GLENDALE, Ariz. — We noted Sunday how this year’s NHL Calder Trophy race is one of the best and most hotly contested races in the history of the award. In our view, nine separate players have warranted serious consideration at various points this season.
There are pros and cons to each current candidate. Chicago’s Artemi Panarin has been the most consistent point-producer and leads all rookies in points by a wide margin, but the separate arguments that he is 24 years old and played much of the season alongside Patrick Kane are seen as demerits, even if Kane himself is enjoying a career year, thanks, in part, to Panarin’s arrival.
Jack Eichel hasn’t elevated Buffalo anywhere near the playoff race but is second in points and is having a strong second half of the season. Dylan Larkin is a terrific two-way player but he has just five points in his last 18 games as Detroit struggles to hang onto a playoff spot. Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere miraculously has the Flyers within striking distance of the postseason but also missed a chunk of games. Arizona’s Max Domi has produced points on a team short on skill, but he has also experienced long droughts.
While all of those candidates spark debate, none sparks more than Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. Following Tuesday’s 4-2 loss in Arizona in which he had two assists, McDavid has 42 points in 39 games for a 1.077 points-per-game average. Kane and Dallas’ Jamie Benn are the only players in the league with a higher average.
Has McDavid been the best rookie when he’s been on the ice? Yes, but the rookie of the year award is based on the entire season, not just the games in which a player competes.
This wouldn’t be as big a deal if McDavid were in Gostisbehere’s spot. The Flyers rookie was recalled in November. If he plays Philadelphia’s remaining 11 games he will have appeared in 64 games. That’s a fair enough body of evidence.
Since 1967, nobody has won the Calder Trophy by playing fewer than 61 games, except Peter Forsberg (1995) and Jonathan Huberdeau (2013), who both won during lockout-shortened seasons.
The most games McDavid could play is 45. That’s barely more than half a season. While many have argued that McDavid’s point-per-game pace is the most extraordinary accomplishment in this race, we believe media are making a major assumption. Consistency over long stretches is harder to accomplish. There is no telling whether McDavid would have maintained that pace or if he would have hit to so-called rookie wall had he been forced to play an 82-game grind like everyone else outside Gostisbehere.
It’s possible McDavid’s injury afforded him the rest to come back fresh while his counterparts were slogging through the dog days of the season.
It’s both fair and convenient to say McDavid was the best in his time on the ice but the measure of a Calder Trophy winner comes over the course of an entire season. Proving it over that marathon should mean something. It’s not fair to those who did to award McDavid the trophy based on half a season.
Assuming he finishes the season, McDavid was an absolute wonder in the 45 games he played, but the other 37 also matter.
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