The NHL Awards ballots were sent out this week to voters. I’m once again honored to have one through the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and have spent the past few days figuring out how to determine the regular season’s greatest performances when the 2019-20 campaign was stopped short by a global pandemic.
For the most part, the truncation of the season affects only the dynamics of two major awards: The Jack Adams for coach of the year, which the broadcasters vote on, and the Hart Trophy for league most valuable player, for which the PHWA members vote. These winners are influenced by their team’s places in the standings, with playoff qualification a traditional mandate for both awards. Mario Lemieux remains the only player in the past 51 years to win the Hart while missing the playoffs, as the Penguins were one point shy in 1987-88.
By now, you know my Hart Trophy dogma: My MVP is going to be from a playoff team or a team right on the playoff bubble, for that is how I define a “valuable” contribution from a player. The conundrum, then, is: What constitutes a playoff team this season, given that the regular season ended with 24 teams advancing to the postseason?
The NHL doesn’t consider the qualification round to be “the playoffs.” So if you were a strict constructionist, only the eight teams in the round-robin tournament are currently playoff teams; this would mean that candidates such as Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Artemi Panarin and Connor Hellebuyck aren’t actually on playoff teams yet.
This is absurd — even by my standards.
If you’re part of the postseason, then you’ve been anointed as a playoff team through the NHL’s invitation to keep playing after the regular season has ended. Those players, along with the candidates in the round robin, are all going to be considered for my Hart vote.
Admittedly, the Alternative NHL Awards presented here are far less complicated, because I’m the only vote, the standards are constantly changing and they’re built on a foundation of abject frivolity. So please enjoy this season’s edition, won’t you?
If you track it back to Feb 9, 2019, the Boston Bruins are 79-28-15 in their past 122 regular and postseason games. That includes going 44-14-12 this season, finishing as the only NHL team to break 100 points (in 70 games) with a league-best plus-53 goal differential — and that was after playing all the way to the last game of the Stanley Cup Final last postseason. If there were any justice, coach Bruce Cassidy would get another nomination for the Jack Adams, but coaches of great-but-not-historically-great teams hardly ever win the prize.
It was assumed the Sharks might take a step back after last season’s conference final run, what with Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist, Joonas Donskoi and Justin Braun all having moved on to new teams; the roster being a year older; and, well, that goaltending. But this was a leap backward with the kind of distance you see only in a zero-gravity environment. San Jose finished with a .450 points percentage, as the second-best offensive team last season plummeted to 27th in 2019-20. Players were traded. Coach Pete DeBoer was fired. While there were other disasters in the league, most of those teams still had a first-round lottery pick to fall back on. The Sharks, meanwhile, get to watch the Ottawa Senators use theirs, thanks to the Erik Karlsson trade package.
Meme of the year: The NHL’s ‘Think Different’ campaign
— ℳatt (@matttomic) September 5, 2019
It has not been the greatest social media season for the NHL, starting with NHL Network’s dumb “no soap operas, just hockey” campaign that argued that the NHL was better than cooking shows months before there was an NHL cooking show. But it’s another preseason campaign that wins this honor: The NHL’s reference to Apple’s “Think Different” ads 20 years ago, that were lampooned with aplomb by fans online. We’re still not sure if this was a bad idea by the league marketing team or a brilliant chumming of comedic waters for the meme-thirsty.
The only bummer about this latest feud for Tkachuk — after his beef with Drew Doughty fizzled out — was that he answered “the code” and fought Kassian in their “Battle of Alberta” rematch in an effort to defuse the escalation of said feud. Such a shame to give Kassian that sense of satisfaction after having trolled him into a suspension.
This story is awesome 🙌
David Ayres, a 42-year-old zamboni driver, subbed in as an emergency goalie for the Canes and got the standing ovation after his first NHL win!
