The one that got away from Gretzky (and other fun Calder Trophy facts)

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Wayne Gretzky is still thinking about the one that got away

Last night, the NHL announced the winners of its biggest individual awards. Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl became the first German (and second consecutive European after Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov in 2019) to win the Hart Trophy for most valuable player as voted by hockey writers. He also won the Ted Lindsay Award, which is the players’ choice for MVP. Winnipeg Jets star Connor Hellebuyck got the Vezina Trophy for top goalie, and Colorado Avalanche defenceman Cale Makar won the Calder Trophy for best rookie.

The funniest moment of the virtual ceremony came when Gretzky named the Calder winner — even though it’s one of the few NHL awards he never won. “It really bothers me,” he said.

The Great One was kidding, but there may have been some truth there too, because he probably deserved the Calder. In his first NHL season, 1979-80, Gretzky won the first of his eight consecutive Hart Trophies, plus the Lady Byng for having the best combination of skill and sportsmanship. If he’d been eligible, he would have obliterated the rookie scoring record with his 137 points, which was 42 more than the official mark and nearly won him the scoring title. Marcel Dionne also notched 137 points, but he had the Art Ross Trophy tiebreaker with two more goals.

Everyone knew Gretzky was the best player in the NHL that season — never mind the best rookie — but he was ineligible for the Calder because he had played a full season in the World Hockey Association the year before. The Calder is restricted to players who have not played more than 25 games in any previous regular season (or six or more games in each of any two previous seasons) in any major professional league. The WHA was considered major. So, instead of Gretzky, the trophy went to Boston defenceman Ray Bourque, who had a terrific year but didn’t receive a single MVP vote.

The Gretzky snub is one of many fun Calder facts. Here are some more:

The oldest player to win it was 31-year-old Sergei Makarov. The Calgary Flames forward led all rookies with 86 points in 1989-90. But he was a controversial choice because of his age and years of experience playing for Red Army in the Soviet league before the Iron Curtain came down and he finally got a chance to join the NHL. Despite some grumbling, which may have had more than a little to do with residual Cold War animosity, Makarov won a pretty decisive victory over a stellar rookie class that also included Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind’Amour and Mark Recchi. But after that, the so-called Makarov Rule was created. It limited Calder eligibility to players who are no older than 26 by Sept. 15 of their rookie season.

The youngest Calder winners were 18 when they were named. Four players share that distinction: Bobby Orr (1967), the late Dale Hawerchuk (’82), Tom Barrasso (’84) and Nathan MacKinnon (’14). Jeff Skinner (’11) and Aaron Ekblad (’15) won it in their “age 18” seasons, but they turned 19 before they actually received the award.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have more Calder winners than any other team. Ten Leafs have won it, but only one since the NHL expanded beyond its Original Six teams in 1967. That was Auston Matthews in 2017.

Ken Dryden won the Calder after winning the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP. The young goalie anchored Montreal’s Cup run in 1971 after getting called up late in the season and appearing in only six games prior to the playoffs. His 20 post-season games that spring didn’t count toward the Calder eligibility limit, which is why he could win it after the ’71-72 season.

The playoff loophole also worked for Ed Belfour. The Chicago goalie turned 25 and had 23 regular-season and nine playoff appearances under his belt before his Calder-winning season of ’90-91 even began. This year’s winner, Cale Makar, was a true regular-season rookie, but he played 10 playoff games last year.

Teemu Selanne’s Calder season still boggles the mind. The Finnish Flash potted 76 goals (in 84 games) for Winnipeg in 1992-93. That broke Mike Bossy’s rookie record by an astounding 23. How wild is that? Well, there’s an equal-sized gap between Selanne and Bossy (who’s still No. 2) than there is between Bossy and the 73rd-best (!!!) rookie goal-scoring seasons. To this day, Selanne’s 76 goals tie him for the fifth-highest single-season total ever recorded, and his 132 points are 23 more than any other rookie has ever notched (with apologies to Gretzky and his ineligible 137). Oh, and Selanne also gave us the best celebration of all time when he broke Bossy’s record:

Quickly…

Bianca Andreescu is done for the year. No big surprise here after she decided to skip the upcoming French Open, but the Canadian tennis star announced today that she’s taking the rest of the season off “to focus on my health and training.” Andreescu hasn’t played since hurting her knee at the WTA Finals in late October 2019. So, assuming the 2021 season starts on time in early January and she’s ready to return then, that’ll be about 14 months between matches. In a statement she put out today on social media, Andreescu said she has “so much to look forward to in 2021, including the Olympics” and wants to use the additional time off to “focus on my game so I can come back stronger and better than ever.” Read more about her decision to skip the rest of 2020 here.

Nikita Kucherov helped the Lightning strike back in the Stanley Cup final. Last year’s NHL MVP took a series of bumps early in Game 2 last night, even heading to the dressing room for a bit. But he returned to set up a pair of power-play goals (the second assist was especially nice) as Tampa Bay raced out to a 3-0 lead before the first intermission. The Lightning then held off Dallas for a 3-2 win that evened the series at one game each. Kucherov leads all playoff scorers with 28 points and is the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy if Tampa wins the Cup. Watch all the Game 2 highlights in Rob Pizzo’s two-minute recap video.

NFL coaches aren’t taking mask-wearing seriously. That was pretty clear to anyone who watched the last two primetime games. On Sunday night, New England’s Bill Belichick and Seattle’s Pete Carroll showed little interest in properly covering their nose and mouth, as NFL rules dictate. Las Vegas’ Jon Gruden and New Orleans’ Sean Payton — both of whom say they’ve had COVID-19 — were even worse on Monday night. So the NFL is cracking down (or at least making it look that way). Carroll, Denver’s Vic Fangio and San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan were all reportedly fined $100,000 US and their teams $250K, and others were expected to be punished too. Some advice for the scofflaw coaches, which can also be applied to their work in general: be more like Andy Reid.

And finally…

The first person to climb Mount Everest 10 times died. All of Ang Rita Sherpa’s ascents to the 29,000-foot summit of the world’s highest mountain, made between 1983 and ’96, were done without oxygen tanks. The “snow leopard,” as he was known, died at his home in Nepal on Monday after long bouts with brain and liver problems. He was 72.

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