Calder Dreams: A Brief History of Oilers Rookie Futility

His super cool uniform hides his Bam-Bam tattoo -

The Oilers have three centuries worth of Hart Trophies, but are still waiting for their first elusive Calder Trophy

When you support a team with a storied history like the Edmonton Oilers, you just naturally assume that at one point or another they've won each major NHL award. Hell, they've won the Hart Trophy more than 28% of the time while they've been in the league (9 times in 32 seasons). They've won the Vezina (Fuhr '88), Norris (Coffey '85 & '86), Art Ross (back up the Brinks truck), Lady Byng (Gretzky '80, Kurri '85), and Adams (Sather '86) at least once. No Oiler has actually won the Selke, but we've come a damned close 2nd place three times (Kurri '83, Tikkanen '89 & '91). The one trophy that they've come the furthest from winning is the Calder Memorial Trophy, given to the league's best rookie.

But, that's not to say that we haven't had some fine players slap the Sher-Woods around in their first ever NHL seasons. In fact, the best two NHL debuts in Oilers silks were not considered eligible for the award: Gretzky had 1.73 points per game in a 137 point first season in 1979-80, but was deemed ineligible because of his tenure in the WHA. Jari Kurri had exactly one point per game in a 75 point season in 1980-81, but had played three years as a professional in Finland with Jokerit before coming over.

To compound the problem, many notable Oilers started slowly, building their stats up in their first seasons before going postal in later ones. This group includes Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Ryan Smyth, and Shawn Horcoff. Fine players all around, but not exactly fulfilling the Oil Drop's destiny of securing a first Calder Trophy.

In order to analyze how close the Oilers have come to winning the Calder, I needed to compile a full list of Oilers who have ever received votes for the trophy. Then I needed express this as a percent of the total number of voting points available (as this number changes wildly from year to year). The following table shows the results of that effort:


We see that 15 different players have received Calder votes while playing for the Oilers. The list is ordered from who received the highest proportion of Calder votes at the top to the lowest proportion at the bottom.

Immediately we can see that only three Oilers have ever had a legitimate shot at winning the trophy: Arnott, Nugent-Hopkins, and Fuhr. Jason Arnott came the closest, garnering 28.2% of Calder points in 1993-94, finishing 2nd place and just 5% back of winner Martin Brodeur (what an obscure choice!!@!). Last year, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also came 2nd in voting, but was almost 10% behind Gabriel Landeskog in terms of Calder points. Finally, Grant Fuhr came 3rd in 1981-82 with 15.3% of Calder points, but was not even close to winner Dale Hawerchuk (who had 45.5% of Calder voting points).

The next tier of rookies includes Tom Poti, Mike Grier, Ales Hemsky, and Sam Gagner, all of whom received between 1% and 2.5% of Calder votes and placed between 7th and 9th in their respective years. It's an interesting mix that shows voters will acknowledge a wide variety of player types in Calder voting.

The rest of the list includes Oilers who placed between 9th and 15th in Calder voting, and received less than two-thirds of a percent of the overall voting share. It's a diverse list that includes a first overall draft choice (Hall),a toolsy defenceman (McGillis), a world junior hero (Eberle), a skilled forward with incredibly long sideburns (Satan), and a Hall of Famer (Glenn Anderson). It's certainly a rich walk through Oilers history, but comes up short on franchise rookie glory.

It would seem to me that what separates the top from the bottom of this list is that Arnott, RNH, and Fuhr were all heavily relied upon in their first seasons, either as first line forwards or as starting goaltenders. All other players on this list, even the great ones, were broken in on the second line/second pairing or lower.

Obviously, the point of this post is to foreshadow what will happen to Nail Yakupov, who put up a wonderful 0.65 point per game season this year. He lead the league in rookie scoring (goal tiebreaker!), and electrified the home side. But Calder voters seem to place a heavy emphasis on the overall importance of a player to his team. It's for this reason that I could definitely see Jonas Brodin getting the nod in Minnesota. This also makes me wonder if Calder trophies are manufactured by circumstance, and not by talent. If Jordan Eberle and Ales Hemsky were not on this Oilers team, Yakupov most certainly would have had better numbers -- and yes, I realize this argument applies for most rookies. But at least we can take solace in knowing we have the better player, and not the player whose organization decided to play him the most.

Yakupov/JSchultz 2013!!!! Let's make some campaign buttons.

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