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On Tavares, Calder Expectations, and 3 Stars

I'm not really sure how you judge a Calder race when it involves rookie candidates from all three positions (forward, defense, goalie), but I do think it's unfair to judge two rookie forwards differently based on preseason hype and expectations. It strikes me that this thinking infected the view of Matt Duchene vs. John Tavares in the Calder discussions.

Tavares (82 GP, 24G, 30A, 54 PTS) has been punished for not being the dominant force some expect of a 1st overall pick (even though it should have been obvious last summer that he wasn't a "generational" star), while Duchene (81 GP, 24-31-55) has been hyped thanks to Colorado's wild ride into the playoffs. The same stuff that's been heaped in praise of Duchene (lots of minutes, first powerplay, got better as the season went on, rookie points lead) has been ignored about Tavares (all of the same, except for one point off the lead).

The two-way play argument is probably the one most worth inspecting, though it's the hardest to get a good read on. As billed at the draft, Duchene is likely better defensively, but Tavares appears to drive offensive play more.

So this bit in The Hockey News gave me pause:

"There is more of a correlation between the three stars of a game and individual awards than you think. Don't be surprised to see trophy finalists (Hart, Vezina, Calder, Norris) at the top of those lists."  >>p.45, May 10 2010 issue

To be clear, I do not think trophies should be decided by something as variable as three-stars-of-the-game selections. But it is true: The top of the three-star lists are filled with the trophy finalists. Except, of course, with the rookies:

 3-Star Selections (rookies)
1st 2nd 3rd Total
1 J. Howard, Det 7 7 4 18
2 T. Rask, Bos 6 2 5 13
3 J. Tavares, NYI 5 7 1 13
4 J. Deslauriers, Edm 6 3 3 12
5 N. Bergfors, NJ/Atl 6 1 4 11
6 T. Myers, Buf 4 3 4 11
7 M. Duchene, Col 4 1 6 11
8 J. Gustavsson, Tor 4 4 2 10

I don't think that tells us anything brilliant, but it is another hint at the fact Tavares had a weaker team around him -- which I would think should be a bigger consideration than whether he matched the hype foisted upon him by juniors-obsessed hockey media. Tavares' team had 16 fewer points, 9 fewer wins, yet Tavares "starred" in a higher percentage of his team's successes. (Craig Anderson received 27 3-star nods, while Dwayne Roloson received 27 sharing time with Martin Biron and even Rick DiPietro.)

People talk about the rookie scoring race as a big deal, yet Duchene won that by one assist. His coach talked about Duchene being on the first powerplay unit all year long, but of course Tavares was too -- with less talent around him. Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski even said, "No John Tavares on our ballot. Thought he played good, but not great, and not up to our expectations" -- which is striking to me, since they were both neck-and-neck at the draft last summer, and many expect(ed) Duchene to be the more complete player anyway. Wysh actually put James van Riemsdyk on his ballot over Tavares. (The first sign of his pending conversion from Devils to Flyers faith, perhaps?)

And why the higher expectations, anyway? With rare "generational" exceptions, the #1 overall pick usually doesn't win the Calder anyway. It's usually someone joining a bad team. Unless the guy is truly amazing, it's silly to expect an 18-year-old to have that big of an impact on a weak team.

Tavares immediately became the leading scorer on a team that finished in 30th place the season before. Duchene became the third-leading scorer -- fellow center Paul Stastny had 24 more points -- on a team that made the playoffs. Duchene figured in 22.5% of Colorado's goals (244); Tavares figured in 24.3% of the Islanders' goals (222). Tavares had no Stastny to shelter his baptism.

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Which is all much ado about nothing, of course: As a fan, I subscribe to the Earl Sleek theory of individual hardware: No point hoping your guy wins the Calder and meets his rookie bonuses -- it will only inflate the asking price on his second contract. So never any worries for me there.

I didn't really expect Tavares to win the Calder -- his hot start surprised me -- and in any case his long mid-season slump would have kept me from voting for him over Tyler Myers or the goalies. Goalies are such a huge part of the game by the nature of the position, I don't like them as candidates for the Hart unless they've done something truly Hasek-like. For Calder, I'm a little more open, and Duchesne's and Tavares' hardly historic seasons probably would leave room for Jimmy Howard or Tuukka Rask on my ballot behind Tyler Myers anyway.

But when the rookie years of Tavares and Duchene are remembered, a little context may be in order.