While searching Google News for any relevant Kings headlines, I ran across an item in Jim Kelley’s latest Sportsnet column, which basically makes the case against Drew Doughty’s candidacy for the Calder Trophy. In his column, Kelley writes, “I read recently that it was a “joke” that Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty didn’t make the final three as a rookie of the year candidate. Not if you did your homework.”
A couple things. One, I certainly agree with Jim that it’s not a “joke” that Doughty didn’t get selected as a finalist. Mason, Ryan and Versteeg are worthy choices. But while I have great respect for Jim’s 30-plus-year career as a NHL follower, I don’t completely follow his logic in terms of Doughty criticism.
In the column, Jim refers to Doughty’s minus-17 rating and compares it, unfavorably, to other rookie defenseman in general and to Boston rookie Matt Hunwick in particular. I have a couple problems with that. One, we have discussed here the folly of relying too much on the plus-minus rating. I understand that it has some value, but really, how much? Is that really how we want to evaluate defensemen, by looking at plus-minus? Dion Phaneuf was minus-11 this season and Scott Niedermayer was minus-8. I don’t know about you, but if I was starting a team, I wouldn’t toss them aside. There has to be some context.
Along those lines, looking at the Doughty-Hunwick comparison, there’s a couple key points here. Hunwick was a 23-year-old rookie with a previous full season of AHL experience. Doughty turned 19 during the season and jumped straight to the NHL. Hunwick averaged 17 minutes of ice time on a Boston team on which, at best, he was the third-best defenseman. Doughty averaged 24 minutes per game on a Kings team on which he was far and away the best defenseman and logged big special-teams minutes.
Again, I’m not saying it’s a crime that Doughty wasn’t in the top three. I just think it’s dangerous to only use statistics to evaluate players, particularly rookie defensemen. Try to look at the rookies objectively. Based simply on talent and impact, if you could have traded Doughty, straight up, for any of the other rookies this season, how many rookies would you have rather had? Mason? Ryan? Anyone else?