— ESPN (@espn) February 23, 2020
It’s not so much that the emergency backup goaltender lived the dream by appearing in and winning an NHL game. It’s that he lived the fever dream: driving the ice resurfacing machine for the team (the Toronto Maple Leafs) that he was tasked with defeating on behalf of the Carolina Hurricanes. He stopped eight of 10 shots and became a hockey icon. “I’m looking forward to being able to do it again. Watching the game, I didn’t feel like I played very well. I was like a stick man on the ice. If I get back on there again, I won’t be as nervous. I’ll be a little bit more loose, and be able to play my game,” Ayres told the Star Phoenix.
Least valuable player: P.K. Subban
This isn’t about the Devils not meeting the hype after they traded for Subban and drafted Jack Hughes first overall … and proceeded to fire their coach and general manager while jettisoning Taylor Hall and limping to a .493 points percentage. This is about Subban finishing last in the league in goals scored above average (-10.1) and wins above replacement (-3.5); about him ending the season at a minus-21, with 18 points in 68 games; and about him establishing career-low averages across the board, including only six points on a power play he was acquired to orchestrate. He has two more seasons in Jersey to atone for it.
Best milestone: Alex Ovechkin hits 700 goals
— NHL (@NHL) April 20, 2020
Please recall the small panic Ovechkin caused after scoring 14 goals in seven games and then going pointless in his next five games, while sitting two goals away from 700. He scored 699 on Feb. 20 and then No. 700 in New Jersey on Feb. 22. His career regular-season goal total sits at 706, so we’ll have to wait until next season to see Ovechkin likely leapfrog Mike Gartner, Phil Esposito, Marcel Dionne and Brett Hull en route to Wayne Gretzky’s 894.
GM of the year: Jeff Gorton
The New York Rangers have to love it when a plan like this comes together. They told their fans they were going to tear down the team and rebuild. They collected a series of draft picks, selected well, and ended up with the best prospect pool in the NHL, according to ESPN’s Chris Peters. Meanwhile, they were able to leverage the appeal of playing in New York City and their financial advantages to land rookie defenseman Adam Fox and star free agent Artemi Panarin. They were two points out of a playoff spot when the season was paused, and are in the 24-team mix for the Stanley Cup. They are, frankly, ahead of schedule under Gorton.
Most shocking GM firing: Ray Shero
The Devils’ general manager inherited a rebuild — and left with the team mired in a different one. In-season general manager firings are rare, but one that happens after the GM is given the agency to fire his head coach and trade pending free-agent star Taylor Hall — the team’s biggest bargaining chip — is downright shocking.
Most shocking hockey-related coach firing (tie): Peter Laviolette and Gerard Gallant
When the Predators fired Laviolette, they were four points out of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference with three games in hand. The assumption was if there was a change, it could come after the season. Instead, it came as the team was 19-15-7 and the new coach was coming off an unmitigated disaster of a season in New Jersey where he was fired. The real stunner: GM David Poile had fired only five coaches in his 37 years, and John Hynes is only the third coach the Predators have ever hired.
Gallant’s firing was stunning, too. Granted, the Knights’ record of 24-19-6 and ninth place in the conference were valid catalysts. But this was the coach of the year in 2017-18, leading an expansion team to the Stanley Cup Final. And his replacement in Vegas was his personal arch nemesis and that of the team: former Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, himself fired earlier in the season.
Best fan moment: Bobby Ryan celebration
This is incredible. Standing ovation for Bobby Ryan. Who gets emotional on the bench.
I really really hope his wife and kids are here right now. pic.twitter.com/BcQ4WFw8Dz
— Hailey Salvian (@hailey_salvian) February 28, 2020
My favorite moment of the season. Those who know Ryan’s backstory know that he has lived quite a life. He sought help this season for substance abuse. In his first game back in Ottawa, on his 100th day of sobriety, he was treated to chants and ovations from fans. That included the celebration for the hat trick he tallied, leading to Ryan crying on the bench during the cheers. The Masterton Trophy voting is ongoing this week. Spoiler warning: He’s atop my list.
