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:

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  • 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.

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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.

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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:

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  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.

  • Ol_OneNut

    The so called sports journalists who get to vote for the rookie of the year SHOULD hold Panarins 7 year KHL career against him, but these are the same bunch of dumdums who voted Ovechkin first team all star for both left and right wing.

    I’m not expecting much.

  • .

    Connor McDavid. End of story.

    ppg of Calder winners (forwards) in the last 10 years:

    McKinnon: 0.77

    Huberdeau: 0.65

    Landesskog: 0.63

    Skinner: 0.77

    Kane: 0.87

    Malkin: 1.09

    Ovechkin: 1.30

    at 1.10, McDavid is currently on pace to beat all but Ovechkin

    He’s earned a shot at the Byng, Lindsay, Messier and Masterton awards, too.

    I liked what PJ Stock said in response to the question of who’ll win the Calder: “Really, who cares? McDavid’s going to be the best player in the league for the next ten years whether he wins it or not.”

  • 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?

  • Bringer_Of_Snow

    Nick Kypreos is a special kind of stupid.
    Also Connor deserves it, but I think he needs to break 50 pts to get their recognition. If its the same people that chose Landeskog over Nuge, who had the same number of points despite playing 20 less games, then who really knows what they are thinking.

  • toprightcorner

    McDavid will likely win rookie of the month for March and when he does, he will have won it every month he has played more than 4 games. That alone is all the proof you need.

  • How is there still a question about McDavid getting the Calder? Sometimes I hate hockey writers so much (not you, Willis). He’s 2nd in the league in points per game after more than half a season. Above Benn, Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, Seguin…

    Panarin played hockey in a MAJOR PROFESSIONAL LEAGUE for years, which according to the NHL’s own description of the trophy excludes him, and if the partial season thing is somehow a knock, Gostisbehere has only played 56 games.

    If you ask all the voters “who is the best rookie?” they’d all say McDavid, and even though that’s literally what the award is for (“most proficient first-year player”), the PHWA will twist themselves in knots coming up with a different interpretation.

    • I'm too tall for this @#$%

      That’s the thing really. The NHL, by stating that Panarin is a rookie, has shown that they are of the opinion that the KHL is NOT a MAJOR PROFESSIONAL hockey league. How arrogant can you get? It’s the best league outside of North America, and the highest level of hockey in every nation it stretches across. I guess The NHL views itself as the only Major Professional league in the world then?

  • If Philly hangs onto a playoff spot I’d be willing to listen to arguments for Gostisbehere, as I think he’s played a pretty big part in that.
    Otherwise it should be McDavid without even a second guess. WHICH MEANS I’d like to congratulate Artemi Panarin on his debatable Calder win!

  • Oilerz4life

    McDavid deserves the award and that should be blatantly obvious. But, he won’t get it, because the sports world hates Edmonton and is seething with jealousy that the Oilers scored the coveted pick.

  • Boom or Bust

    McDavid should win on his point per game alone!!! Plus he’s achieving this with one if the worst teams in the league!!plus he’s a bloody highlight reel everytime he touches the puck. It’s just a shame that they probably wont give it to him.

  • CDNinATL

    Panarin should be disqualified just based on the number of years he played in the KHL. And you can’t say they’re not a major pro league.

    The Calder should go McDavid hands down!!

  • 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.

  • Pouzar99

    I agree with everything you say JW, but Panarin is going to win the Calder. He and McDavid will be two of the three nominees, with the final spot up for grabs. Your statistics about Panarin’s play away from Patrick Kane are new to me, but compelling. It’s simple really. MacDavid is the best player by a huge margin. If he hadn’t missed the 37 games he might be nominated for the Hart Trophy as well. He’s that good I doubt McDavid will catch any of the other rookies in scoring, however, because he has only 4 games left to play, while the others have 7 or 8 thanks to the brutal schedule the Oilers have had to endure.

    • .

      “I doubt McDavid will catch any of the other rookies in scoring, however, because he has only 4 games left to play, “

      I would put even money on McDavid passing Domi and getting within a point or two of Eichel.

  • Word to the Bird

    Lets be honest though, Panarin is probably going to win. Plays on a better team, over 60 points, big market team which wins… I’ll personally be shocked if Mcdavid wins, even though he’s clearly the better player.

  • 99CupsofCoffey

    McDavid DESERVES the Calder. But he won’t win it.

    Folks have a misconception that you have to play the entire year but…. the Calder is awarded “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League (NHL).”

    That’s McDavid.

    When Panarin is given the Calder this year, they should just rename it the “Art Ross for rookies” award and call it good.

      • 99CupsofCoffey

        Yes, and that’s wrong. That’s not what the awards were intended for.

        “The James Norris Memorial Trophy, or simply the Norris Trophy, is awarded annually to the National Hockey League’s top “defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position”

        • Morgo_82

          A lot of the awards are weird in how they’re voted on. For example, why is there no true forward award (aside from the Selke for defensive forward)? Anyone can win the Hart and Art Ross while it’s impossible for a forward to win the Norris or Vezina, for obvious reasons. Why not a Gretzky award for the best overall forward?

          • Word to the Bird

            Because 9x out of 10, the best forward is the Hart Trophy winner. Its the same reason why theres an Offensive Player of the Year award in the NFL, because 9x out of 10 a quarterback wins the MVP.

  • 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.