Shayne Gostisbehere's name was already on the lips of national hockey commentators throughout North America after his eye-opening start in November and early December. Three overtime game-winning goals and plenty of highlight reel plays will certainly do that for a young defenseman.
Now, it's Gostisbehere's twelve-game point streak (three goals, twelve assists) that is gaining national attention. In fact, his recent surge even has the Flyers defenseman receiving hype as a viable candidate for the Calder Trophy, given to league's best rookie of the regular season.
Gostisbehere surely has strong competition. Players like Chicago's Artemi Panarin, Detroit's Dylan Larkin, Buffalo's Jack Eichel, Calgary's Sam Bennett, Arizona's Max Domi and Anthony Duclair and St. Louis' Colton Parayko are all in contention, and that's not even accounting for the much-hyped Connor McDavid, who has been stellar since his return from a broken collarbone. But Gostisbehere's counting statistics (31 points in 37 games) make for a strong opening case, especially for a defenseman.
So does the Ghost Bear have a chance at the Calder? There are two tests he'll need to pass in order to have a realistic shot - the stat test, and the smell test. The former will get him past the evidence-centric members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, while a strong narrative will likely hold more sway with those less inclined to use statistics as the backbone of their reasoning.
Let's take a look at where Gostisbehere falls in both.
Gostisbehere versus other rookie defensemen
Due to Shayne Gostisbehere's position, it's far easier to make an apples-to-apples comparison between him and the other qualifying rookie defensemen than to compare him to the entire field. So we'll start there.
Fifteen defensemen both qualify as rookies under the NHL parameters and have played at least 30 games so far this season. We'll begin with their respective puck possession statistics - it would be difficult to justify one as a viable rookie of the year candidate if his team does not drive play when he is on the ice.
|Player||Team||Corsi Relative to Teammates||Corsi For|
|Colton Parayko||St. Louis Blues||+3.94%||54.06%|
|Brandon Davidson||Edmonton Oilers||+3.83%||52.07%|
|Joel Edmundson||St. Louis Blues||+2.57%||52.67%|
|Colin Miller||Boston Bruins||+2.23%||51.31%|
|Shayne Gostisbehere||Philadelphia Flyers||+1.54%||50.64%|
|Jake McCabe||Buffalo Sabres||+0.98%||48.75%|
|Ben Hutton||Vancouver Canucks||+0.85%||47.91%|
|Alexey Marchenko||Detroit Red Wings||+0.20%||51.44%|
|Noah Hanifin||Carolina Hurricanes||-0.40%||52.20%|
|Jaccob Slavin||Carolina Hurricanes||-0.95%||51.18%|
|Brett Pesce||Carolina Hurricanes||-1.30%||52.31%|
|Trevor van Riemsdyk||Chicago Blackhawks||-2.51%||49.66%|
|Chris Wideman||Ottawa Senators||-2.54%||45.27%|
|Klas Dahlbeck||Arizona Coyotes||-3.73%||43.73%|
|Darnell Nurse||Edmonton Oilers||-5.90%||45.41%|
[NOTE: All tabled statistics in this piece are accurate through Friday, February 12.]
Gostisbehere is right in the running. He's not at the top of the list, as the Blues' Parayko has been a revelation in his rookie season. But he's solidly in the plus column, posting viable second-pairing defenseman possession statistics.
We can easily remove van Riemsdyk, Wideman, Dalhbeck and Nurse from the discussion, as their possession statistics are solidly below their team's average. The Hurricanes' trio of young defensemen are on the edge, but Carolina is a particularly strong possession team, and the fact that they all have posted Corsi For percentages of 51% keeps them on the list for now.
