Like clockwork, the Oilers play a game every three to four weeks that results in my staying away from internet, and more specifically social media, for a day or two. I really do enjoy interacting with fans on social media sites like Twitter, but I've also found that when the Oilers fall on their face, with more flair than they usually do, that that interaction becomes a lot less enjoyable, so in the name of mental health I take the day off. And as you might well imagine, Saturday night's loss to the Flames was one of those games.
This meant that I missed Artemi Panarin's second straight four-point game though; a game that might well have ended the debate as to who should win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year. With a goal and three assists, Panarin brought his season totals to 28-44-72, 20 points clear of the next closest rookie, and with 72 points in 77 games Panarin is now averaging 0.94 points per game, 0.11 behind Oilers rookie Connor McDavid. With McDavid and Panarin now separated by only nine points over a full 82 game season I suspect that many voters who were on the fence before, and might have been willing to look past McDavid having only played in 45 games, will now look to Panarin instead.
If it was a three horse race before the weekend, as many suspect it was, with Flyers defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere being the third horse in this case, those votes shifting from McDavid to Panarin are likely to be what puts the Blackhawks rookie over the top once and for all. And with that another high profile Oilers rookie will finish his first season in the NHL without any hardware to show for it. Certainly not what Oilers fans desperate for something, anything, to cheer for over the final week of the season want to hear.
I want to take a closer look at the numbers of all three in more detail, but before getting to that it probably makes sense to address the eligibility question that surround Panarin.
Panarin is 24 years old and made his KHL debut during the 2008/09 season. You might think that the KHL is a pro league and that he should therefore be ineligible, it's not even an unreasonable argument to make, but the NHL has deemed him eligible therefore he is eligible. Simple as that. I don't like the league's sometimes two, sometimes three point format but until the NHL decides to change it, it is what it is, and the same goes for players like Panarin being Calder eligible. This doesn't mean that a voter couldn't factor in that experience, or his age if they wanted to, in much the same way that McDavid's games played could, or even should, be factored in, but the idea that he shouldn't receive votes is, honestly, a little silly as far as I'm concerned.
With the out of the way let's look at some numbers, starting first with the basic counting numbers. For this I've included Jack Eichel and Max Domi as well, I don't think either has a snow ball's chance in hell of actually winning, but it'll give a better picture of where the big three stand in comparison. (You can sort the tables by clicking on the headings)
Looking at Gostisbehere's numbers one thing jumps out right away: his shooting percentage. At 11.3% his shooting percentage is second best among NHL defenders this season, behind only Kevin Klien in New York. There is nothing wrong with recognizing great production, and Gostisbehere's productions has been spectacular, but when I see a number like that, and the number of power play points as well, I wonder about if those numbers aren't masking something at even strength. As well see next, that's exactly what's happening.
The number above, which were taken from corsica.hockey and have been adjusted for score, zone, and venue, show that, with the exception of McDavid and Panarin, the rest of the rookie class that I've identified are all negative in terms of possession; not exactly surprising considering that they are rookies and rookies tend to struggle defensively. Where McDavid really shines when compared to Panarin is in the relative categories. When compared to his teammates, the Oilers direct an extra eight pucks at the opposition's net per hour when Connor McDavid is on the ice, they also see three fewer directed at their own net. Those are numbers that would be very impressive from any player, that they are coming from a rookie is borderline amazing.
So looking at all of this, if I had a vote, I would cast it for McDavid. For my money he's been the NHL's best rookie this season and it's not even close, and 45 games is plenty for me to make that assessment. I'm also more than a little biased in that assessment. My personal preference aside though, I would also understand that because the award is completely subjective that another voter could look at this season and choose to vote for Panarin or Gostisbehere instead, and they wouldn't be wrong. Personally, I think that they would be more right if they chose Panarin over Gostisbehere but that's beside the point.
In the end, and I know that a lot of Oilers fans aren't going to like it, the number of games played is going to matter for McDavid, and I doubt that it'll be in a good way. If he'd played 15 games more this likely isn't a conversation, he wins hands down. Likewise, if he'd played 15 fewer games there wouldn't even be a discussion about his winning the Calder even though he would be technically eligible, he just wouldn't get the votes. Maybe in another year, one where the rookie leader in points wasn't having one of the best rookie seasons of the last two decades, McDavid's games played wouldn't mean so much, but unfortunately that's not the case here. Unless of course McDavid finishes the season with two four-point games of his own, then all bets are off.