Today is the first day of the playoffs, with series kicking off in Tampa, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. That means it’s also the last day for PHWA members to submit their award ballots. So if you noticed your favorite sportswriter rushing around like a flustered kid who left his homework to the last minute, that’s why.
The league prefers that we don’t reveal our ballots before the winners are announced, since if too many of us do that it will kill the suspense. That’s fair. So today, I won’t tell you who got my vote. Instead, I’ll tell you who didn’t.
As background, we get to include five names for each award, listed in order from first through fifth. Sometimes, that ends up being a pretty easy list to fill out – you might move guys up and down as you go, but the five names you’re going to include are a lock. Other times, you might have to scramble to fill out a top-heavy field. And more often than not, you wind up with what feels like the toughest scenario: Too many names and not enough spots, and some deserving candidate has to go.
That happened a few times this year. So here are five names that I went in fully expecting to cast a vote for, but who ended up missing the cut. For what it’s worth, ballots aren’t due until the puck drops on the first playoff games, so if you’re convinced that I’m indefensibly wrong on any of these, make your best arguments in the comments.
Dylan Larkin, Red Wings, Calder
Larkin was easily one of the best rookie stories of the year. He was looking like the Calder favorite early in the year, and was still solidly in the conversation by midseason. He was named to the all-star team, then wowed everyone by winning the fastest skater competition. He relinquished his favorite status as the season wore on, giving way to the great Connor McDavid vs. Artemi Panarin debate on 2016. But surely he had to be on the ballot, right?
Apparently not. In a tough Calder race that featured seven or eight candidates who had a strong top-five case, I was surprised to be unable to find room for Larkin. That’s partly due to a slow finish – after back-to-back two point games in early February, Larkin managed just one multi-point game in his last 29, recording only six points total in March and April. It’s a long season, and you’d expect a young player to have a cold stretch or two. But Larkin’s slow stretch was just enough to drop him behind some of his fellow rookies.
Your thoughts on Larkin’s Calder case probably has a lot to do with how you interpret the award. Some voters factor in a degree of difficulty, especially when it comes to age. Maybe a season like Larkin’s at the age of 19 is more impressive than what Panarin did at 24. I think there’s a great argument to be made that Larkin is a better long-term prospect than Panarin, who may have already peaked.
But the Calder isn’t the Best Prospect award. It’s for the “most proficient” rookie, as defined by the NHL, and you don’t get bonus points for being younger than the competition. Sorry, Dylan.