But shot attempt differential is not the point of hockey - it's merely a means to an end. The real aim is to score goals (and prevent the other team from doing the same). As a result, let's now look at the remaining defensemen and their ability to generate points so far this season, both at 5-on-5 and in all situations.
|Player||Team||5v5 Points/60||Overall Points/60|
|Shayne Gostisbehere||Philadelphia Flyers||1.37||2.64|
|Colin Miller||Boston Bruins||1.00||1.47|
|Colton Parayko||St. Louis Blues||0.97||1.17|
|Ben Hutton||Vancouver Canucks||0.93||1.05|
|Joel Edmundson||St. Louis Blues||0.66||0.61|
|Jake McCabe||Buffalo Sabres||0.66||0.66|
|Jaccob Slavin||Carolina Hurricanes||0.63||0.92|
|Brett Pesce||Carolina Hurricanes||0.56||0.98|
|Noah Hanifin||Carolina Hurricanes||0.55||0.66|
|Alexey Marchenko||Detroit Red Wings||0.47||0.40|
|Brandon Davidson||Edmonton Oilers||0.40||0.57|
Here's where the Ghost Bear really stands out. He's ahead in terms of 5-on-5 scoring by a significant margin over Miller, Parayko and Hutton, and absolutely laps the field in overall Points/60. He's been the most efficient point producer among rookie blueliners by far.
At this point, only three players rank in the top five in both categories - Gostisbehere, Parayko and Miller. But this really turns out to be a choice between Parayko and Gostisbehere, since Miller's possession statistics are fairly close to those of the Flyers' defenseman while his point totals fall far short. Who has been more impressive - the solid possession player with great scoring totals, or the great possession blueliner with decent point production?
Let's look at the overall league ranks for each to see which metric is more impressive when compared to Gostisbehere and Parayko's peers.
|Player||Corsi Rel League Rank||5v5 Points/60 Rank||Overall Points/60 Rank|
This isn't necessarily a slam-dunk for Gostisbehere. Parayko is strong in all categories, while the Flyers defenseman skews heavily in the point production direction. But it should be noted that this is when compared to all NHL defensemen. Gostisbehere has legitimately been one of the three best scoring blueliners this season, with only Ottawa's Erik Karlsson and Dallas' John Klingberg having viable cases to rank ahead of Ghost.
Parayko deserves to be in the Calder discussion as well. But when accounting for the fact that Gostisbehere's standout skill ranks him among the league-best while not being a liability elsewhere, it's fair to place him a cut above the Blues' defenseman at this point.
Ghost versus the field
As previously mentioned, it's more difficult to compare Gostisbehere to the vast majority of the Calder field, due to the fact that the rest of the top candidates (other than Parayko) are all forwards. Strong point production for a defenseman is more like middle-of-the-road scoring for a top-six forward. Still, let's start by comparing Gostisbehere to the top candidates who have played at least 30 games, looking at on-ice shot attempt differential, even strength scoring, and overall scoring.
|Player||Team||5v5 Points/60||5v5 Corsi Rel||Overall Points/60|
|Dylan Larkin||Detroit Red Wings||2.59||-0.62%||2.59|
|Artemi Panarin||Chicago Blackhawks||2.25||+3.25%||3.01|
|Anthony Duclair||Arizona Coyotes||1.98||+6.39%||2.19|
|Sam Bennett||Calgary Flames||1.89||+2.23%||2.14|
|Max Domi||Arizona Coyotes||1.89||-2.34%||2.46|
|Nikolaj Ehlers||Winnipeg Jets||1.43||+3.22%||1.87|
|Jack Eichel||Buffalo Sabres||1.43||-3.20%||2.09|
|Shayne Gostisbehere||Philadelphia Flyers||1.37||+1.54%||2.64|
Particularly in even strength scoring, Gostisbehere unsurprisingly lags behind his competition, though he does compare quite well once power play production is factored in (none of these players spend much time killing penalties, so think of Overall Points/60 as 5v5 + PP scoring).
