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Connor McDavid truthers hijack Calder Trophy debate

There’s no question that Connor McDavid is a better player than Artemi Panarin. 

It’s entirely possible, in 10 years, that McDavid is en route to the Hall of Fame and Panarin has left for the KHL after several years toiling on lines that had a distinct lack of Patrick Kane.

There’s every chance that if the Chicago Blackhawks rookie is given the Calder Trophy this season, we’ll look back on it with the head-scratching curiosity that we do THE ENGLISH PATIENT defeating FARGO for Best Picture 20 years ago.

But none of this should matter in voting for the 2015-16 Calder, which is handed to “the most proficient player in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.” It’s about one rookie season, not a legacy. And when it comes to the seasons posted by Panarin and McDavid, the issue is that one had a season and the other is just over half of one.

Panarin played 80 games, scoring 30 goals and 47 assists for 77 points. McDavid, due to his broken collarbone, played 45 games with 16 goals and 32 assists for 48 points. Had he played 80 games, he probably wins this in a walk. But he didn’t.

This isn’t to say that McDavid shouldn’t have been a finalist, because what he did in those 45 games was remarkable. His 1.07 points per game average put him third in the NHL behind Patrick Kane (1.29) and Jamie Benn (1.09).

Panarin, of course, was 10th in the NHL at 0.96 points per game, which is damn impressive. How impressive? It’s the fifth best points-per-game average for a rookie since 2005 – or fourth-best among players with at least 46 games played in a season. 

NHL

Seriously: Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin. Those are the players ahead of the season Panarin had for the Chicago Blackhawks. And we’re going to treat this as pedestrian because of what McDavid did in 45 games? 

Here’s how I saw it, as a voter: McDavid needed to blow me away with his points-per-game over 45 games to get my first place vote. The 1.07 impressed the hell out of me, but didn’t blow me away. Neither did 1.07 points per game vs. 0.96 points per game which, again, is the fifth best rookie scoring season since 2005. 

(In fact, if you want to take it all the way back, it’s No. 5 since 1995-96 as well; 20 years!)

Neither did finishing 29 points behind the rookie leader, who, again, played 35 more games.

Which, in the eyes of some, is just a technicality:

The other anti-Panarin arguments are that he’s a product of Kane – the same Kane who posted the best points-per-game and goals-per-game averages of his career in the only year Panarin was in his line, which is obviously just total coincidence – and, of course, that McDavid is a pure-bred straight from juniors rookie while Panarin was playing professional hockey in Russia for the last several seasons.

We acknowledge the NHL’s rules on the Calder regarding professional experience are specious: “Player cannot have played more than 25 games in any single preceding season nor in six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons in any major professional league.” That’s an archaic rule born out of WHA fear (we imagine) but that European leagues don’t qualify for this standard is the pinnacle of NHL hubris, but it’s never been a disqualifier. 

Because if it was, then please remove the Calder from the trophy cases of Pavel Bure, Teemu Selanne, Daniel Alfredsson, Peter Forsberg, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin, for starters.

While we can’t release our full ballots for the NHL Awards until after the awards are handed out, I will say that my top three are the top three for the Calder: Shane Gostisbehere, McDavid and Panarin. I will also say that Panarin has my vote for the Calder winner.

McDavid is incredible. He’s going to win awards and trophies that are going to make the Calder look like an kindergarten graduation certificate by comparison. But he might have to join that select group of legendary players – Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr and Steve Yzerman among them – that will have to settle on gaining immortality without the benefit of being a first year player.

And McDavid supporters will have to come to grips with that. Here, occupy yourselves with backing Evgeni Malkin’s Hart campaign. Fifty-eight games is enough, right?

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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