Calder race opens up as Stamkos sits
Normally I wouldn't delve into something like the year-end awards this early into the season, but it's becoming crystal clear who probably isn't going to win the Calder Trophy this year.
Even against the Islanders on Thursday night, coach Barry Melrose parked his prized rookie at the end of the bench, where Stamkos twiddled his thumbs for all but 9:22 of a game that ended in overtime. The only Tampa Bay players to see less action were Gary Roberts and Adam Hall.
Stamkos looked fine in the limited minutes he did play, although he saw very little power-play time and was seemingly out there with a different linemate every shift. And it's hard to say whether or not he was sheltered from difficult opposition given, well, they were playing the Islanders.
Unless you're a goalie, point production is generally the main criteria for winning the Calder. The award has been handed out 71 times in NHL history and forwards have won it two-thirds of the time.
But the other thing that's really a necessity is that you spend a decent amount of time on the ice, something that's just not happening for a lot of freshmen this season.
Take recent history for example. Patrick Kane won the Calder last season while playing 18:21 minutes a game. A year earlier, Evgeni Malkin won and he averaged 19:09 and Alex Ovechkin won the year before that while munching up 21:37 minutes per game.
Prelockout winners were Andrew Raycroft (a goalie), Barret Jackman (20:02), Dany Heatley (19:53), Evgeni Nabokov (goalie again) and Scott Gomez (16:20). If you go back far enough, you get to Chris Drury and Sergei Samsonov, who played smaller roles but still logged 13:15 and 15:23 per game in their Calder-winning seasons.
So far this year, 58 rookie skaters have played in at least one game, and the large majority have had relatively minor roles. Stamkos, who was picked by probably 90 per cent of preseason pundits to be the rookie of the year, is 48th in ice time at just 9:41 per game.
Luke Schenn, the Maple Leafs defenceman, is first at 20:59 per game.
Only 10 rookies have averaged 16 minutes played (in more than one game) this season, and it's a pretty interesting group: Schenn, Steve Wagner, Drew Doughty, Luca Sbisa, Alex Goligoski, T.J. Oshie, Kris Versteeg, Mikhail Grabovski, Alex Pietrangelo and Mikkel Boedker.
So they're in the mix. Derick Brassard in Columbus should be, too, as he's managed a point a game in 14:56 a game. Fabian Brunnstrom's big debut with a hat trick Wednesday night was an eye-opener, but he has been very sheltered in Dallas and may not continue to put up big numbers.
Two more names to consider are Patrik Berglund, the fourth St. Louis rookie I've mentioned, and Kyle Turris, although their ice time has been limited to 13:30 and 11:28 a game.
As I said, it's incredibly early, and it makes sense that players are being relatively sheltered the first few games into their NHL careers. But at some point, either due to injuries on their teams or a sudden adaptation to this level of hockey, some rookies are going to start playing larger roles and putting up more points.
Heck, even Stamkos could turn it around. But you don't win the Calder playing 11 or 12 minutes a night, and I don't see him getting more than that any time soon. At this point, I'm beginning to wonder if both he and the Lightning wouldn't be better served by him playing in junior again.
In any event, what we aren't likely to see this time around is the big rookie totals that we've been spoiled with postlockout. Among this group, it's wide open.