Sunday, March 22, 2009


[Ryan forces Bob Miller to learn his name]

With about ten games left in the NHL season, a number of the statistical awards appear settled. Evgeni Malkin will take home the Art Ross Trophy, while Alexander Ovechkin will claim the Maurice Richard. However, the more subjective trophies, like say, the Calder Trophy, remain up for grabs. For the first half of the season, Kris Versteeg (CHI), Drew Doughty (LAK), and Steve Mason (CBJ) positioned themselves as the front-runners for the NHL's Rookie of the Year honor, but Blake Wheeler (+36 for BOS) and Bobby Ryan (24G) have filled out the picture.

With such a tight race, Daniel, who do YOU think the Calder Trophy winner should be? And make the statistical argument for your choice.

This is a tough choice for me. I'll start by saying that if this was a list of all position players then Ryan is the obvious choice. He's played almost 15 less games than everyone on the list except Steve Mason, and he's still second in scoring. If he's here when the year starts maybe Morrison has a better year surrounded by Bobby and Selanne. I honestly believe that. Versteeg has been just as good as Bobby in everything else. Versteeg has a better +/- by 2. I think that Ryan is a little more important to how well we do though, that is we need Ryan a little more than Chicago needs Versteeg.

Wheeler is an interesting option as well. His +/- is a ridiculous 36 and he's third in rookie scoring behind Versteeg and Ryan, but he's also played the most games and has had a solid year on what has been a really good Bruins team leaving the question if his +/- stat isn't padded by being on that team. Also, of all the rookie candidates Wheeler spends the least amount of time on the ice averaging just under 14:00 a game. Versteeg averages about 17:00 a game and Ryan about 15:00. I think this stat is a little deceptive though. When Ryan first came up he would maybe get 10:00 to 12:00 minutes a game and he was spending a lot of time with Parros and Miller. Over the last 5 games Bobby only played less than 17:00 minutes once, putting him right around the kind of minutes Versteeg is logging with Chicago. I think you can dismiss Wheeler because he's played the most games and therefore his TOI stat is the most revealing, his 14:00 minutes a game mean he isn't a significant part of the Boston game plan. Another thing to look at when seeing who is more important to what their team does, is Ryan's 9 PPG. That's 4 more than Versteeg and 6 more than Wheeler. That means that Ryan is playing significant Power Play time and is instrumental in the Duck attack.

Yes, Doughty deserves honorable mention. He leads rookie defenseman in TOI and points as well as game played, but his -12 is pretty glaring. Yes when you play that many minutes and you're a rookie, +/- is bound to be affected, but more importantly I haven't seen Doughty take over a stretch of play. Ryan does hard work along the boards and he comes up with big plays. Remember the Hat Trick he hung on Doughty's Kings in less than 5 minutes, and 2 of those goals came with Doughty on the ice. I think the fact that the Kings are out of the Playoff picture hurts Doughty. He's definitely the best rookie defenseman, but I don't think he's had the kind of spalsh and overall effect on a team that the other candidates have. And the only person on the list who's had the same impact on his team as Ryan is the next Candidate.

Goalies are a special breed, and it's usually hard to just step in and carry a team, but that's exactly what Steve Mason did. It's usually sexy to pick a forward who racks up a lot of points for the Calder, but Mason has led a team that's never been to the playoffs and has them the closest they've ever been. He leads all rookie net minders in almost every category, is in the top ten in both wins and save percentage and is 2nd in GAA. A team can ride a hot goalie into the post season and sometimes deep into the playoffs. The fact that this kid is performing so well that this former league doormat could be a problem in the post season means something. Not to mention that he completely dethroned the oft-injured Leclaire and his fancy new contract. I've got to give the Calder to Steve Mason. I love everything Bobby has done for us this year and he's going to be a star for a long time, but for a rookie to step between the pipes and do what Mason has done is just special. Mason has to get the Calder. Every GM and pundit will tell you that you need solid goaltending to make it in the post-season, and Mason has provided that for Columbus. The kid is going to make history for his organization in his first year. I don't know what else you need to be rookie of the year.

First, let me say that I don't think that hockey writers should speculate on what Bobby Ryan would have done with the Ducks in the first dozen games of the season, not when evaluating him as a Calder Trophy candidate. Versteeg and the other candidates should not be penalized because Brian Burke couldn't manage his finances. At best, you just have to think of Ryan as being injured or ineligible to play for the games he spent out of the lineup-- nothing that was his fault, but nothing that spells untapped potential for all those "lost" games.

The Calder declares itself as the award for the most "proficient" rookie. Let me give you some numbers that speak to proficiency - 30W and 9-SO for a team that is 18th in Goals scored AND Goals per game. The last netminder to win the Calder, Raycroft in 03-04, ended the season with 29 wins and 3-SO but a slightly better GAA at 2.05 (compared to Mason's 2.26). The new NHL rules skew a lot of the straightforward number comparisons, but wins and shutouts can always be balanced against a team's production to measure a goalie's skill. Mason has done what it takes.

But I won't dismiss the forwards. Immediately, Versteeg has the advantage of playing in Chicago. Unlike Mason and Ryan, it's likely that the voting hockey writers have seen Versteeg play. Remember that he opened scoring in Wrigley on New Year's Day. Versteeg has also shown some true grit and grind as a rookie, taking the major penalties when they need to be taken and potting four shorthanded goals for the Hawks. The only downside to Versteeg is that he isn't ending the season well, nursing a scoreless streak and a decrease in shifts due to some minus play. But overall, during the course of the season, he's been consistent, and has one fewer minus game than Ryan has.

If there is one thing Bobby Ryan has going for him, it's poise. I despise hockey intangibles in a stats discussion, but you have to look at what a team is asking you to do. The Blue Jackets were asking Mason to lead them to the playoffs. His success in that regard will speak to his proficiency. Versteeg is producing, but he's a 5th rounder playing on a team with Kane and Toews. Essentially, the game (with all its pressure and consequence) is NEVER on his stick. Bobby Ryan doesn't have that luxury. He's asked to win games, and to win them with whatever ice time Carlyle can spare in his matchup system. Bobby Ryan has played 35 games this season with fewer than 20 shifts; Versteeg has played only 6. Versteeg has seen 30+ shifts twice, Bobby's never seen more than 25. As you said, TOI can often be deceiving, and I think this is a head-to-head that goes to Ryan.

I'll still say Mason; the numbers are undeniable, but Ryan's performance this season puts him at a close second.

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