons in that league) against players like this.

The wild card with Panarin is Patrick Kane, who has been the league’s best player this season. At even-strength, Panarin has 33 points while playing with Kane; he has one playing without him. In more than 2.5 hours apart from Kane, Panarin has been on the ice for two goals for and nine against, has posted a 45.9 percent Corsi (on Chicago!) and generally been hammered.

Voters have to decide how much of Panarin’s scoring is Panarin and how much of it is Kane. I think if he switched spots with Max Domi he’d be back in with the rest of the forward field, but that’s certainly a judgment call and I respect voters who see it differently. But this is the big flaw with his candidacy.

Gostisbehere is another strong contender. He has a bit of a McDavid problem—he’s only played 56 games—and that will hurt him, though like McDavid he’s scored enough to put himself in the running. He’s been lethal at both 5-on-5 and particularly on the power play.

The problem with a Gostisbehere vote is usage. He doesn’t kill penalties, but more critically he’s averaging just 15:40 per game at even-strength; the Edmonton equivalent to that kind of usage is Eric Gryba. Gostisbehere has been deployed primarily as a power play specialist in Philly, and it’s easy enough to understand why, since he’s a 50 percent possession player despite a massive amount of offensive zone starts.

I like the player a ton, and I should note that he’s played a bunch with Andrew MacDonald, but at this point in his career he is a somewhat one-dimensional player.

I’ve singled Parayko out for special mention despite the fact that I’m skeptical he’ll be a top-five finisher in the voting. He has only 31 points in 71 games, and that’s probably going to kill him as a rookie of the year candidate. It won’t matter who he’s stuck behind on the St. Louis power play, or that his 25 even-strength points are five more than Gostisbehere and only eight less than McDavid himself.

Parayko is averaging just under 17:00 per game at 5-on-5 on a team which has Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk as other right-shot options. He’s a regular on the penalty kill; he’s also a regular on the power play. He’s running a 55 percent Fenwick rating at evens despite not getting a push in the offensive zone and despite playing with Carl Gunnarsson most of the time (Parayko’s Corsi number climbs above 56 percent minus Gunnarsson; Gunnarsson’s falls below 46 percent sans Parayko).

Parayko is a 6’6”, 226-pound all-situations rearguard playing an incredibly mature game as a 22-year-old rookie. I wouldn’t argue with a voter who put him in the top spot on the basis of his complete game. Points are going to kill him.

Goalies don’t generally win the Calder without taking over the starting job. Mike Condon did it in Montreal but has played poorly, so he’s out. Louis Domingue, John Gibson, Joonas Korpisalo and Connor Hellebuyck have all played well, but with between 26 and 37 games played each they’re going to be in tough to win the Calder.

Additionally, there isn’t a standout at the position. Does a goalie-loving voter pick Hellebuyck’s 0.918 save percentage or the 0.917 number posted by one of the other three as the best in the league?

Then there’s the field. There isn’t an analytics argument to be made for anyone other than McDavid, whose underlying numbers are as jaw-dropping as his superficial ones, and seeing as McDavid’s a regular on the penalty kill when virtually none of these other players are it’s hard to make a defensive specialist argument, either.

So it comes down to points, and that’s a problem because even with only a half-season under his belt McDavid’s near the top of the list:

  • Jack Eichel: 74 games, 50 points (0.68 PPG)
  • Max Domi: 74 games, 47 points (0.64 PPG)
  • Connor McDavid: 41 games, 45 points (1.10 PPG)
  • Dylan Larkin: 73 games, 43 points (0.59 PPG)

How does a Calder voter choose Larkin, who has two fewer points than McDavid in 32 additional games? How does such a voter pick Eichel or Domi, players who McDavid could yet pass before the end of the year, and who right now have a 30-game advantage but a points lead of five or less? On points alone, ignoring games played, McDavid could end up leading this section of the Calder race. It would be indefensible to choose one of these players over McDavid; none of them are close to being what he’s been as a rookie.

My List

I don’t get a vote on this, so my list is entirely academic. I also think reasonable people can disagree on this, at least at the upper end; if somebody told me that they had chosen Panarin or Gostisbehere or Parayko over McDavid I’d understand the merits of their case.

This is my preferred order:

  1. Connor McDavid, the NHL’s best rookie in a landslide by every single category other than games played.
  2. Shayne Gostisbehere, a freakishly good offensive weapon who will eventually be much, much more than that.
  3. Colton Parayko, a complete defenceman who showed his quality when Shattenkirk went down to injury.
  4. Artemi Panarin, the leading rookie point-scorer in the NHL.
  5. Jack Eichel, who is having a very good year in Buffalo which falls just short of Calder-worthy.
  • TsuDhoNimh

    After reading Woodguy’s piece on defensemen over at Because Oilers, and watching him in a few games, I would give up any player not named Connor for him. He is that good. Sadly I doubt St Louis would trade him for anyone on the Oilers.

  • Canoe Ride 27.1

    McDavid. The points per game is the obvious, but who else single handedly prevented their city from being burned to the ground and gave it’s people a reason to live?

  • madjam

    McDavid wins if he did not get a long term injury . Panarin wins because NHL does not recognize KHL as a professional league on par with NHL . More like they regard it as an AHL league or semi pro . Ched radio had an article on how the voting was going . About 18 writers, etc . contacted with Panarin getting about 11 first place votes to McDavid’s four . A couple of others had only one first place vote . So , I doubt they will be changing over last 4 games and giving it to Conner .

