OK, Connor Bedard, so you got an assist on Sunday. That don't impress the Minnesota media much, at least not in the much-hyped generational talent's first trip to the Xcel Energy Center. Especially not when twin Minnesota Wild rookies Marco Rossi and Brock Fabth outshone the much-hyped generational prospect in a 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Rossi knocked in two goals, bringing his season total to eight on the season, with Faber assisting on both tallies. Among Calder Trophy-eligible players, the 2020 first-rounder Rossi has sole possession of second place in goals and is tied with Luke Hughes for second with 14 points. The jewel of the Kevin Fiala trade, Faber is third among rookie defensemen with 10 points and first among all rookies in time on ice by 50 minutes.
Their seasons are great, adding to a recent legacy in great Wild rookies alongside Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy. So it's not surprising that the Minnesota media is giving them a spotlight now, and Hockey Wilderness is no exception. But after Sunday's game, the Wild media is setting their sights on another Calder Trophy going to the State of Hockey.
Joe Smith of The Athletic floated the case after Sunday's game. "Bedard is certainly deserving of the hype," Smith concedes. "But Rossi and Faber should very well be in the conversation for the [Calder].... The two play some of the biggest roles on the team -- Rossi the No. 1 center, Faber a top-pairing defender."
His colleague Dom Luszczyszyn backed up Smith on Monday and perhaps went even a step further. Not only does his Net Rating model put Faber on top of the rookie class, but Bedard ranked ninth among rookies on Luszczyszyn's list, one spot behind Rossi. "[Bedard's defense] is enough of a wart in his game to leave a window open in the Calder race," he writes. "There are a lot of people treating this as an open-and-shut case -- it shouldn't be."
Debate makes NHL Awards fun, and admittedly, they're pretty low-stakes. No one should be mad at a writer for saying Bedard doesn't make the cut for their top rookie, nor should anyone disagree all that strongly saying Faber or Rossi don't belong in the mix. These are defensible opinions.
Still, if you're banging the drum for the Calder Trophy to go to Minnesota this year, there's little debate about it: You'll be disappointed. Barring an injury, it's too difficult to foresee a world where Bedard doesn't walk to win the NHL's best rookie award. It's also hard to see a world where he doesn't deserve it. That's okay, and it doesn't have to take away anything from what Rossi or Faber are doing.
A big reason is simply that Bedard is putting up numbers. He's not just leading rookies in scoring; his 11 goals and 20 points are three and six ahead of second place, respectively. He's on pace for 39 goals and 71 points as an 18-year-old rookie. If he does that, he'll be on a list of only three NHLers who've matched those totals at age-18: Sidney Crosby in 2005-06, and Steve Yzerman and Dale Hawerchuk in the 1980s.
What Bedard is doing isn't just great. It's historic. If Bedard can maintain, let alone improve, his current paces, that kind of offensive output is so impressive that another rookie would have to be equally historic to wrench away the Calder. Voters aren't going to ignore just how rare of a performance Bedard is putting on, and frankly, they shouldn't.
You also have to appreciate that Bedard is a borderline top-50 scorer in the NHL on a team where he's getting very little support. The Blackhawks signed Taylor Hall and Corey Perry in the offseason, ostensibly to give Bedard help on the ice. Instead, Hall has played just 65 minutes with Bedard at 5-on-5 and is currently hurt, and Chicago kicked Perry off the team last week.
So, who are his top three linemates at 5-on-5 play this year? Meet Philipp Kurashev, Nick Foligno, and Wild Legend Ryan Donato. With 25, 26, and 27 points last year, respectively (in a combined 201 games), Bedard has a shot to put up more than the 78 points that trio scored in 2022-23.
None of Bedard's teammates is on track to be any kind of real scoring threat this season. The rookie is on pace to lead his team in goals by 14 (Dickinson is tracking for 25) and in points by 13 (assuming Kurashev plays every game until the end of the season). Bedard is truly on an island.
That's why it's difficult to disqualify him for poor defensive numbers. What rookie is going to thrive in that environment? Comparing his on-ice numbers to the rest of the league is silly when his team gets just 41.6% of the expected goals share at 5-on-5. We need to compare him to his team, on which he's second among teammates (to Donato; minimum 100 minutes), controlling 45.8% of the expected goals.
Without Bedard, the Blackhawks are playing like a team whose front office is shamelessly tanking. With Bedard, Chicago is merely "very bad." That doesn't sound like much of an accomplishment, but it is. Whatever Bedard's defensive warts are, at least he's producing enough offense to offset them.
It's also true that Bedard's role is simply not to play defense. Coach Luke Richardson is playing Bedard 19 minutes a night. What's he better served by when trying to win games? Telling Bedard to hang back and tighten up on D or create a goal because his team is 30th in the NHL in scoring?
If Richardson is doing the former, that's a fireable offense. It's the same situation as early-career Connor McDavid: Bedard's team needs as many goals as possible, and Bedard's one of arguably one player who can get goals. Therefore, he should expend his energy on the offensive side of the puck. Punishing Bedard for playing his role to great effect seems silly.
It's true that some measures of overall impact aren't particularly bullish on Bedard. Luszczyszyn's Net Rating clearly isn't, and neither is Evolving-Hockey's Standings Points Above Replacement (SPAR). According to SPAR, Bedard has been worth only 0.8 points in the standings, which is tied for 12th (with Rossi) among rookies, and his impact has been far behind Hughes (2.2 SPAR) and Faber (2.0 SPAR), who occupy the top two spots.
Those aren't the only measures of all-around impact, though, and these models aren't in lockstep. Evolving-Hockey has a second all-in-one measure of value, xStandings Points Above Replacement* (xSPAR), and that has Bedard firmly in first place (2.2 xSPAR) among this year's rookie class. Rossi also does very well in this model but sits tied for fourth place (1.4 xSPAR), with Faber (0.6 xSPAR) tied for 14th. Bedard isn't just first among rookies; he's tied for 23rd in the entire NHL, and his peers include Erik Karlsson, Leon Draisaitl, and Crosby.
You can pick some nits in Bedard's game, but those weaknesses aren't going to meaningfully threaten his Calder coronation, should he keep up this pace. Fans and media are always looking for a way out of a coronation; it's natural to resist it. It's also natural for fans and media to make a case for the players they see every day to win their respective awards. Hockey Wilderness isn't immune to that, nor are we throwing stones.
By all means, get invested in the race. It's just that you probably will (and probably should be) disappointed come awards time. That's no slight to Rossi or Faber. Both are having great rookie seasons. But "great" isn't "historically great." As long as Bedard can be the latter, it will be tough for any other rookies to supplant him as the Calder favorite.
All data via Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise stated.
*xSPAR is from Evolving-Hockey, but was based heavily on Emmanuel Perry's now-lost WAR model.
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