Well the nominees are out.
Nathan MacKinnon, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat are up for the Calder Trophy this year as the NHL’s top rookies, making this the fourth straight year every single nominee has been a high scoring forward.
Perhaps the fact that the last non-forward to win was Tyler Myers in 2010 has scared off some voters from betting on a young defenceman, although there were a remarkable number of candidates this year.
Thirteen rookie defencemen averaged 18 minutes or more in 40-plus games this season, including standout years from Olli Maatta in Pittsburgh, Hampus Lindholm in Anaheim, Seth Jones in Nashville, Ryan Murray in Columbus and Jacob Trouba in Winnipeg.
And that’s without even mentioning Morgan Rielly, Torey Krug and Sami Vatanen, who all played fewer minutes but look like they could potentially be stars down the road.
It’s well known it’s harder to break into the NHL as a defenceman. There’s a lot to learn, there are strength issues with defending against older players and the plum spots on the power play where you produce a lot of points (and entice voters) are often reserved for veterans.
But you can’t help but look at the Calder voting recently and see an imbalance there, with high scoring rookie forwards the default choice, especially lately.
Three of the last four years, the top three scoring rookies have been the three nominees, with Michael Grabner, for example, getting three times the voting love that PK Subban did despite playing seven fewer minutes a night with a much weaker team.
There haven’t always been outstanding candidates on the blueline every year, but it’s hard not to look at these totals from voting the past three years (first through fifth place votes) and see something a bit off:
Nearly 90 per cent of the first, second and third place votes – the important ones, in other words – went to forwards, even with Subban, Kevin Shattenkirk, John Carlson, Jonas Brodin, Brenden Dillon and a few others having very strong rookie seasons in this stretch.
This year’s voting totals aren’t released until the winner (who will almost certainly be MacKinnon) is announced in late June, but I imagine we see a similar trend in the voting this season.
So, sure, there’s a case to be made defencemen (and goalies) have a harder time playing a key role in their first season and that’s part of what we’re seeing. But you look at the great crop of blueliners this year and wonder if we’ll look back in five years and wonder how those players weren’t better recognized for their play, the same way Subban was snubbed three years ago.
This isn’t just an issue with the Calder either. Only one defenceman has won the Hart since 1972. Only five (compared to 18 forwards and 10 goalies) have won the Conn Smythe since Larry Robinson in 1978.
Maybe we just overlook defencemen too much in general because their contributions are harder to measure?