  • OTOF2

    Hey Willis you don’t even touch on the Oils record with Connor in the line up. Does it not matter if he helps his team win? Did you purposely leave this out since the Oil are in last place? If Connor could have helped the Oil finish ahead of at least one team it would have made him look better. Individual points without team wins won’t get you anywhere. Except out of the playoffs for a record 10 straight years.

  • RJ

    I think there’s two separate lists here. Order of Calder voting is one:

    1. Panarin. 2. McDavid 3. Gostisbehere

    If you were starting an NHL team, who would you pick?

    1. McDavid 2. Parayko 3. Gostisbehere 4. Panarin

  • Ask any other NHL player and they’d probably say McDavid deserves the Calder. Do a poll among players.

    Ask the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and they’ll just look at the scoring totals not factoring in any injury or time off.

    Speaking of which, coming back after a major injury and resuming scoring pace almost immediately is an incredible feat. It says a lot about the player.

    Heck, if Kelly Hrudey was part of the PHWA, you’d see at least one vote for Dennis Wideman for the Lady Byng Trophy. It doesn’t seem like a reliable org to vote on these trophies. I’d much rather trust what players think.

    Giordano and Brodie were recently asked by the Sharks broadcast who the toughest NHL player to defend against was.

    They both said McDavid.

  • knee deep in it

    he has 16 points in 14 games so far in march. I am guessing he gets another rookie of the month award. That would make 3 out of the 6 months.

    The other 3 monthly winners were Larkin, Gibson, and Domingue. None of those guys are in the running for Calder. Mcdavid was injured those 3 months. He has been the rookie of the month every month he played.

    Wikipedia goes back to 09 but only a couple of guys won it twice in the last 8 years. Nobody else has won it 3 times

    It would be real hard to ignore that when you vote.

  • YakCity1039

    If McDavid was on the Leafs (can you imagine all the stories and reports from TSN?! HOLY) and he had this exact same season, he’d have already been given the Calder.

  • Kr55

    I feel like there is so much info out there now that voters can get beyond just looking at the points column and go by word of mouth to make their votes for awards like this. But, wasn’t long ago that Hall was robbed of being on the all-star team with people voting for OV as a LW after a million stories throughout the year about how OV was playing RW. Just never know what these voters will do. But if any voter is seriously trying to determine which rookie is the most proficient at the game of hockey, there is so much info available that very plainly shows it’s McDavid.

  • FireScorpion

    Conor McDavid the phenom who turned down the Coilers captaincy last fall because he didn’t want to be the one at the helm of a basement burrowing tire fire.

    Well he was correct on where the team would finish. Too bad most Oiler fans had higher hopes.

    • OTOF2

      Come on now, with a miracle, the Oil have an outside chance of finishing ahead of the Leafs. Thats pretty good for this team. Only took 10 years of rebuild to hopefully finish second last.

    • Mike Modano's Dog

      Wow, so your team is so crappy that you have to create your own delusions now…including (just you knowing) the reason that players are doing those things? Life must be really hard as a Flamers fan…I’m sorry to hear that! I didn’t know it was THAT BAD, honestly!!!

      You really need to go back where you belong now. If you need to invent facts just SO you can come over here to try to put down our team to make yourself feel better I can’t help but feel you REALLY need a life!

      I would welcome any team’s fans here so long as they are respectful. Not if all someone is going to do is put down the whole reason people are here. If you don’t like the team don’t have a membership…it’s pretty simple.

      There might not be a lot of fans on your site, and it might be depressing as it can possibly be, but hey, nobody is making you be a fan of the Flames if it’s that bad. You don’t need to try to bring others down with you!

      That is all, thank you.

  • MorningOwl

    since when does the rest of the world do what Edmonton does – fins some stat that favors their guy and go with it? If one could miss half a season and win, then Giordano would have had the Norris last year, but alas Oiler fans, Conner McFragile only played half a season, so get over it, ok?

    If it were “points per game” Gaudreau would have won the calder last year… but you know, keep dreaming, Oilers desperately want to win something besides the draft lottery, but need to face the fact that they have set an all time record for suck over the last 10 years

  • MorningOwl

    last september, all we heard was that this was the start of the Mcavid era, dynasty, domination, yada yada yada…

    so in all seriousness, here is a question…

    how many more WINS did the Oilers get this year from having McDavid that they wouldn’t have gotten without him???

  • Gordie Wayne

    I heard Bob McKenzie on the radio this morning (and I respect his opinion immensely), but he said something along the lines of, well, no one really knows what McDavid would have done in the games he missed (i.e. maybe he would have hit a rookie wall and not produced at 1.1 points per game all year).

    I hate this point of view…even if McDavid had produced at a paltry 0.5 points per game, he would still have the most points as a rookie.

    The trophy is for the best rookie, period.

    The definition for award says:

    The Calder Memorial Trophy is an annual award given “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League (NHL).”

    Proficient is defined as:

    “good at doing something”

    OR

    “well advanced in an art, occupation, or branch of knowledge”

    I think anyone that watches hockey can tell you who is the most advanced rookie in all aspects of the game – it’s not even close.

  • DieHard

    Panarin is on the top line for the Hawks but it is Kane that pushes the river. Connor is on the top line for the Oilers and he’s pushing 2 rivers. It’s not close.

  • paul wodehouse

    …most of you weren’t born yet but I recall a guy by the name of Sergei Makarov…who in 1990 became who I think was the oldest rookie ever…he played for the flames and scored 86 points…he was part of the USSR K L M line that cleaned up at the 88 Calgary Olympics…aged 31