Who should win the Calder? A look at the three finalists.

This week, the NHL announced its three finalists for the Calder Trophy - its own rookie of the year.   All three players were forwards with pretty good seasons, and though perhaps a D man (Washington's Carlson) or goalie (Corey Crawford) got left out, all three would seem to be worthy winners of the award.

In this post I'm going to take a look at each of the three players in depth to try and resolve who truly deserves the award.

*A Quick Disclaimer:  I am an Islander Fan, so I've been rooting for Grabner all year.  I've also seen Skinner a little bit, but I've barely seen Couture at all.

First, some basic stats:

NAME GVT* Even Strength Time on Ice per 60 Power-Play Time on Ice per 60 Shorthanded Time on Ice per 60 Even Strength Goals Even Strength Assists Power Play Goals Power Play Assists Shorthanded Goals Shorthanded Assists
Michael Grabner 16.8 12:38 0:54 1:31 26 16 2 2 6 1
Logan Couture 16.1 14:32 2:11 1:04 22 20 10 4 0 0
Jeff Skinner 13.9 13:31 3:10 0:01 25 20 6 12 0 0


*GVT provided courtesy of Hockey Prospectus' Timo Seppa.

Looking at these statistics, we see each of these three players have basically put up equivalent basic offensive numbers at even strength. 

Skinner's point lead is only 3 points at even strength, but he's added 18 points on copious amounts of power play time (the 30th most PP time in the whole NHL among forwards, and by far #1 among Rookie Forwards).  However, Skinner did not play penalty kill all year. 

Couture had 42 points (22 goals and 20 assists) at even strength but really took advantage of the power play to score goals - 10 of them in fact.  Couture's had less PP time than Skinner to do so, making this seem more impressive.  In addition, Couture actually plays meaningful time on the Penalty Kill, just over a minute per game (essentially putting him 6th on the team in PK minutes per game). 

Grabner also had 42 points, but led the three in even strength scoring with 26 even strength goals.  Grabner, unlike the other two players, did not play much power play time at all, clocking in at under a minute per game.  Unsurprisingly, he had only 2 goals and 2 assists thus on the Power Play.  However, Grabner played a good deal of PK, ranking 3rd on the team in terms of PK minutes per game (from watching, I know that in the last half of the year he played first team PK).  And Grabner did a ton of OFFENSIVE damage on the PK, with 6 shorthanded goals and 1 shorthanded assist.  It's these shorties that give Grabner the rookie goal lead.

GVT, Hockey Prospectus' all-in-one statistic, is also listed in the chart and tries to put all of these offensive and time on ice numbers, in addition to some others (Relative +/-, Zone-Start?, Some shot differential), together in order to calculate the total value of each player.  GVT ranks Grabner first, just ahead of Couture, and has the two of these two players quite a bit ahead (2.2-2.9 goals) of Skinner.  A good bit of this is undoubtedly due to the easier minutes that Skinner would seem to play - GVT is impressed with the offensive numbers of Grabner despite the lack of PP time, and is less impressed with Skinner since he gets ample PP time to put up points. 

Still, GVT doesn't tell us a good bit - it ignores quality of competition and penalties drawn/taken for instance.  So let's next look a little deeper into the numbers of each of these three players.



NAME TEAM GP TOI/60 Relative +/- Corsi Rel QoC Corsi QoT Relative Corsi Corsi/60 PDO EV Penalties Taken EV Penalties Drawn Zone-Start %
Michael Grabner NYI 76 12.11 1.12 0.527 -5.758 13.5 0.59 1006 4 14 44.3
Logan Couture S.J 79 13.96 1.01 0.219 8.812 9.6 14.53 1019 17 15 51.2
Jeff Skinner CAR 82 12.91 0.91 0.244 -1.152 5.6 1.98 1025 13 45 53


First lets look into the context of these numbers. 

First, Couture plays with the best teammates of the three (Having the best team), with Grabner playing with the worst (playing on the worst team). 

Second,  Grabner clearly plays against the toughest opponents, while Couture and Skinner play against similar opponents, who aren't weak opponents but aren't necessarily the strong ones either (look at the Relative Corsi Quality of Competition).

