Tomas Tatar is having one hell of a preseason. It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of his attitude, but performances like this can cause fans to have a short memory. After venting some frustrations about possibly not making the big team this year, the 22-year-old Slovak is letting his skills doing the talking with three goals and an assist in the three games he’s appeared in. While it is only preseason, Tatar is making a strong case for a spot on the Red Wings’ roster, and last year’s AHL playoff MVP may not have a chance to defend his crown. This impressive display is leading some to wonder: will Tatar, in his anticipated first full NHL season, have a shot at being named the top rookie in the NHL?
In short, no. As in, it isn’t possible. As per the NHL, the Calder Trophy has a set of requirements that Tatar just doesn’t meet:
To be eligible for the award, a player cannot have played more than 25 games in any single preceding season nor in six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons in any major professional league. Beginning in 1990-91, to be eligible for this award a player must not have attained his twenty-sixth birthday by September 15th of the season in which he is eligible.
It’s a bit convoluted, but I’ll break it down. Tatar couldn’t have played in more than six NHL games in ANY two previous seasons, not necessarily consecutive ones. Tatar played 9 games in the 2010-2011 season, and 18 games last year. 9 + 18 is clearly greater than 6. He’s young enough to be eligible, but he’s played too many games. Fret not Tatar fans, Gretzky wasn’t eligible either because he played a full year in the WHA. No, I’m not comparing Tatar to Gretzky, stop putting words in my mouth!
But why should we let the facts ruin a good story? We shall examine the possibilities of what could have been!
Tatar has grown in leaps and bounds since his brief NHL stint in the 2010-2011 season. He was a strong presnece for the Calder-Cup-winning Grand Rapids Griffins last year with 49 points in 61 games, topped off with a blistering 21 points in 24 playoff games. As mentioned above, he won the playoff MVP award of the AHL, the Jack A. Butterfield trophy. Not everyone on that list goes on to be a NHL superstar, but it’s an impressive accomplishment nonetheless. Then again, neither has everyone that won the Calder Trophy (Scott Gomez, 2000, Steve Mason, 2009). Hell, Jimmy Howard was a finalist in 2010 but lost out to Tyler Myers. But I digress. Still, if Tatar performs well (and hadn’t played so many damn games) he could (have) end(ed) as the first Red Wings Calder Trophy winner since Roger Crozier in 1965.
This year will not be a year short of other potential winners, however. Nathan MacKinnon is bound to get plenty of ice time with the Colorado Avalanche, Jonathan Drouin will put up boundless points playing with Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay, and Seth Jones will look real good playing with Shea Weber in Nashville. This is to say nothing of Filip Foresberg in Nashville, Alexander Barkov in Florida playing along last year’s Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau, Edmonton Oilers hard-hitting defenseman Darnell Nurse and the Dallas Stars’ sleeper candidate Valeri Nichushkin. Yes, there’s plenty of other competition that (would have) give(n) Tatar a monumental task to overcome.
It’s also important to pay attention to how the Professional Hockey Writers Association votes on these things since they’re the ones that decide the winners. Yes, the same Professional Hockey Writers Association that couldn’t decide what position Alexander Ovechkin played at last season. That’s the one! In recent years, the PHWA seems most impressed by the rookie that scores a lot and does the most with the least he has. There are of course, exceptions for defensemen (Tyler Myers as mentioned above, Barret Jackman, 2003) goalies (Steve Mason above, Andrew Raycroft 2004, Evgeni Nabokov, 2001) or players who score a ridiculous amount of points (Alexander Ovechkin, 106 points, 2006, Evgeni Malkin, 85 points, 2007). A quick look at previous winners will explain.
The finalists for the 2012 Calder Trophy were:
Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils, 51 points in 74 games.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers, 52 points in 62 games.
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche, 52 points in 82 games.
All three had a similar point production. Landeskog ended up winning. There was some argument that RNH’s shoulder injury cost him, and that Landeskog had the best total body of worth. One could also argue that Henrique and RNH were more impressive than Landeskog because they accomplished similar point totals in less games. However, look at the potential line mates of each player. Adam Henrique got to play alongside Ilya Kovalchuk, the heartless traitor that devastated my keeper league fantasy hockey team. RNH had his share of elite line mates in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Sam Ganger. Colorado had their “Orlando” line of Ryan O’Reilly, Landeskog, and Steve Downie. Downie and O’Reilly are great players, but not the same realm of Hall or Kovalchuk. So Landeskog won because he did the most with the least.
A similar trend emerged with the 2013 Calder Finalists:
Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks, 27 points in 46 games.
Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadians, 28 points in 44 games.
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers, 31 points in 48 games.
It doesn’t take much to see the same trend emerge in this set of finalists. Brandon Sadd plays with Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Towes, Marian Hossa (yawn). Brendan Gallagher wasn’t quite with the same elite talent, but teammates like Max Pacioretty, Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec, and P.K. Subban is nothing to shake a stick at. Who did Huberdeau have to work with? A strong year from Tomas Fleischmann. In fact, Fleischmann was the only person on the team with more points than Huberdeau. Hence Huberdeau won the 2013 Calder, getting something from nothing.
All in all, it would be nice if Tatar was eligible so we could see how this plays out. He plays with Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson, maybe Tatar would have been in the conversation. If he moved up to play with Franzen, Weiss, Alfresson or, dare I say it?, Zetterberg and Datsyuk, I doubt he gets (would have gotten) consideration for the Calder.
Got a thought on who will win the Calder this season? Let us know in the comments below!
And let me save you the trouble of looking it up: Nyquist isn’t eligible either. 22 games last season, 18 the season before.