Mikhail Sergachev burst onto the scene for the Tampa Bay Lightning after being acquired in an off-season trade with the Montreal Canadiens. The Russian defenseman was handled with kid gloves early on in the season by the Lightning coaching staff, but his role and responsibilities have continued to grow.
He’s performing so well that he could be in the conversation for the Calder Trophy race for the rookie of the year. But it’s a deep class. There are a lot of really talented rookies in the NHL this season and there are plenty that will be vying for a spot as a finalist and as the ultimate winner.
Let’s look at the reasons why Sergachev will and will not win the Calder Trophy.
Why Sergachev Will Win
The biggest plus that Sergachev has going for him is that he’s on pace to put up an offensive performance that no rookie defenseman has accomplished in over 20 years. Through 35 games, Sergachev has eight goals, 15 assists, and 23 points. Over a 82 game season, that puts him on pace for 19 goals, 35 assists, and 54 points.
The last rookie defenseman to break the 50 point threshold was Vladimir Malakhov in 1992-93 with the New York Islanders, with 14 goals, 38 assists, and 52 points. The previous 60-point scorer was Hall of Famer Niklas Lidstrom a year prior with 11 goals and 49 assists for 60 points. Both players missed out on the Calder Trophy losing to Teemu Selanne and Pavel Bure respectively. Malakhov came in 5th in voting and Lidstrom came in 2nd.
There have also only been 13 rookie defensemen to score 40 points or more since Malakhov’s 50 point performance. Dion Phaneuf had the best performance of that group with 20 goals and 49 points in 2005-06 for the Calgary Flames. Phaneuf finished third in the Calder voting behind Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Talk about some tough competition there.
If Sergachev makes it to 18 goals, that’d also be the highest mark for a rookie defenseman since Phaneuf’s season.
Why Sergachev Won’t Win
There are so many amazing forwards in the rookie scoring race right now. Matthew Barzal with the New York Islanders leads the way after his hat trick on Saturday that pushed him to 12 goals, 23 assists, and 35 points.
The Vancouver Canucks’ Brock Boeser has been the leader of the rookies for a while before falling just behind Barzal with his 19 goals which leads all rookies.
Clayton Keller with the Arizona Coyotes has been one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise miserable start to the season for his team and currently sits third in scoring. Somewhat overlooked as well among rookie forwards is that Yanni Gourde is a rookie and is hanging out in the top five scorers as well.
The top three however all will have great arguments to be the three finalists if they continue to score like they have. It’s not inconceivable for Barzal and Boeser to both end up with over 30 goals and 70+ points. Keller will have more trouble continuing his scoring pace I think simply due to the lack of talent around him. Boeser is also in a similar spot in Vancouver especially since the Canucks are dealing with injuries to a couple of their other top young players.
On the defensive side, Sergachev does lead defensemen in rookie scoring and tied for 13th among all defensemen. Will Butcher is tied with him with two goals, 21 assists and 23 points. But the real challenger on the blue line is Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins.
McAvoy sits only a handful of points behind Sergachev with 5 goals and 19 points. Sergachev has greater offensive capabilities than McAvoy and plays on a more offensively talented team which both have contributed to Sergachev putting up more points. Both have very good possession numbers when you want to dig a little deeper, but McAvoy’s possession relative to the rest of the Bruins is a bigger difference than Sergachev’s compared to his Lightning teammates.
If Sergachev can close the TOI gap with McAvoy while continuing to put up the same kind of numbers, then the advanced stats argument will get better for Sergachev when comparing him to McAvoy.
But one of the major pluses for McAvoy is that he’s playing over 23 minutes a night for the Bruins. He is already playing a top pairing defenseman role and taking on the top opposition lines night after night. Sergachev is only averaging 15:10. Though that average has been creeping up, defensemen rarely win the Calder Trophy unless they are over 20 minutes.
Sergachev would need to average at least 23 minutes of TOI for the rest of the season to get his season TOI to 20 minutes a game. And that TOI difference gives the edge to Charlie McAvoy when talking about the defensive candidates for the Calder.
What Sergachev Needs to do to Win
Really, Sergachev shouldn’t be worried about it. If he wins it, it will be a nice bonus and will mean he has had a spectacular season. Maybe even a near-Norris level season since that’s likely what it would take for him to beat out Barzal and Boeser if they continue to score the way they have been for the rest of the season.
And the reality is hitting some milestones that haven’t been hit in a while is no guarantee that he’ll win the Calder Trophy either. Only three defensemen have won the Calder Trophy in the past 19 years and five in the past 30 years. The past three defensemen winners all did it while playing over 20 minutes a night. There’s a steep hill for Sergachev to get over to separate himself from the forward candidates and McAvoy in this race.
If I had to guess the three Calder Finalists right now, it would be Boeser, Barzal and McAvoy with Boeser winning it. Before the season, Keller was my prediction for the winner.