Each year, three young stars are nominated for the NHL’s Calder Trophy as the most impressive rookie player. This season, the nominees included a pair of incredibly talented defencemen in Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes, alongside 30-goal scorer Dominik Kubalik. One name was notably absent from this list upon its release, though. That name was Adam Fox of the New York Rangers.
Adam Fox Deserves a Calder Nomination
In terms of offensive production, each nominee was deserving. Kubalik should be in the conversation, with a highly impressive 30-goal season. But in reality, this is a three-horse race amongst defencemen. Makar, Hughes and Fox all ranked in the top-15 in scoring amongst defencemen. While Fox was the lowest-ranked of the three, he still had a highly impressive 42-point campaign. When considering that Hughes and Makar had 53 and 50 points respectively, Adam Fox deserves to be in the Calder conversation.
Fans also cannot just take the individual point totals in isolation. It’s necessary to consider the weapons surrounding each of these players. Makar plays on one of the most talented offensive squads in the NHL. With the Colorado Avalanche, he plays alongside Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon. That is just the top line, excluding the outstanding forward depth they have amassed.
In Vancouver, Quinn Hughes also finds himself in a beneficial situation. Elias Pettersson was the Calder Trophy winner last season and has replicated his success. Brock Boeser is an impressive scorer when healthy. Add in veterans Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller to the equation and this team is dangerous.
Adam Fox does not have the same level of talent around him. Granted Artemi Panarin had an MVP calibre season, there is little else in terms of offensive firepower. Mika Zibanejad is the only other player on the team capable of producing at a high-level night in and night out but he missed 13 games with injuries. While Hughes and Makar have tools around them to keep scoring going, Fox is forced to be the facilitator if his two superstars are not on the ice. While Hughes and Makar could do the same, they do not do it as frequently as Fox. His situation in New York could improve in a few seasons if some of their up and coming young forwards develop well.
Before we can definitively say that Fox is the best rookie of this class, we need to understand his impact in the defensive zone. Relative Corsi is the number of shots a player’s team has taken on the opponent’s net, minus the number of shots against, portrayed relative to one’s teammates. This number is also averaged for 60 minutes of play.
Now we need to take a look at his competition. Kubalik gets a pass here. He is a forward so while he should still be proficient and put in effort in the defensive zone, his job is to score. Kubalik totaled a rating of 1.8 this past season. Quinn Hughes performed admirably in this regard, with a splendid 6.0 in 68 games played. The biggest misfire here comes in the race between Fox and Makar.
Makar does not get a free pass. He is a defenceman. It is quite literally in his job title to prioritize defence. His nomination was based solely on his offensive ability. Makar ranked 139th out of every player to at least play in a single game in 2019-20 with a 2.6. To say that Adam Fox’s season was better defensively is not only factual but impressively so. Fox ranked 100 spots higher than Makar at 39 with a spectacular rating of 7.0. Even If we refine the requirements down into players with a minimum of 10 games played, Fox shoots up much further. Fox ranks at 14th in the NHL while Makar remains down at 153.
There are plenty of other statistics that show how fantastic Fox was. He topped Makar and Hughes in xGF/60, GA/60, FA/60, and on-ice save percentage. His prowess in a worse situation was also shown by his relative stats. In fact, Fox led the trio in literally every statistic in Evolving Hockey’s relative-to-teammate tables, except for relGF/60, where Makar topped Fox by 0.04; making the two nearly even. But in the other 14 stats, Fox reigned supreme. In most of them, he actually tallied a higher total than Makar and Hughes combined. It’s a jaw-dropping fact that proves Fox’s bid for the Calder Trophy.
Although Makar and Hughes are frontrunners for the trophy this year, it does have a history of being awarded to other positions. In the 85 seasons it has been handed out, a defenceman has only won 11 times. The award has a history of going to whoever amasses points rather than making contributions in other ways. This year it seems to be headed to a defenceman. But Fox’s season was just as strong as Makar’s and Hughes’. He was the centerpiece of his team’s defence, only shadowed by Panarin’s Hart-nominee-earning season. There’s simply no reason to leave Fox off the ballot, after such a phenomenal performance.