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Breaking Down the Race for the Calder Trophy

Will voter bias keep Matt Murray from winning the Calder? Will voters punish Patrik Laine for having too much fun?
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As VICE Sports' resident youth expert, it's my savage honor to break down the Calder Trophy race this season, which has obvs been as fetch and lit af as any race in recent history.

We've got Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, this year's top two picks, already living up to the hype. The Leafs have not only Matthews but also Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Defenseman Zach Werenski is to the Blue Jackets what Shayne Gostisbehere was to the Philadelphia Flyers last season, minus the cool Ghost Bear emoji to identify him on social media.


Are there skis emojis? Let me know.

There are so many quality rookies, but who deserves rookie of the year honors? Beats me, but I will try my best to guess, because this is the best freshman NHL class in years, so it won't be easy.

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7. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs

Why he can win it: He can't. He has too much working against him. He's not even the best rookie on his team and he has a European-sounding name despite being born in Canada. He's one lazy backcheck away from being traded to a Sun Belt team or vilified by the Toronto media.

Why he can't win it: All the stuff listed above. These categories will make more sense as we move forward. Nylander's only here so people don't yell at me on Twitter that I forgot him.

6. Jimmy Vesey, New York Rangers

Why he can win it: He's a goal-scoring machine. He has ten in 34 games, putting him on pace for 24 goals, an amount that should keep a rookie in the discussion for the Calder. He also plays in the biggest media market in North America and will be on national TV a whole bunch. Voters could factor in his added expectations after rebuffing Nashville and Buffalo and still excelling in New York.

Why he can't win it: While 30 goals isn't out of the question for Vesey, he has no chance of catching Laine and probably Matthews, too. And maybe the PHWA chapters in Buffalo and Nashville will hold Vesey's snub of those cities against him. In any other year, Vesey would be a lock as a finalist, but it's a long shot for 2016-17.


5. Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

Why he can win it: [Pierre McGuire voice] Dockeneddie he's a good Canadian boy out of Markham, Ontario, and played junior for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League and plays the game with a good Canadian work ethic. [My voice] He's third in the league in rookie points but he's also not American (like Matthews) or vaguely European (like Nylander) so that may earn him more votes than his teammates.

Why he can't win it: Remember the episode of Friends when Chandler has sex with Joey's sister, only he was so drunk that he can't remember which one? And the sisters all look like alike, which complicates matters? That's the Leafs rookie situation. At the end of the season, their numbers will all be so close that you won't be able to pick any of them and some Leafs fan will probably punch you in the face because of it.

4. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets

Why he can win it: Werenski has a shot at a 60-point season, which would be incredible for a rookie defenseman. Heck, that's the type of season that could get you a Norris Trophy, as Drew Doughty's 51 points a year ago prove. It's doubtful voters will give a rookie a lifetime achievement Norris, but it could be enough for the Calder. Gostisbehere finished second in voting last year with 46 points in 64 games, so Werenski has a real shot.

Why he can't win it: He picked the wrong year to a very good rookie defenseman. The forwards are just too good. Plus, you know there will come a time when John Tortorella will see him eating a sandwich and decide he's not eating it "the right way" then scratch him for four games, thus ruining any shot Werenski had at the Calder. "We don't nibble around the crust here," Tortorella will say.


Toronto teammates Auston Matthews and William Nylander are candidates for the Calder. Photo by John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

3. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

Why he can win it: There's a good chance he finishes first or second in rookie goals and points. He's the focal point for the Leafs, who are having a respectable season, perhaps a playoff season. He's Toronto's savior. It's possible we've yet to see Matthews' best, so if he closes with 20 points in 15 games, that may be enough to put him over the top.

Why he can't win it: Again, it's his stupid rookie teammates drafting on his jet stream. And seriously, he's American. If you want recent evidence of a large group of Canadians not giving an American an award he deserves and instead giving it to a Canadian, look who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2016. You will always be my playoff MVP, Phil Kessel.

2. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets

Why he can win it: He has a lot of the same numbers as Matthews, only slightly better as we near the midway point of the season. Laine has a shot at 40 goals; if he gets to 35, it will be hard to not vote for him. He's also fun, which is such a rarity among NHL rookies. That alone should be enough to earn him the award.

Why he can't win it: Can't you see people holding the fun stuff against him? "He's selfish, unlike that hardworking Mitchell Marner out of Markham, Ontario!" The only red flag that may not even be a red flag is his 19.8 shooting percentage. He's very good, so it's possible he can sustain it. But it wouldn't be shocking to see it fall into the 15 percent range as the season wears along.


1. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins

Why he can win it: Because he's the best damn rookie. He plays the most important position. He's 13-2-0 with 1.85 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. The only goaltender in the league with a better save percentage is Devan Dubnyk (.948). Murray has better numbers than Carey freaking Price. If Murray maintains this pace the rest of the way, Laine can score 45 goals and Matthews can have 90 points, and the award still belongs to Murray.

Why he can't win it: Because voters are idiots. You're probably saying, "Dave, Murray won the Stanley Cup last year. How is he still a rookie?" Because he is. He meets the requirements for rookie status, so he is a rookie. But if there's one thing voters love doing, it's imposing their own ideas onto an award. You can without question find people who didn't vote for Artemi Panarin last year because they felt his KHL experience disqualified him when the rules say no such thing. You know people will say Murray's Cup run last year will do the same.

The non-silly reasons for Murray to lose is he's played only 17 games because he missed the start of the season with a hand injury suffered during the World Cup. Maybe his games-played total won't look so great at year's end, especially if Marc-Andre Fleury plays better and earns more starts. There's also room for regression, although Murray had a very impressive .930 save percentage in his 13 regular-season starts last year.

But if Murray loses a close vote to Matthews or Laine, it will probably because Gord Richards of Saskatchewan TV didn't think Murray should be a rookie. Don't be that guy, voters. Don't be Gord Richards.

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