Third, Grabner starts in his own end on faceoffs far more frequently than either of the other two finalists, with Skinner getting the greatest % of offensive faceoffs of the three, but Couture not being entirely far behind.  Note that in Skinner's case, he's literally getting the most offensive faceoffs of ANY PLAYER ON HIS TEAM, while Couture is only 4th among his team's forwards. 

So this, along with the ToI numbers, shows us how each of these players has been used: 
Skinner has essentially been a little bit sheltered, not facing tough opponents or penalty kill, getting favorable zone-starts on even strength, and getting a lot of power play time.

Couture hasn't exactly been sheltered - he does play penalty kill - but he's not faced the toughest opponents either and has also had generally favorable zone-starts, though not as bad as Skinner.  In addition, it should be noted that Couture has had pretty good support from his teammates on the ice.

Grabner has been the exact opposite of sheltered - he's facing tough opponents and is getting quite a bit of unfavorable zone-starts (though some of this is due to the Isles as a whole on average having non-great zone-starts).  In addition he plays the Kill and doesn't get much power play time.  And naturally, as the player on the worst team, he has the worst support from his teammates of the three.

Okay, so we've got the context down, so lets go on to the possession statistics.  In terms of Relative Corsi, which should take into account quality of teammates, though not zone-starts and qualcomp, Grabner is the clear leader, with the team's shot differential being +13.5 better with him on the ice than off of it, with Couture a little back at +9.6 and Skinner even further back at +5.6.  All of these are solid numbers mind you - each player's team is better with him on the ice than off the ice - but it's a noticeable difference.  Note once again however, that Couture may actually be a little disadvantaged by this statistic - it's hard to have a higher relative corsi when your team has a whole bunch of really good players to replace you when you're off the ice.  Of course, Grabner's leading is still extremely impressive, especially given the fact that he played clearly harder even strength ice time than the other two players. ADVANTAGE: GRABNER

Looking at pure Corsi/60, Couture naturally leads as he's on the best team.  However, Grabner is barely behind Skinner and is in fact in positive numbers here, which is extremely impressive given how poor the Isles were as a whole.  Skinner again does not look great here - with the favorable zone-starts, non-tough competition, and not as bad teammates as Grabner we'd hope to see his corsi at least between Couture's and Grabner's, but he does not stand out.  ADVANTAGE: COUTURE with Reservations

In addition, if you really want to look in goals, Grabner leads the other two players in Relative +/-, though all three numbers are pretty close, and this value is particularly affected by PDO, so I'm not going to dwell on it too much here.  (Of course, Grabner has the lowest PDO...and yet leads this statistic.  Interesting).

Meanwhile, there is one more factor that needs to be taken into account here at even strength:  Penalties.  This where Skinner really excels: He LED THE NHL in both drawing penalties (at even strength) with 45 penalties drawn and penalty differential - +32.  If we consider that 1 out of every 5 PPs leads to a goal on average, then Skinner has created over 6 goals simply by his ability to draw penalties so well.  Grabner, oddly enough for his speed, doesn't draw too many penalties (14), but only took 4 minors at EV all year, for a differential of +10.  This is pretty solid (2 goals created), if not amazing like Skinner.  Couture meanwhile took 2 more penalties than he drew at even strength, not helping his team at all in this way.  ADVANTAGE:  SKINNER

Just looking at even strength, I'd probably disagree a little bit with GVT and say the race is between Skinner and Grabner.  The penalty drawing ability of Skinner should NOT be overlooked as being an equalizer, while Grabner's ability to drive possession toward the opposing net has been amazing considering the tough competition and weak teammate support he plays with.  Personally, I can't get over the quality of competition here, so I'd give the even strength edge to Skinner.  


