Let’s just get this out of the way: Connor McDavid has been the best rookie performer in the NHL this season. No question about it.
That’s no knock on Artemi Panarin or Dylan Larkin or Shayne Gostisbehere, each of whom has been spectacular in his own way. But McDavid is operating on a different plane, delivering a breathtaking mix of speed, creativity and competitive fire all while carrying the weight of the massive expectations that preceded him.
If not for the three months he spent recovering from a broken collarbone, the 18-year-old would be a lock for the Calder Trophy. But the injury happened. At this point he needs a remarkable finish just to be considered a dark horse candidate.
But he’s not out of the Calder race. Not by a long shot.
McDavid, who has 10 goals and 26 points through 22 games, leads all rookie scorers with a blistering 1.18 points per game average. The Oilers have 23 games remaining on their schedule, which means McDavid will max out at 45 games. At his current scoring pace, he’ll wind up somewhere around 53 points. That’s well behind Chicago’s Panarin, who is steaming toward 79, but it likely would rank McDavid among the top-five freshmen. It also would be a higher total than four of the past six Calder winners posted.
But would half a season’s work, even at that scoring pace, cut it with the voters? History suggests he’ll be in tough. In the past 25 years, no position player has skated in fewer than 65 games on his way to Rookie of the Year honors and even Pavel Bure, who claimed that Calder in 1992, was a massive outlier. The next lightest workload was Evgeni Malkin's 78 games in 2007.
Clearly, durability counts for something.
But so does age. And that’s why the 24-year-old Panarin is far from a sure thing.
Fair or not, Calder voters like their rookies young. A teenager has claimed the hardware in each of the past six seasons, from 19-year-old defenseman Tyler Myers in 2010 to 18-year-old bacliner Aaron Ekblad in 2015. And that's hardly a recent trend. Ever since Soviet vetera Sergei Makarov’s 1990 win led to a rule change that disqualified players older than 26, just two who were older than 23 have claimed the Calder. And both of those winners—Ed Belfour in 1991 and Evgeni Nabokov in 2001—were netminders, a position that almost requires a slower path to the NHL.
It’s possible then that a door is slightly open, at least with some voters. If McDavid can keep up this pace, that might be all he needs.
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• It's no secret that the Blackhawks are looking to add a winger who is capable of playing alongside Jonathan Toews on their first line. The questions are who do they like, and what will it take to get a deal done?
Loui Eriksson would be the perfect fit. A smart, two-way vet who can play in all situations, he comes with a workable cap hit ($4.25 million) and an expiring contract. The Bruins are looking for a young, NHL-ready defenseman in return, something Chicago can’t provide, but the Hawks have other assets, including this year’s first-round pick/prospect forward Marko Dano, who might get the ball rolling.
Former Hawk Andrew Ladd is another option, but the Jets also are looking for a young defender. Anaheim, a team loaded with ripening blueliners and hungry for first-line help, might be a better match for Winnipeg’s captain. So would Florida, which would love to add a big, physical winger and has plenty of young D talent to dangle.
Ultimately, the Hawks might end up setting their sights lower in order to preserve their assets. Coyote Mikkel Boedker’s speed, versatility and defensive play would make for a good fit. Carolina’s Kris Versteeg, who's already had two swings through Chicago, could be a viable Plan C.
• There’s been some buzz surrounding Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk and the Hawks, but with two years remaining on a deal that carries a cap hit of $4.25 million per, it's hard to see how Chicago could take him on. But would the Bruins be interested? He wouldn’t come cheap—a high pick, a young roster player and a prospect would be the starting point—but he’d fill the top-six role likely to be vacated by Eriksson, and at a price that would be a better fit that Eriksson’s ask. If the B’s are committed to being competitive now rather than in a soft rebuild, JVR might be the piece they need.
• Keep an eye on David Schlemko if the Devils drop in back of the playoff field. The 28-year-old defender bounced around the league for years before finally coming into his own this season in New Jersey. A pending UFA, he would be a solid depth add for a bargain-hunting contender.
