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.

  • .

    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.”

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • Morgo_82

    McDavid should get all the first place votes, Gostisbehere all the second place and who cares who gets the third’s. What’s actually going to happen is the committee is going to be on the Blackhawks bandwagon, give the damn thing to Panarin and pretty much want to change it to the Panarin trophy because Canadian teams (particularity the Oilers) don’t exist to them. They’ll use games played as an excuse but if the tables were turned they’d use points per game as the reason they gave it to Panarin. *End rant*

    I know this hasn’t happened yet but I see it coming a mile away. Go ahead NHL, prove me wrong.

  • 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.

  • 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!!

  • gr8one

    IMHO Draisaitl should be more eligible worthy than Panarin.

    Ridiculous that KHL/SEL vets can come over and still be eligible.

    If Drai had of payed 12 less games last year he’d be a strong contender on this list, falling only behind CMD and Ghost as my pick.

    That being said, sure Ghost is one dimensional, by good grief, what a dimension. Something I think that should be pointed out in regards to his play is that his 0.73pts per game pro-rated over 74 games(Eichel/Domi GP) he’d have 54 points and be second in current rookie scoring as a DEFENSEMAN! That’s impressive.

  • Clangger

    The NHL Rules are clear. Panarin is not eligible to win the Calder award.

    To be eligible for the award, a player cannot have played more than 25 games in any single preceding season nor in six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons in any major professional league. Beginning in 1990-91, to be eligible for this award a player must not have attained his twenty-sixth birthday by September 15th of the season in which he is eligible. The latter fact was perhaps most prominent when in 1979–80, first-year phenom Wayne Gretzky was not eligible to win the Calder Trophy despite scoring 137 points (the previous rookie record at the time being 95), because he had played a full season in the World Hockey Association in 1978-79.

    • Morgo_82

      the only hitch is the NHL refuses to acknowledge the KHL as a professional league, for some stupid reason (likely because it’s Russian and they won’t bow to Bettman’s every stupid demand).

        • Morgo_82

          It was put in because they were pissy that a player (Gretzky) from the rival WHA was better than the rookies that were “homegrown” NHL talent. Hence starting this whole trend of screwing the Oilers when it comes to the Calder. When McDavid doesn’t get it they’ll just be continuing the tradition.

  • 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.

  • I don’t think he will win. Obviously he deserves it but just keeping a general eye on MSM through articles, HNIC (puke) and other outlets such as Twitter, nobody seems to really recognize the magnitude of the season he is putting up.
    Case in point Friedman, who I usually like said something along the lines of ‘tough to give him a a vote because it takes a lot to be able to play the full season’.
    WTF? he was taken out in a freak hockey play and buried by two large defenders, he’s not just some frail kid…
    I think he’ll have to pass eichel in points to get his shot. I hope it’s not the case but we all know the MSM in the NHL world has it out for the oilers.

  • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    I think he’ll get the calder because of how he’s becoming the new face of the NHL.

    They’ll find a way, this time, to get it to the player who deserves it…unlike what happened with Nuge.

  • 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.

  • 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.