It’s now March, and enough of the 2010-11 season has passed that we can now start looking around the league at the top rookies with a larger sample-size and begin talking about who deserves to be named the NHL’s top rookie for the season.
And it’s painfully obvious that Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford should bring the Calder Memorial Trophy back to Chicago.
There are a number of very good, qualified candidates this year, but the forwards that have emerged as the leading Calder candidates have been Jeff Skinner, Logan Couture, Michael Grabner and Brad Marchand.
Here’s a look at how they stack up against each other over the full season:
As you can see, the all of these young men are having outstanding seasons. Couture and Grabner are finding the net exceptionally well, and Skinner has added assists to the mix as well. Marchand’s plus-minus is the best among all rookies for the full season.
But none of these players are among the elite in the NHL for the entire season.
One of the strongest considerations made when considering a player for the Calder is how they finish the year; rookies have never played hockey as fast or physical, or for as many games, as they will in the NHL, so maintaining production can be hard for first year players.
Consider how these top four candidates have done since the All Star Break:
As you can see, the length of the season is taking a toll on Skinner, while Couture and especially Grabner have continued playing well.
Of the four top rookies, Grabner’s 10 second-half goals are among the league’s best, and Marchand’s plus-23 rating for the season is among the best forwards in the game.
But none are among the NHL’s best across the board.
Crawford is among the best in all of hockey this year.
Through February, Crawford ranks:
- 2nd in the NHL in goals against average – 2.13
- 6th in the NHL in save percentage – .923
- tied for 14th in the NHL with three shutouts – tied with, among others, Roberto Luongo and Ryan Miller
Perhaps the most important ranking on the season for Crawford, however, is fifth – where the Blackhawks currently rank in the Western Conference.
But if the marathon NHL season is hard for skaters, it can be harder for goalies. Last year, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard saw his save percentage drop .010 after the Break as he put together a strong run for the Calder, finishing as the runner-up.
This year, Crawford is actually getting better after the break.
His save percentage is up, his goals against average is down, and he’s among the league’s top winners. Here’s where Crawford ranks in the NHL after the Break:
- 4th in wins – 7
- 4th in goals against average – 1.96
- 4th in save percentage – .932
What sets Crawford apart from the other rookies in this year’s class is that he is legitimately among the best in the NHL, not just among his first-year peers, in most statistical categories.
Perhaps more importantly, though, is Crawford’s impact on the playoff race.
Grabner’s Islanders are not a factor in the Eastern Conference.
Skinner’s Hurricanes are trying to hold on to the final playoff spot in the East.
Couture and Marchand are on solid playoff teams, but neither of their respective teams depend on them to win games on a nightly basis.
Crawford has been a central figure in the resurrection of the Blackhawks playoff hopes since the All Star Break.
With all of this in mind, and with five weeks remaining in the season, there is no question that Crawford should be considered a front-runner for the Calder Memorial Trophy right now.