Quinn Hughes or Cale Makar? Breaking Down the Calder Trophy Debate
Both rookie defenseman have had phenomenal seasons, but only one can take home the rookie of the year.
Let's start with Dominik Kubalik here, because he really is the third wheel of this Calder Trophy competition. Kubalik, a seventh round pick by the Los Angeles Kings in 2013, finally made his NHL debut in 2019 after six years playing in Europe. For the Blackhawks at the age of 24, he enjoyed a thirty goal season despite the shortened season.
Behind Kubalik in Calder consideration are the likes of Adam Fox and Victor Olofsson. Fox, a defenseman out of Harvard, had an excellent year manning the New York Rangers blue line. Olofsson no doubt would have been the third Calder nominee ahead of Kubalik were it not for his injury that saw him miss fifteen games before the break.
The real argument though is Quinn Hughes vs. Cale Makar.
Hughes had three more points than Makar in the regular season, but Makar played in eleven less games, making his points per game significantly better. In addition, his plus/minus, while no doubt not a perfect stat, was 22 points better than Hughes'. That has got to mean something. The last time a rookie defenseman won the Calder with a negative plus/minus was Denis Potvin in 1974, and Hughes' sits at -10.
Many Hughes supporters have argued that the Canucks rookie has just meant more to his team than Makar has. Vancouver was a fringe playoff team before the season came to a crashing halt, and most likely would not have been a top eight team without Hughes. On the other side, Makar was on the Western Conference's second best team, so seen as less important to his club.
That all might be true, but I don't think to the extent that is being portrayed. The Canucks jumped five spots in the standings from last season, while the Avalanche jumped six. Yes, the Avs did add a few pieces in the offseason, but they have played a lot of games without Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen as well.
To argue that Makar has not been very valuable to his team just doesn't make sense. And to say that Colorado's forwards carried them is once again not true, as Makar was the team's second leading point scorer (Hughes was fourth on his team).
I really am not exaggerating when I say that there just aren't many (if any) players in the NHL like Cale Makar. He just does it all. He is incredibly comfortable with the puck, and consistently makes guys miss. His skating is so silky smooth that it makes it seem like he is going slowly, but then suddenly you see him flying by an opponent. His footwork side to side is on another level as well. Watch him walk the blue line and you will know what I mean.
His shot will not wow you with its power, but he has deadly accuracy. He is also excellent on the power play, and can play physical as well. At 5'11", 187 lbs, he is very sturdy, and honestly looks bigger than his height suggests.
Quinn Hughes is a little smaller than Makar. Hughes is also excellent with the puck on his stick, but in a different way from Makar. Both players are still working on their defensive games, but by no means are they a liability. Their inexperience definitely causes some lapses in the defensive zone, but they will only improve in that aspect.
Both players are phenomenal talents, and will no doubt be battling each other for Norris Trophies for years to come. This Calder race is incredibly close. A lot of pundits are leaning towards Hughes, but I have to go with Makar on this one. I just think that Cale Makar is the superior talent, and impacts the game more than Hughes is able to.