Weekly Question: What are the chances an Ottawa Senator wins the Calder Trophy?

Examining what it will take for a member of the Ottawa Senators to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.

As the puck has now dropped for the Ottawa Senators and the season is underway, there are a number of exciting storylines for Sens fans. One of which is the likelihood that the Calder Memorial Trophy winner for Rookie of the Year could, in fact, make its way to the Ottawa Senators. As a refresher, here is the eligibility criteria for this award:

To be eligible for the Calder Memorial Trophy, 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, a player must not have attained his 26th birthday by Sept. 15 of the season in which he is eligible.

Because of the criteria, particularly the six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons in any major professional league, none of Drake Batherson, Erik Brannstrom or Logan Brown are eligible for the award.

That leaves two Senators who are eligible with decent odds of winning. German sensation Tim Stützle feels like the odds on favourite, of any Senator, to bring home the award but Josh Norris is cited by a number of betting sites to be a possible dark horse - with some sites listing him fifth right behind his new housemate.

While I haven’t seen either player listed at the very top of many (any?) predictions lists, they’re both in the conversation with players like Alexis Lafrenière and Kirill “The Thrill” Kaprizov as well as top goaltenders Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin.

But the question I have is: what is it going to take for either of our adult sons beloved Senators to bring home the hardware at the end of the season?

The Odds: By Position

In the past twenty seasons, the Calder Trophy has been awarded to a player of each position. For the purposes of this, I’ve grouped forwards together as there are some players who won the Calder when they were primarily playing on the wing but then moved to centre - whereas others have played the centre position since day one.

Since the 1999-00 season, when Scott Gomez took home the honours of rookie of the year, the trophy has been awarded to a goalie or a defender three times respectively. Which means a skater has received 17 of the last 20 awards, 14 of which were awarded to forwards. Further, eight of the last ten recipients have been forwards.

This already bodes well for both Stützle and Norris as the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) voters have shown they are creatures of habit.

The Odds: By Performance

Now, looking at performance, things get particular interesting especially as it relates to the goaltenders. The three netminders to be named one of the NHL’s last 20 Rookies of the Year are Steve Mason, Andrew Raycroft and Evgeni Nabokov. Of those three goalies, they all have three things in common. First, they posted save percentages of 0.915 or better. Second, they started at least 70% of their teams’ games. Finally, all three backstopped their teams to a playoff appearance.

If we take this information and pair it with the infrequency in which a goaltender has won the Calder Trophy in the past twenty seasons, that tells me the pair of Russian goaltenders headlining the Calder candidates this year will have to post similar or better numbers while leading their respective New York clubs to the postseason by playing in at least 39 games this season. Particularly with the Islanders, it feels very unlikely that Sorokin will play so well that they’ll leave Semyon Varlamov on the bench for over half the season.

My final observation on the goaltenders is that each time a goaltender won the Calder, their competition wasn’t exceptional. The skaters they were up against - players like Brad Richards, Martin Havlat and Bobby Ryan - had an average of 0.72 points per game in their rookie seasons. The last time a skater won the Calder with a points per game of less than 0.8 was Aaron Ekblad in 2014-15.

From the perspective of the skaters, there are a few trends I noticed when digging into the information. First, the need for a skater to be on a playoff team in order to win a Calder is far lower than with the goaltenders - and every other individual award the NHL gives out. In fact, only 55% of all skaters - and 47% of the forwards - who have won the Calder in the last twenty years were members of playoff teams. Both Elias Pettersson and Mathew Barzal won the award in the past three seasons while being on non-playoff teams.

Second, as we would assume before even looking in to the numbers, offensive production for skaters is king. In fact, there are only three forwards who have won the Calder in this timeframe who did not produce a higher points per game clip than their fellow nominees - Auston Matthews (0.84) was just slightly lower than Patrik Laine (0.87), Artemi Panarin (0.93) got beat by Connor McDavid (1.06), and Gabriel Landeskog (0.63) had fewer points per game than both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (0.84) and Adam Henrique (0.69). In the other 11 cases where a forward won the trophy, they outproduced their opponents.

The Odds: The Sens

There’s a lot to consider here.

It feels relatively likely that a goaltender like Sorokin won’t get a final nomination - as his situation will make it tough for him to get in enough games to reach the level where Calder nominated goalies have had to in the past. Similarly, it’s not unlikely but it is a bit of a stretch to call the New York Rangers a playoff team. Shesterkin will be battling with Alex Georgiev for playing time this season and if they don’t manage to make the postseason, history says Shesterkin also won’t win the trophy.

To me, the biggest competitors are the two top forwards. Based on the information we have here, one of Stützle or Norris will have to outproduce both players on a point per game basis. With Kaprizov and Lafrenière playing for better, more competitive teams than our Sens, it might be a struggle for one of Ottawa’s candidates to outproduce their competitors in this category.

That being said, there’s plenty of opportunity and ice time for rookies in Ottawa that doesn’t exist in New York or Minnesota. If either (or both!) of Stützle and Norris can solidify their roles in the top six for the duration of their rookie seasons, they both have a good shot at being the most offensively productive players in this rookie class.

So, what do you think? What are the chances the Senators have a future Calder Trophy winner on their roster right now?

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