Jonas Brodin has quietly assumed a big role in Minnesota. Does he deserve consideration for the Calder Trophy? (Bruce Kluckhohn, Getty Images)
A defenceman has won the Calder Trophy just 3 times in the last 23 years, with Tyler Myers being the most recent. There are a number of reasons why it’s rare to see a defenceman win rookie of the year. Opportunities are harder to come by: with teams dressing just 6 defencemen, most young defencemen will spend their rookie seasons on a team’s third pairing or shuttling between the NHL and AHL.
Defencemen also don’t tend to put up the kind of point totals that catch the attention of voters. Myers was a rarity. He finished third in rookie scoring and was just 7 points behind Matt Duchene, who led the league. He also stepped into a lineup that needed a number one defenceman and averaged just short of 24 minutes per game.
This season, the forwards are once again leading the way, as Jonathan Huberdeau and Cory Conacher battling for the rookie scoring lead and Brendan Gallagher making an argument for himself by putting up respectable point totals while playing for a team that is actually playoff-bound. The selection of Gabriel Landeskog for the Calder Trophy over Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last season, however, indicates to me that voters may be paying more attention to the role that a rookie plays on his team.
With that in mind, several defencemen are playing important roles on their respective teams and could, by the end of the season, have worked their way into the Calder conversation. If the forwards falter in the final days of the season, one of them could even win. Here are six rookie defencemen who deserve some attention.
Alexei Emelin isn’t a free agent this upcoming summer, but he’s an unrestricted free agent next summer, so he’s a bit of a scientific experiment to me.
I’m looking at his defensive partner Andrei Markov, who has never gotten his due thanks to an abundance of injuries throughout his career. He’s played a single 82-game season, back in 2008, which happened to be the year the Montreal Canadiens came out of nowhere to win the Eastern Conference in the regular season.
Of course, correlation doesn’t imply causation, but one major difference about the Habs this year as opposed to the Habs last year is a healthy Andrei Markov. The 34-year-old has played just 65 games over the last three seasons and 20 games in the last two and a lot of folk writing off the Habs were probably writing off Markov’s health. There he is, leading Habs’ blue liners in minutes, alongside Emelin.
This is the same Mikhail Grabovski who has shown these sorts of hands in the past:
The underuse of Grabovski is puzzling, particularly since at even strength. Carlyle’s main complaint about Grabovski is that he doesn’t produce much, telling reporters last week that “We’d like to see the Grabovski-[Nikolai] Kulemin line score more” and admitting that “there is a little leeway given them” due to the fact that those two forwards play some of the toughest competition in the NHL, mostly in a defensive role.
If you keep your eye on the Corsi numbers, you notice that Lennart Petrell is posting a spectacularly bad number – his Corsi% is currently 32%. Last year, he was at 39.6%. This got me interested in something: what happens to sub-40% Corsi guys? Looking at seasons of 300 minutes or more, there are 29 of these guys in the BTN era, which started in 2007-08.
17 of these guys are no longer active in the NHL. For eight of them (Jeff Cowan, Jim Dowd, Jeff Giuliano, Byron Ritchie, Scott Thornton, Dan Hinote, Todd Marchant and Jon Sim), a sub 40% Corsi season was the end of the line.
Eventually, “Corsi” is going to have to take on a different name. “Corsi” had a good run, but in the end, it’s difficult to carve widespread acceptance of statistical concepts named for the person that created it. Often, I’ll see somebody write out CORSI as if it were an acronym for something.
“Corsi” isn’t really particularly complicated. It’s the number of shot attempts for, minus the number of shot attempts against. It can be used for both a team or an individual. For the team, “Corsi” would count up all the shot attempts a team took in even strength situations and subtract them by the ones their opponent fired against their net. For an individual, you just look at the time he was on the ice.
It’s not a real difficult concept, nor is it difficult to understand what it means. “Corsi” doesn’t assume that every single shot taken on goal is of equal value. All “Corsi” does is approximate zone time. If Pittsburgh takes 5 shots at the New York Islanders’ net and the Islanders take 1 shot at the Penguins net, the logical assumption is that the puck spent more time in Pittsburgh’s offensive end. It doesn’t mean anything more than that. Heck, the one Islander shot could be a breakaway from Michael Grabner or Frans Nielsen. It doesn’t change that the majority of the game was spent with the puck on the stick of a Penguin player.
So the analytics movement has gone mainstream. I’ve seen references to the website Behind the Net in several major daily newspapers over the last two weeks. And now, Elliotte Friedman wrote a fairly popular blog post on the subject at CBC. His work itself has a line or two that I’d quibble with, but it’s pretty enlightening about the state of analytics in hockey:
The biggest problem for the NHL is the sport just doesn’t have the statistical bent of others.
“We are third, behind baseball and basketball,” [Washington assistant GM Don] Fishman said.
So teams are creating their own. Because there is no consensus, they are notoriously secretive. One thing I believe some teams do is remove “second assists” from players and see how many points are left over. But good luck trying to confirm that.
I find a lot of useful information in hockey has made its way through the Internet. A lot of the statistical bloggers who have been hired to do some consulting work for NHL teams still post quality information on their websites and it’s not like the whole project is going dark.
The battle for the Calder trophy is shaping up to be a good one: Cory Conacher’s 18 points in 21 games has him as the favourite, but Jonathan Huberdeau’s 10 goals is tops among rookies and Justin Schultz is playing nearly 23 minutes a night for the Oilers. A strong push from Brendan Gallagher, Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk, Dougie Hamilton, or one of half-a-dozen other rookies could see them in the running by the end of the season.
But what about last year’s rookies? Early last season, it looked like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was going to run away with the Calder, but an injury and strong all-around play from Gabriel Landeskog saw him lose out in the end. Meanwhile, Adam Henrique and Matt Read made a case for themselves with their two-way play and solid offensive numbers.
How are this season’s second-year players handling the dreaded sophomore slump and who is making a case for being the best sophomore this season? So far, Cody Hodgson is leading the way thanks to a great offensive start to the season and the struggles of last season’s Calder candidates.