• Unhappy with backup Alex Stalock and his .884 save percentage, the Sharks are said to be looking for a veteran keeper to support starter Martin Jones. Toronto, has both James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier on the block and would be happy with picks and/or prospects. Don’t be surprised though if San Jose gives Aaron Dell a look first. The 26-year-old is tearing up the AHL of late, posting a .939 save percentage in his past 10 starts with the Barracuda, highlighted by a 50-save win over Ontario last week. He has a solid pedigree, having set several school records at North Dakota under current Flyers coach Dave Hakstol and winning a CHL championship with the Allen Americans. It’s only a matter of time before he takes the next step.
• Are the Panthers simply addressing a roster need with the recalls of Mike Matheson and Kyle Rau from San Antonio or are they showcasing two of their top prospects ahead of the trade deadline?
Matheson is widely viewed as the organization’s top prospect. The 6' 2", 194-pound defender was the 23rd pick in the 2012 NHL draft out of Boston College. He’s an elite skater with high-end puck skills who is seen as a lock to play in the top four, but he has a chance to develop into a first-pair blueliner.
Rau is an undersized forward (5' 8", 175) who plays a bigger man’s game. The two-time captain at Minnesota scored 20 goals for the Gophers last season, primarily from down low where he consistently proved his willingness to pay the price.
Both would seem to fit into Florida’s long-range plans, but if the chance to add an experienced winger like Ladd comes along, they might be expendable.
• Defense continues to be a concern in Dallas. The Stars looked lost in their own zone while coughing up six goals to the Coyotes on Thursday night and they’ve now allowed 29 this month (a 3.22 GAA). They’d love to add a veteran who could help stabilize the ship when the waters get choppy. Kris Russell of the Flames would be a nice fit as would Roman Polak of the Leafs. Dallas has young defensemen they could offer in return, including Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak. Either of them would be a high price to pay, but for a team that has made just one playoff appearance during the past seven years and is need of making a statement to its fans, it’s one that Dallas might have to pay.
• Montreal's Dale Weise is another player who could interest the Stars. They have decent depth on the right side, but his size and tenacity, along with above-average speed, would be valuable assets in a Western Conference dogfight.
• Radim Vrbata’s stats in Vancouver’s 15 games since Jan. 11: one goal, four assists and a –17 rating. He still has value on the market, but this recent stretch isn’t helping.
The numbers game
• Old Man Jagr stat of the day: The Panthers forward needs one goal to tie Brett Hull for third on the NHL's all time list at 741 and is now the fourth player in league history to pot one at age 44 or older. The others: Chris Chelios, Doug Harveyand Gordie Howe.
• Entering the weekend's action, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, the winner of the last three Rocket Richard trophies, was en route to fourth. Leading the league with 37 goals, he’d scored eight in his last six games and 16 in his last 16.
• The surging Wild have, for the first time in their franchise’s history, scored five goals—all in regulation—in each of their last three games.
• The Minnesota Wild can’t wait to take it outdoors for this weekend’s Stadium Series game.
• Speaking of the big game, the good folks at Hockey By Design dish on the special jerseys being worn by the Wild and the Blackhawks.
• Rookie sensation Shayne Gostisbehere was passed over 211 times in the 2011 draft and then 77 more in 2012 before the Flyers finally took a chance on him. Here's what they finally saw that everyone else missed.
• Even during a hard learning curve of a season, skating for their hometown team has been a dream come true for these Maple Leafs.
• Kerry Fraser talks about the ignominies he faced as a referee and explains why it was important that the NHL had the backs of officials in the Dennis Wideman appeal.
• Should the Capitals be worried about a rocky run of play by Braden Holtby? His recent 7-2-1 record hides some very troubling numbers.
• The son of Flint Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen explains why the OHL suspended his father and why firing coach John Gruden was the right call this time. Can’t help but feel bad for the kid as this whole mess unfolds.
• Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau shot back at Barrack Obama after the U.S. President fired a zinger his way about the Stanley Cup.
• Jason Botchford explains why the Canucks can’t win on home ice. I blame the in-arena DJ.
• Finally, the wife of a former NHLer reminds sports parents to let their kids’ coaches do their jobs.