Handicapping the 2014-15 Calder Race

Although Johnny Gaudreau was recently named the Calder favourite by NHL coaches, the race for the rookie of the year is almost as tight as the playoff race in the West this year. First overall pick Aaron Ekblad is roundly considered to another front runner, but Calgary’s dynamic, diminutive winger faces stiff competition from a number of players aside from the Panthers teen phenom.

The other hopefuls in the Calder race include Filip Forsberg, Mark Stone and John Klingberg. Let’s see if we can determine who has the upper hand. 

First off, here’s a look at how these players compare in terms of usage and possession rates courtesy War on Ice:

Calder

A quick primer on usage charts: this shows a players quality of competition (Y-axis) and their starting position at even strength (X-axis). The size of the player’s bubble represents ice time and the colour is according to relative possession rate. The bluer the bubble, the better. 

While scoring no doubt holds a great deal of sway over rookie voting, it’s always important to consider each player’s circumstances, particularly when trying to compare defenders to forwards. This lends context to each guys’ results. 

Gaudreau vs Ekblad

Travis Yost recently argued that Ekblad has had one of the finest rookie seasons of any 18-year old defender in recent memory. While that is true, I’m not sure it necessarily means he deserves the calder trophy this year. 

Largely because, as you can see above, Ekblad was strongly sheltered by the Panthers this year. He was stuck at the hip to veteran puck mover Brian Campbell and the pairing was given the most generous zone start ratio on the team (in fact, one of the easiest in the league). I would suggest it would very difficult for a player not to have good relative stats in those circumstances. In fact, I don’t think Ekblad is the best rookie defenseman of the 2014-15 class as a result, let alone the best rookie skater period.  

On top of co-leading all rookies in scoring, Gaudreau played tougher competition and started more often than Ekblad in the offensive zone, but still managed a similar positive relative possession rate. 

Gaudreau vs Forsberg

Like Ekblad, Forsberg was given the Sedin treatment at even strength this year, with a zone start ratio nearing 70% (!!). As a result, Forsberg has the best relative possession rate of the calder class, but he’d have to given his usage. 

Forsberg scored at a better rate than Gaudreau at even strength, but nevertheless lost the scoring race by a point thanks to Gaudreau’s prowess with the extra man. I’m guessing that puts him just outside of the favourites. 

Gaudreau vs Stone

This is where things tilt away from Gaudreau and into another player’s favour. Not only did Mark Stone tie Gaudreau in the rookie race with 64 points, he had a monster second half of the season while the Sens were chasing a play-off spot. That will no doubt leave an indelible impression with the calder voters. 

In addition, Stone played in slightly tougher circumstances than Gaudreau and yet scored at a higher rate at even strength (2.59/60 vs 1.74/60). I’m not sure how long Stone’s personal shooting percentage of nearly 17% at even strength will persist, but it’s hard not to think he’s the odds on favourite for the calder moving forward. 

Dark Horse – John Klingberg 

As mentioned, I don’t think Ekblad was the best rookie defender in the 2014-15 class. That distinction likely goes to the Dallas Stars’ John Klingberg. He played tougher opposition, started way more frequently in the defensive zone and was a more efficient scorer at even strength than the former first overall pick. 

Klingberg only appeared in 65 games, though, which will likely work against him. 

Conclusion

If I had to choose with my head, Mark Stone would win the Calder trophy this year. My Flames fan heart says there are other qualitative factors that work in Gaudreau’s favour, however – his size, inspiring underdog story and the fact that he can put together the best highlight reel package of any of the calder hopefuls may give him the edge in the eyes of many voters. 

Whatever happens, it was a remarkably good year for NHL freshmen and one of the best rookie seasons by a Flames forward ever. 

  • beloch

    It’s media guys who choose the winner, so don’t underestimate the importance of a good underdog story or even an all-star weekend appearance. Also, while Eastern teams almost always get more media love than Western teams, the Sens are not beloved by Toronto, where the majority of media guys are based. If Stone played for the leafs he’d be a shoe-in to win. However, he plays for the Sens. Mark Stone winning the Calder would be a bit like Gaudreau winning if Edmonton was Canada’s media hub.

  • Parallex

    Gaudreau drives his line… Hudler’s career year and Monahan’s 30 goals are no coincidence.

    OTOH IMO Stone is more of a finisher, with Turris being the line driver. Can’t take away from his takeaways though.

  • Parallex

    A more sophisticated stats analyst would have uncovered some metric which clearly showed the superiority of Johnny Gaudreau, eg, point-per-height ratio, etc.

    Weak analysis, IMO.

  • Colin.S

    Mentioning Stone’s prior experience(1 year of development) in the NHL/AHL without putting much or any weight on the fact that Gaudreau has 3 years of experience on Ekblad(which the author and the above posters did, respectively) reeks of so much homerism it really draws away from any credibility said authors/posters may have. Gaudreau of course also has 1 year on Forsberg and plays an immensely easier position than Ekblad/Klingberg.