But now let's see where each ranks relative to their positional peers. Let's compare Ghost to all other NHL blueliners, and the forwards to their brethren as well. Since there are more forwards in the league than defensemen, we can use percentiles to try and have the most fair comparison possible (min. 30 NHL games).
|Player||Team||5v5 Points/60 Positional Percentile||5v5 Corsi Rel Positional Percentile||Overall Points/60 Positional Percentile|
|Dylan Larkin||Detroit Red Wings||99.0%||33.2%||89.6%|
|Shayne Gostisbehere||Philadelphia Flyers||98.9%||68.2%||100.0%|
|Artemi Panarin||Chicago Blackhawks||95.2%||73.0%||97.8%|
|Anthony Duclair||Arizona Coyotes||82.7%||96.9%||73.4%|
|Sam Bennett||Calgary Flames||78.5%||63.6%||69.0%|
|Max Domi||Arizona Coyotes||78.2%||20.8%||84.6%|
|Nikolaj Ehlers||Winnipeg Jets||45.0%||72.3%||53.9%|
|Jack Eichel||Buffalo Sabres||44.6%||13.1%||66.1%|
The real top candidates are finally starting to shine through. Larkin is primarily in the race due to his stellar scoring statistics, while Duclair's case comes from fantastic on-ice shot attempt differentials combined with solid point production. Max Domi is a lesser version of Larkin, while Ehlers a weaker Duclair. Jack Eichel appears to be in the conversation mostly due to counting statistics and preexisting hype.
What may be most striking is the similarity of Gostisbehere's resume to that of Panarin. Both players are near the top of their respective positions in point production, and have strong-but-not-stellar Corsi ratings. Panarin is supposedly way out in front of the field right now, but when accounting for position, Gostisbehere is right there with him in the key advanced metrics.
Gostisbehere's case is undeniably strong. From a rate statistics standpoint, he absolutely deserves to be in the conversation for the Calder Trophy.
The case against Gostisbehere
After breaking down the statistics, it appears that the talk surrounding Shayne Gostisbehere and his case to be crowned as Rookie of the Year is legitimate. Still, there are many factors that could work against him.
The first is his lack of appearances in comparison to his competition. The three other best candidates (Panarin, Larkin, Duclair) all began the regular season with their respective teams. As a result, each has played over 50 games already, while Gostisbehere just reached the 37-game mark on Sunday night.
From a value added standpoint, Ghost simply cannot get those games back, even if he continues at his current pace. In addition, he is already at a disadvantage to his peers due to his position of defense, which rarely garners the flashy end-of-year scoring totals of forwards. 64 games (his total if Gostisbehere does not miss another contest) simply may not be enough to catch the attention of point-obsessed voters.
Also, the Flyers remain a long shot to make the playoffs, while Panarin's team is a lock and Larkin's squad seems likely to make it as well. Some voters do take team performance into account, which could hurt Gostisbehere.
And like the rest of the rookie class, he will have to contend with superprospect Connor McDavid, who has scored 12 points in seven games since his return from injury. He'll finish the season with far less games than even Gostisbehere, but his point per game rate statistics are looking like they may dwarf the competition.
Still, the Philadelphia defenseman has other things going for him. Like Panarin and Larkin, he's a human highlight-reel and national writers should see more big plays from him through the remainder of the regular season. In addition, the Flyers always receive lots of nationally-televised games, so he won't lack for opportunities to wow out-of-towners.
The numbers may be strong for Gostisbehere, and national visibility won't be a problem. But he does have some very real obstacles to overcome.
Shayne Gostisbehere's case for the Calder Trophy isn't just smoke and mirrors. His stellar point production keeps him one step ahead of the rest of the rookie defenseman class, and his 2015-16 performance compares favorably to top award contenders Artemi Panarin, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Duclair after accounting for position.
The fact that Gostisbehere did not start the season with the Flyers could hold him back, however. In addition, his raw point totals are unlikely to match those of Panarin and Larkin simply due to the fact that they play forward while Gostisbehere is a defenseman.
Gostisbehere's best bet is to continue putting up these stellar point totals, and hope that a narrative begins to form showing the unprecedented nature of that level of performance from a rookie defenseman. Combine that with some trepidation on the part of writers regarding Panarin's older age (24) and extended career in the professional KHL, and Gostisbehere could potentially slip by his competition and earn himself a trophy.