Earlier today, three finalists were named for the 2021 Calder Trophy.
If we’re being real, only two men on this list have a chance to take the hardware home: Kirill Kaprizov of Minnesota and Alex Nedeljkovic of Carolina. Jason Robertson was great for the Stars this season, but he went past Kaprizov in both goals and points in 2021 (Robertson has the lead in assists with 28, though). Kaprizov played a major role in recording the franchise’s best ever recording in Minnesota Marks Percentage. Meanwhile, Nedeljkovic led the entirety of the NHL in both percentage (.932) and goals-average (1.90), leading the Cannes to their first division title since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.
Just from that last paragraph, you’d probably think that the award would go to Nedeljkovic in a landslide. It could be, but that’s not how low turnout should be. It should be even more one-sided than a landslide. It must be a landslide, avalanche and tsunami all wrapped up in one. Nedeljkovic is completely out of the spotlight for a franchise that was in dire need of scoring consistently, and deserves all the praise he is getting.
Carolina is storming Analytics Beloved for many years. They are the leaders in the NHL in terms of using advanced stats like syllabus difference and expected target difference per 60 minutes. When Keynes Added Eric Tulsky In 2015 before him in office, the team’s fortunes changed drastically. Several moves were made that many other teams would ridicule, such as the addition of Dougie Hamilton and Jake Gardiner. The growing use of analytics has undoubtedly played a part in the transformation of the franchise over the past six years. However, the team was always deterred from scoring poorly.
Pete Marzek had his moments, but was never an elite goalkeeper outside the 2019 postseason. James Reimer struggled with consistency in 2020. But now, in 2021, Keynes finally has the exact piece he’s always needed. Despite 2021 being the fourth year of Nedeljkovic’s career with Carolina, he finally began to shine this season, and it was all Marzek break your thumb. It also comes at a great time for storms. Both Marzek and Reimer are set to become free agents after this season, and the team can let them both go and give Nedeljkovic as big of a contract extension as they want.
The Cannes have had one of the darkest rosters in the NHL over the years. Sebastian Aho, Nino Niedreiter, Hamilton and Andreik Svechinkov are some of the league’s lowest-rated players, but despite all the talent, they have never been an elite team. Nedeljkovic changed that. I’ve watched both games of the current Lightning-Storm series, and – even though the Lightning series went 2-0 up – the games have been incredibly close. Tampa are not only the current cup winners, they are an experienced team, backed by a great netminder. These are hard for anyone to beat. Still, despite what the scores say, the Hurricanes are arguably outclassing Tampa through two games. They seem to be too electric on the ice. They are playing faster and more aggressively than their opponents.
As the chain headed to Tampa, the lightning has been outshot 70 to 45, but Cain has so far been unlucky and is stoned by a very hot Andrei Vasilevskiy – a trend that is unlikely to continue at its current pace. Although this stretch of misfortune and being unable to make the most of their opportunities may have doomed Carolina over the years, the team finally has the netminder to keep them in games like this. They are the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference, and the only team that can beat Colorado at the moment (that’s my opinion…obviously). Nedeljkovic has lifted the team from a middle playoff contender to a legitimate cup contender. This is something Kaprizov can come nowhere close to claiming.