    Gaudreau had a great year no doubt, but for anyone seriously interested in giving this award to the player who most deserves it its gotta be between Stone/Ekblad/Klingberg.

    • MonsterPod

      Looks like we got a Sens fan… Do the math buddy… How many games did Gadreau play in College hockey? How many did Ekblad play? Now how many had Stone played as a professional?

      • Colin.S

        To add to that Stone is one game away from not being considered a rookie. Let’s give the boys who are actually new to the nhl the shot at the Calder. Not the vets. Bye bye Stone

  • Parallex

    It’s a draw between Gaudreau and Stone.

    Gaudreau might tip the scales in the skill department, and the fact that if he would have played the last game, he would have had the most points.

  • Parallex

    As with most awards who should win (on talent)will probably differ from who actually does win (on votes). With respect to the Calder I think it’ll either be Gaudreau or it’ll be Ekblad…

    From a narrative perspective Johnny has done everything he could to get the nod… co-owns the rookie scoring title, flashy on the ice, some prior (inter)national media attention via the NCAA, the whole small-guy underdog story, team made the playoffs… if he doesn’t win then basically there’s an inherient bias towards giving it to defensemen because he’s done everything that he could to win.

  • Parallex

    A bit of a slow news day; the calm before the storm!!!

    Let’s spice it up with another outstanding trade proposal by the great Walter White for the summer:

    Kessel to the Flames for Backlund and a first round pick. Leafs retain a couple of million per.

    Remember the Leafs hired an advanced stats guru last summer, so they are probably still delusional that possession stats have anything to do with winning: hence their interest in Backlund.

    Fire away ladies….

    WW

    • Parallex

      I like Backlund and I like first round picks

      I don’t like the thought of giving up those for a guy who doesn’t display much school spirit when the deck is stacked against him. That mentality would not have us in the playoffs, this year.

      Also–the length and $ on that contract?!?!

    • Canucks Suck

      You would like Phil Kessel. I would rather keep that cancer away from my team thank you.

      If you guys don’t disregard WW’s opinion already, I think now would be a good time to start.

    • MontanaMan

      As my good friends on FN know, I’m not a fan of Backlund and would trade him for the right return. But Kessel is not the right return. A self centered, arrogant and lazy right winger that is reputed to be a cancer in the dressing room and a coach killer is not the return I would seek. I see Kessel going to a hot hockey market like Florida or Phoenix.

  • Canucks Suck

    And for the record Flames better enjoy Gaudreau winning the Calder cuz with picks like Mason McDonald and Hunter Smith it won’t be happening for awhile.

    WW

  • RKD

    Other voters have already said they were leaning on voting for Gaudreau. I understand Ekblad is only 18 years old and he had a great season but Florida missed the playoffs. Stone had a great season and his second half was much stronger. Both Stone and Gaudreau got their teams to the playoffs. Also, I think after the first 5 games of the season Gaudreau was more consistent than the other Calder rookie candidates. I think Forsberg dropped off every now and again. He was pacing to be ahead of the pack by quite a margin then that margin decreased and he got passed by Gaudreau and Stone albeit by one point.

  • MonsterPod

    Stone played 4 games with Ottawa two years ago and 19 games last year. This is his third year in the NHL, not full year, but third year.

    Technically, because he’s played fewer than 25 games, he is eligible. But I hope the voters take this into consideration as well as his age.

    I remember when German Titov came over and won the Calder with Calgary and he was what, 28?

    Ekblad’s numbers are impressive for an 18 year old, and it’s hard to compare him with other 18 year old dmen because almost always dmen stay in the A for a few years. I guess Jones in Nashville and Hedman are the recent comps. But I don’t think you can dismiss him.

    Voters need to look at points but also point per game, because Johnny missed two games sitting out.

    For my money, it would be Johnny, because when he started the season people didn’t know if he could survive a shift at his size. He was below GlenX and Raymond on the depth chart.

    By the end of the season, Johnny is rolling on our top line, and often leading all forwards in ice time. His progression has been crazy.

    I hope the voters love his story enough to give him the prize.

    Then again, if they don’t, pfft… whatever. I’d rather have him on the Flames than any of the other candidates. Let’s see what Stone is doing in five years compared to Johnny.

    GFG

    • Rockmorton65

      That was Makarov when he was 31. They brought in an age group rule after that one but I get your point. I honestly believe Gaudreau has earned it anyway and I wouldn’t trade him for any of the other guys in the race. You do worry that the Eastern writers don’t see him enough to appreciate him though.

      • Big Ell

        “You do worry that the Eastern writers don’t see him enough to appreciate him though.”

        I doubt it. I think Gaudreau has had far more coverage than either Stone or Ekblad.

        I live in Taiwan so follow the Flames via GameCentre and Gaudreau has been consistently highlighted by the Canadian media. In the States ESPN’s John Buccigross has champion Johnny since college. The other day Wyshynski was on the Bill Simmons Podcast going on about how he loves Gaudreau while lamenting his Bruins dismissal.

        So I think he has probably been seen more than any other candidates, especially Ekblad.