I’ve only seen the Los Angeles Kings play a couple of games this season, but I’ve already penciled in the name Drew Doughty next to Calder Trophy on my virtual NHL awards ballot.
This 18-year-old man-child is the real deal. On a young Kings lineup, Doughty plays the seasoned vet. He logs the second most minutes on the team, quarterbacks the power play and is the steadiest defenseman on the Kings in 5-on-5 situations.
Doughty, drafted second overall behind Steven Stamkos in 2008, moves the puck with a high panic threshold that makes him look like a Nicklas Lidstrom or Scott Niedermayer. He’s not shy about pinching in from the blueline and joining the rush when other more seasoned (and brainwashed) defensemen sit back and play it safe.
Even physically, he looks much older than his almost 19 years. At 6-foot-1, he’s big-boned and well coordinated in his 210-pound frame. His facial features look like a player well into his 20s.
In short, Doughty is fun to watch. He reminds me a little of Denis Potvin when he was first getting started with the Islanders in the mid-1970s. Maybe moving up to 29th from 30th on the last few days of the 2007-08 regular season wasn’t such a bad thing for Los Angeles, after all.
It’s time the NHL did away with the Sergei Makarov rule and made all first-year players eligible for the Calder Trophy.
The Makarov rule, which prevents rookies 26 or older from winning the award, was put in place in 1990 after the Russian great arrived in the NHL at 31 and had an 86-point season to win the award over Mike Modano.
The rule made sense at the time because the doors were opening for seasoned stars from overseas to join the NHL. Now, the NHL can draft and reasonably expect players to make the team from hockey countries worldwide. So why have an age cutoff? And why 26? That’s arbitrary.
That’s also age discrimination.
It’s funny the NHL has a rule about a player being too old to be considered the best rookie, but there’s a loophole in the rulebook that could enable a “first-year player” to have 251 games of NHL experience and still be called a rookie.
To be eligible for the Calder, a player cannot have played more than 25 games in any single preceding season, nor six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons. He cannot also be 26 or older.
So, hypothetically, an 18-year-old plays five games his first season, then gets sent back to junior. The team needs him in the playoffs and he’s part of a 28-game run to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final. Only the regular season games count against his status so he’s still a rookie in Year 2.
As a 19-year-old, he gets demoted again after five games. But the team needs him again for another magical playoff run. He’ll still be a rookie in Year 3. Same thing happens for the next four seasons. Then in his seventh year at age 24, he plays 25 regular season games and 28 in the playoffs.
That means going into his eighth partial season at age 25, he’ll have 55 career regular season games to his credit and 196 more in the playoffs. And he’s still eligible for the Calder. Yet a 28-year-old first-year player such as goalie Niklas Backstrom in 2006-07 was too old for the Calder.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his blog each weekend.
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