Who other than Connor McDavid plausibly deserves the Calder Trophy?


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.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    I can’t really fault the PHWA for voting for Panarin because that’s the way the rules are. I mean if McDavid and Panarin were equal in everything I’m sure they’d give it to the 19 year old over the 24 year old but I can’t really fault the Writers for voting based on the rules/parameters they’re given.

    • crabman

      Really? The wording alone makes it hard to not award McDavid the calder.

      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.

      Proficient- competent or skilled in doing or using something.

      The award is literally for the most skilled rookie. How can anyone argue that anyone is more skilled/competent than McDavid as a rookie?

  • 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.

    • CanaDave

      I think it is nice for the player to get some acknowledgement for making the transition to the NHL better than anyone else new to the league than anyone else did that season, but I agree that far too big a deal is made out of it. I’m sure Connor will be much more disappointed about not playing 80 games this year than he will be about not winning the Calder.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    All those pro eastern racists ( racists=teams jockeying for playoff positions?) bastages maybe….

    The 10:30 est media bed times prevent them from seeing what happens beyond that 90 degree corner/edge of the earth.

    oh look, turkey and stuffing.

    • Hemi

      You are 100% correct about the Eastern Based (Biased) Media. CBC with their perpetual Laff and Hab shows every Saturday night and yes, I know all about the #’s. Still, HNC always promoted those two teams before all other Canadian teams.

      TSN coverage and articles are so geared the Laffs that only a non sports fan would not see it.

      Western teams will never be treated on an equal footing. The Easter Media will not change.

      • Word to the Bird

        At least TSN has some credibility compared to Sportsnet.

        A couple weeks ago I remember they were doing one of those polls on SN asking who will be the next Leafs captain: Morgan Rielly and STEVEN STAMKOS. Even Darren Pang was mentioning how silly of a poll it is, which is funny considering how he worked on TSN…

  • 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.

  • .

    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.”

  • 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

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    For me the whole conversation is in the wrong vein but should be directed at the Oilers team. The whole team needs to play hard as if they are 2 points out of a playoff spot. They need to draw penalties. They need to force teams in to situations where they have to pull their goaltenders. All this will garner more opportunities for McDavid. They need to act as if getting Conner to the top of the points heap is their Stanley cup win. Now that would impress me. I would enjoy their rallying around a team mate far more than what the sports writers vote for. I am starting to see some team spirit but there is still farther to go.

  • 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???

  • Ready to Win

    Maybe the NHL should consider the possibility that our freakish luck in the draft lottery is the hockey gods’ way of punishing the league for never considering out kids for the Calder. So go on, ignore McDavid; I hear Mathews is pretty good.

  • 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 .