The debate has only begun regarding this year's top Calder candidate. And while the crop is once again deep, the clear-cut favorite is Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers(notes), and not because of his gaudy offensive numbers for the position he plays or the impressive minutes and responsibilities he logs as a 19-year-old rookie.
Myers, who turns 20 on Feb. 1, is the favorite because he's the most unique first-year player to enter the league since Alexander Ovechkin. Just like Ovechkin broke the stereotype of a young Russian by playing with an enforcer's intensity while displaying the skill of a superhuman – and he hasn't stopped – Myers does things most NHL defenseman just don't attempt, especially for his size and lack of experience.
There's only one reason why someone standing 6-feet-8 before he puts skates on jumps into the play as often and as effectively as Myers does, and that's because he's confident in his abilities to be a difference-maker and not afraid to make a play. Myers is Chris Pronger(notes) with more skill or Scott Niedermayer(notes) with more size.
Myers' success story is even more unique when you consider he was born in Katy, Texas, the same birthplace of Roger Clemens, Renee Zellweger and Clint Black. A typical youth, he played baseball, basketball and soccer, but once Myers attended a minor-league hockey game in Houston at age 6 he was hooked. His family relocated to Calgary shortly thereafter, and Myers' hockey career took off.
That's not to diminish the accomplishments of forwards Matt Duchene(notes) with the Colorado Avalanche, John Tavares(notes) of the New York Islanders, James van Riemsdyk(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers or even goalie Jimmy Howard(notes) of the Detroit Red Wings. Steve Mason(notes) of the Columbus Blue Jackets won the Calder last year, and deservedly so, but that didn't diminish the superior first years enjoyed by Drew Doughty(notes) with the Los Angeles Kings, Bobby Ryan(notes) of the Anaheim Ducks or Kris Versteeg(notes) of the Chicago Blackhawks.
This is the way it's gone for the Calder basically ever since the NHL emerged from the lockout five years ago. Every year there's been a great batch of rookies in the league, and it's probably not going to stop. Why? Better coaching from the grassroots level, more ex-pros are offering their services in terms of private coaching and clinics, players are taught at a younger age the importance of nutrition and dry-land training.
There was that Canadian summit following the nation's huge disappointment during international play in the summer of 1999 – you remember, Wayne Gretzky saying the way kids "practice" and "learn" the game had to change, that they just needed to go back to making the game "fun". Well, maybe it did and that's contributing to all these young thoroughbreds being produced.
Back to Myers, who holds dual citizenship but has always sided with Canada in terms of international competition, just how much do you think Team USA GM Brian Burke and the U.S. Olympic team might like to have him available next month, especially considering the tenuous health of the already-named Paul Martin(notes) of the New Jersey Devils and Mike Komisarek(notes) of the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Kovalchuk isn't necessarily the answer
There's something to be said here about teams taking the cautious approach to acquire Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) from the Atlanta Thrashers. Not to take anything away from the 26-year-old who has 327 goals and averaged more than a point a game (613 after 590 outings) with a largely terrible hockey team throughout his career, but it's just not that simple to plug a high-profile star into new surroundings during a short time frame – especially when he's never been dealt – and expect high returns immediately.
That's pretty much the expectations of any team "going for it" at the trade deadline. The only big star who made an immediate impact moving for the first time in his career recently was Joe Thornton(notes) of the San Jose Sharks. The one player who seems to do it pretty well over and over is Marian Hossa(notes), most currently with the Chicago Blackhawks (and we assume that's where he's staying thanks to a 12-year deal).
It's laughable to hear a team such as Chicago being mentioned in the Kovalchuk sweepstakes. Why would the Blackhawks want to take the chance of upsetting what they have going both on the ice and in the locker room on a player who is just like Hossa?
What makes the most sense is one of these up-and-coming teams such as Los Angeles or Colorado trying to land him because neither of those teams are going to win the Stanley Cup this year, but both the Kings and Avalanche could be ripe for a big fall next season if they aren't proactive in adding a big piece now.
What do we mean by that? Take a look at the St. Louis Blues or Columbus Blue Jackets. Both teams snuck into the playoffs last year while facing different levels of adversity and it was just assumed both would be part of the playoff mix again this year. Not so fast. Teams that stand pat get passed by.
Wrong assumption about the Red Wings
Finally, our attention turns to the Detroit Red Wings, who we all know are not enjoying the typical regular season we've come to expect over the better part of two decades. We also know the team has been riddled with injuries following an offseason that featured a number of regulars getting deleted form the roster for one reason or another.
Add that to the fact along with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit has played the last game of each of the last two seasons, one going the Red Wings' way in 2008 and another going very poorly just last spring. Two straight two-month offseasons were followed by Detroit having to open training camp early to facilitate opening up in Sweden this season.
Is it starting to make sense why the Wings aren't in President's Cup contention? But here's what's really funny. Many expect the Red Wings to eventually nail down a playoff spot again and possibly be a sleeper in the West playoffs once they get all their injured players back.
Our question is this: Who says they'll ever get all of their injured players back? Where is the guarantee on that one? Teams never get all of their injured players back. If they get close, someone new gets hurt. And another, and another.
That's especially true in a season like this when the schedule is compacted to accommodate the Winter Games, and compounded for the Red Wings for everything that was mentioned above. Every team gets hit with injuries, and there will be a lot more injuries moving forward.
And seriously, does anyone feel sorry for the Wings? Thought not.
- Tyler Myers
- Alexander Ovechkin