We’ve hit the quarter mark of the NHL season, which means you’ll be seeing a lot of those early award stories over the next week. They’re all pretty much how you’d expect. Carey Price is in the running for the Hart and Vezina. Shea Weber is leading Norris ballots. Penguins goaltender Matt Murray is a contender for the Calder.
Your eyes do not deceive you. Yahoo! Sports put down Murray as their leading pick for the NHL’s best rookie. And they’re actually able to do so, because he is eligible for the award despite leading the Penguins through the playoffs to a Stanley Cup.
In case you need a refresher, Murray led the Penguins on an incredible run to their second Stanley Cup in eight years last season. Pittsburgh rolled with veteran Marc-Andre Fleury through most of the year, until a concussion in April sidelined him for the remainder of the regular season.
The Penguins had no choice but to play Murray for the remainder of that time and into the playoffs, where he was pretty spectacular! Murray played 21 games in the playoffs, riding a .923 save percentage with 15 wins to his name. He outdueled Vezina winner Braden Holtby, among a handful of other great goaltenders, along the way. Murray faded a bit against San Jose, but by then the Stanley Cup was all but Pittsburgh’s for the taking.
So, how is Murray able to contend for the NHL’s rookie of the year award when he’s played a key part in his team’s Stanley Cup run from last year? Let’s consult the rulebook!
The NHL has pages on their website dedicated to the individual league awards and their rules. Here’s a breakdown of what makes a player Calder Trophy eligible, emphasis mine.
To be eligible for the award, a player cannot have played more than 25 games in any single preceding season nor in six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons in any major professional league. Beginning in 1990-91, to be eligible for this award a player must not have attained his twenty-sixth birthday by September 15th of the season in which he is eligible.
That first bolded point is simple. Murray played 13 games in the regular season then 21 in the playoffs, meaning his 34 combined games would put him over the top for eligibility, right? Not exactly. The rule doesn’t say it, but in fact players are only ineligible if they go over 25 regular season games. Not combined games. But regular season games only. It's why he wasn't given votes for last year's Calder Trophy despite his incredible story.
This isn’t the first time the rule has given eligibility to a goaltender after playoff success the previous season. Blackhawks goaltender Ed Belfour won the Calder in 1991 despite playing 32 games between two seasons, nine during the 1990 Stanley Cup playoffs and then 23 during the 1988-89 season.
If nominated for the Calder, Murray would be the second eligible player in the history of the award to have won the Stanley Cup in his prior season. Ken Dryden was the first back in 1972 after leading the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup — and earning the Conn Smythe Trophy while he was at it — the prior season with six regular season games and 20 playoff games.
As for that second point, Murray is only 22 years old so he passes the 26th birthday requirement with flying colors.
So, is it possible Murray gets nominated? Yahoo! Sports thinks so, at least. And the numbers, well they’re pretty good, too. Murray is 7-1 on the year with a .939 save percentage. His success is already churning up trade talks on Fleury, and it’s becoming clear that Murray is the Penguins' goaltender of the future.
But, is his outstanding year a bigger story than what Patrik Laine is doing in Winnipeg? Or how Zach Werenski is transforming the Blue Jackets' blue line into a dangerous weapon? And you can’t forget Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in Toronto. It’s a deep class Murray would have to fight through to get one of the three nominations by season’s end.
It’s not an impossible feat by any means, especially if Murray blows away the hockey world like he did in the playoffs. He’s shown the ability to exceed expectations before, and Murray could do so again for the chance at history.