Skinner has 18 points (6 goals) on the PP while getting the most time by far, while Couture has 10 goals and 14 points.  Grabner's 4 points (2 and 2) come from minimal-ish PP time, so he's not likely to be helped here.  Now Special teams statistics deal with small sample sizes - especially Grabner's - so lets take these with a grain of salt:

NAME TEAM GP TOI/60 Relative +/- Relative Corsi Corsi/60 5 on 4 Penalties Taken 5 on 4 Penalties Drawn
Michael Grabner NYI 76 0:54 +2.90 -6.1 +69.08 0 3
Logan Couture S.J 79 2:11 -1.74 -0.4 +117.74 1 2
Jeff Skinner CAR 82 3:10 0.83 -9.7 +66.69 4 0


All three of these players have negative relative corsis, meaning that their team seems to have a better shot differential with them off the ice than on it during the PP.  Of course, with Skinner and Couture to a lesser extent this doesn't mean too much, since they're on for much of the team's power plays.  Quick note of course here: Somehow despite the little PP time, Grabner has a +3 Penalty differential on 5 on 4, which of course means he created 3 5 on 3s.  By Contrast, Couture is again neutral really, while Skinner managed to wipe out 4 power plays. 

Since the possession numbers are kind of useless here, the Power Play edge goes to COUTURE, since he put up the most goals.  Skinner falls behind here due to the penalties as well as the fact he got basically an extra 60 minutes of power play time to put up those 4 PP points, while Grabner doesn't have enough PP time to give really any meaningful value.  In addition, the Corsi numbers would suggest Couture put up the most value here as well. 

Advantage: Couture



Skinner didn't essentially play any PK, so there's no point at looking at his numbers here (Oddly enough, BTN lists him as drawing a 4 on 5 penalty...which must have come literally at the end of a penalty kill as he came on the ice) .  As for the other two guys, see the table below.  Once again, this is a tiny sample size (smaller than the PP sample sizes for Couture and Skinner) here:

NAME TEAM GP TOI/60 Relative +/- Relative Corsi Corsi/60 5 on 4 Penalties Taken 5 on 4 Penalties Drawn
Michael Grabner NYI 76 1:31 +5.27 +36.9 -49.51 1 2
Logan Couture S.J 79 1:04 -0.06 -1.7 -81.36 0 2


Here we see a significant difference between the two would seem that Grabner was quite simply put an AMAZING penalty killer this year.  In fact Grabner actually finished 1s tamong ALL forwards in PK Relative Corsi (minimum 1 minute per 60 played, and 40 games played), 2nd in actual corsi, and 5th in relative +/-.  He did take one penalty (creating a 3 on 5), but wiped out two power plays by drawing 2 penalties himself. Oh and right, he had 6 shorthanded goals as well (that'll help your relative +/-).  Those who think that Grabner's shorthanded goals came due to him playing poor D by cheating too much would seem to be incorrect, given his sparkling possession stats.

Couture on the other hand does not seem to be much better of a penalty killer than any other player on his team.  He does have a positive penalty differential (not causing a single 5 on 3 while wiping out two power plays), but that's about it. 



I think Grabner should be the Calder winner at this point.  At even strength, all three players put up similar offensive numbers, though Grabner put up the most goals.  Meanwhile, Grabner played the toughest even-strength minutes and still put up the best relative corsi.  Couture's overall corsi is better, but I suspect very heavily this is due to the fact that he had a better team than either of the other two players.  Skinner does get extra credit for the massive penalty differential, for sure, but I think that's offset by the easier minutes he faced. 

Meanwhile, Grabner provided a good lot of value on the PK as well, by being one of the league's best PKers this year.  Skinner didn't play PK at all, and though Couture did, he seems nothing more than average in terms of this year. 

The edge Skinner and Couture get in the point totals comes entirely from power play time they get that Grabner did not get.  The question is of course how much extra credit does this give them?  After all, from a replacement level point of view, these are easier minutes to put up nice numbers.  I just don't think it's enough to outweigh Grabner's edge in even strength and penalty kill.

Thus My Calder Ballot, given these three candidates, would be:

1.  Michael Grabner
2.  Jeff Skinner
3.  Logan Couture

Skinner and Couture are close...but I think the massive penalty differential makes up for it.  Grabner's +10 penalty differential means however that Skinner's penalty edge isn't quite big enough in my mind to make up for the easier minutes.

If this FanPost is written by someone other than one of the blog's editors, the opinions expressed in it do not necessarily reflect those of this blog or SB Nation.

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