The Calder Memorial Trophy is named in honour of Frank Calder, the former President of the National Hockey League (NHL) from its inception in 1917 to his death in 1943. Although Rookie of the Year honors were handed out beginning in 1932–33, the Calder Trophy was first presented at the conclusion of the 1936–37 NHL season. After Calder's death in 1943 the trophy was renamed the Calder Memorial Trophy.
In 1990, Sergei Makarov of the Calgary Flames became the oldest player, at age 31, to win the trophy, even though he had played for HC CSKA Moscow (the "Red Army" team) in the Soviet Union. After that season, the rules for awarding the Calder were amended so that players could only be eligible if they were younger than 26 years old by September 15 of their rookie season.
To be eligible for the award, a player cannot have played any more than 25 regular season games previously in any single season, nor have played in more than six regular season games in each of two separate preceding seasons in any major professional league. The latter fact was perhaps most prominent when in the 1979–80 season, first-year phenom Wayne Gretzky was not eligible to win the Calder Trophy despite scoring 137 points (the previous rookie record at the time being 95), because he had played a full season the previous year in the World Hockey Association. In 1991, goaltender Ed Belfour won the Calder having previously appeared in 32 games with the Chicago Blackhawks over the 1988–89 and 1989–90 seasons. Belfour was eligible for the award because nine of those appearances came during the 1990 Stanley Cup playoffs, and the other 23 appearances were made during the 1988-89 season. The nine playoff games did not count towards the regular season eligibility requirements. In 2010–11, Logan Couture was eligible for the Calder Trophy despite having played in 40 previous games (25 in the regular season and 15 in the playoffs, both in 2009–10), while Alex Pietrangelo was ineligible despite having played only 17 previous games (eight in 2008–09 and nine in 2009–10, both times sent back to juniors).
The trophy has been won the most times by rookies from the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have won it on ten occasions, with the most recent being Auston Matthews in 2017. The voting is conducted at the end of the regular season by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, and each individual voter ranks their top five candidates on a 10–7–5–3–1 points system. Three finalists are named and the trophy is awarded at the NHL Awards ceremony after the playoffs.