After three years of slam dunks, it’s nice to see that predicting the winner of the Calder Trophy has gone back to being the biggest mug’s game going.
After all, back in October did anyone really expect the top three candidates for rookie of the year to be Steve Mason, Bobby Ryan and Kris Versteeg?
Mason is making quite the case for himself and if he leads the Columbus Blue Jackets into the playoffs this season it will be almost impossible to vote against him.
But don’t count out Ryan, who has gone from being a salary cap casualty with the Anaheim Ducks to being a vital offensive producer for them. (And since everyone likes to bring up the fact that Ryan was picked second after Sidney Crosby in the 2005 draft, has anyone noticed that going into Friday night’s games, Ryan had just one fewer goal than Crosby in 15 fewer games?)
Since finding a permanent spot in the Ducks lineup, Ryan has 17 goals and 33 points in 33 games. If he keeps up that pace, he’ll finish the season with 34 goals and 64 points, which would put him comfortably atop the rookie scoring race. Not only that, if he were to win the Calder, his goal total would be the 12th highest in NHL history among rookies of the year.
My, how things have changed. Just two months ago, the leading candidate for rookie of the year was Mason’s Blue Jackets teammate Derick Brassard. But a season-ending injury in a meaningless fight scuttled his chances and other more unlikely candidates have emerged. Playing for a terrible team that has mishandled him badly has wiped out any chances for Steven Stamkos and a serious injury has torpedoed any opportunity for Zach Bogosian to win the award.
That leaves Mason and Ryan and it will be very interesting to see who wins if both keep up their current levels of play. Mason leads the league in goals-against average and shutouts and currently holds down a .926 save percentage. Another advantage he has over Ryan is that he plays arguably the most difficult position in hockey with the most pressure.
If Ryan’s offensive production tails off down the stretch, the Ducks will certainly be affected, but not devastated. If Mason drops off, the Blue Jackets can wave goodbye to any hopes they had of qualifying for the post-season for the first time in their eight-season existence.
But that shouldn’t diminish the kind of season Ryan is having with the Ducks. If he remains healthy the rest of the way, Ryan will have played just 64 games, which makes his offensive totals that much more impressive.
And a player with so few games winning the Calder is not unprecedented. In 1991-92, Pavel Bure took rookie-of-the-year honors despite scoring 60 points in 65 games.
It should all make for a very interesting – and difficult – decision for members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association in April.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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