April 09, 2010
There are so many factors to consider in this year's Calder Trophy race. Like the age of the players, or the perceptions about them heading into the season. Like comparing one position to another both statistically and intangibly. Like whether a player, like Tuukka Rask(notes) of the Boston Bruins, needs a certain number of games to "qualify."
But center Matt Duchene(notes) of the Colorado Avalanche always seemed like an obligatory contender here, because you need a forward in the mix, rather than a defenseman and two goalies. That's not to diminish his accomplishments; but his offensive numbers (24-31-55 in 80 games) are behind those of last year's top forward Bobby Ryan(notes) of the Anaheim Ducks (31-26-57 in 67 games) and every offensive player that's won the award since Chris Drury(notes) of the Colorado Avalanche in 1999 (20-24-44 in 79 games).
I've had Avs fans here or there make the Calder case for Duchene. Yesterday, I had an opportunity to ask Colorado Avalanche coach Joe Sacco to make one during a media call:
"Well, with Matty, I think if you look at the situations that he's been thrown into as an 18-year-old kid this year ... he's played on our first power-play unit all year long, he's played on one of our top two lines all year long. He's used in just about every situation that we have as a team, from an individual standpoint.
"He started the year at, I believe, a minus-13 or minus-14. He's a plus player now. He obviously learned to play the whole 200 feet of the ice much better, which says a lot. To me, one of the hardest positions, along with defense, is centerman. Especially in our system. To play center in the NHL, you have a lot of responsibilities defensively in your own end and it's not easy for a young player coming out of junior to handle those responsibilities.
"Not only obviously has he really ignited our team, which is the strength of him, but defensively he's really turned his game around. The biggest thing to me is the type of player he is: This player wants to make a difference. Matty wants to be a difference maker, and he will be a difference maker in this League."
If you're not in the Duchene Calder Camp, does Sacco do anything to change your mind? Both Myers and Duchene have finished strong, making the "better with time" argument a little moot from Sacco. The learning curve argument is a valid one for both players. The case for Duchene is a strong one, taken within the context of the Avs.
But I'm still in the Myers camp here; even if, as Sacco said, this is just a glimpse of the player Duchene's going to become. Would it stun anyone to see Duchene up for, say, the Hart before Myers is up for a Norris?