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