PR disaster of the year: Bill Peters
The resignation of Peters as head coach of the Calgary Flames, after accusations of his use of racist language and physical abuse of players, was like a meteor hitting the hockey landscape, scattering debris in a hundred different directions. Did the Flames vet him enough, and should NHL teams do more of it? Why hasn’t the NHL suspended him, as he slunk off to the KHL for a new job? What did his previous employer, the Carolina Hurricanes know, and how did they react?
But mostly, we’ve seen Akim Aliu — the target of his slurs — become a prominent voice in keeping the conversation about race and hockey going, including his new position as co-head of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. And we’ve seen the NHL form four different working groups on race and diversity, born partially from the aftermath of the scandal.
Walk of shame of the year: Corey Perry
I put Boulevard of Broken Dreams over Corey Perry’s Walk of Shame. pic.twitter.com/CT7J911zTm
— Joshua Rey (@JoshuaRey91) January 1, 2020
Perry of the Dallas Stars, a player with a well-earned reputation for dastardly plays, had the most epic walk of shame in NHL history after being ejected from the Winter Classic for a hit on Ryan Ellis. He walked off the ice, down a long pathway and then took an even longer climb through a tunnel to the dressing room at the Cotton Bowl. This was a contender for meme of the year, but we felt it merited its own category.
Quote of the year: Brett Ritchie of the Boston Bruins
Bruins’ Brett Ritchie: “It’s an 82-game season. We weren’t going to go 80-3 or whatever it was.”
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) December 11, 2019
Flub of the year: Brad Marchand in the shootout
File this under “things we’ve never seen before”
Brad Marchand overskates the puck at centre ice in the shootout so the Flyers win. �� pic.twitter.com/9DrriRNyri
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 14, 2020
The Philadelphia Flyers were leading in the shootout by a goal when Marchand set up for his attempt to tie the score. The Bruins’ star skated up to the puck and … missed it. Unfortunately, not all of it: By grazing the top of the disc, it counted as a failed shootout attempt.
“When he skated by, we were kind of confused. We weren’t sure if we won or not, but then the ref confirmed it. I mean, you could see the puck move,” Flyers goalie Carter Hart said.
Save of the Year by Marc-Andre Fleury or… ? pic.twitter.com/QX5YM0oL7l
— NHL (@NHL) November 20, 2019
This was absolutely incredible. The Maple Leafs’ Ilya Mikheyev beat Fleury with a shot off the rush, but the puck hit the crossbar. It caromed off the boards in the right corner to Nic Petan and he had the entire net empty in front of him because Fleury ventured to the top of his crease to challenge the shot. He flipped a quick backhander … and Fleury lunged back, with full extension, and snapped his glove out to snag the puck before it crossed the line.
“It was fun,” Fleury said after the game. “A little lucky because I didn’t stop the first one because it hit the crossbar. It’s good when you get those second saves to redeem yourself.” Just another reason he’s the NHL’s prototypical goalie for desperation saves.
Goal of the year: Connor McDavid vs. Toronto
WHAT A MOVE. WHAT A GOAL. ��
New year, same Connor McDavid. ��♂️ pic.twitter.com/mwNERgAx0X
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 7, 2020
It has been said that McDavid does things with the puck at full speed that other players would have trouble doing at half-speed. Let’s add “no-look head fakes that deke an opposing defenseman out of his skates” to the list, formally. One of the most exciting athletes in the world, no debate.
Three things about the Chicago Blackhawks‘ 2010 Stanley Cup win
1. This week marked the 10-year anniversary of Patrick Kane‘s overtime goal to deliver the Blackhawks their first Stanley Cup championship since 1961. It was sixth in our countdown of the most memorably weird playoff overtime goals ever. It’s a moment I’ll never forget for its sheer awkwardness.
For the uninitiated, the media heads down from the press box before a potential Cup-clinching game has been decided. We all corral near the Zamboni entrance, preparing to shuffle onto the ice for postgame interviews in the event one team clinches the series.
Now, there’s something else you should know about watching the game in the bowels of an arena: The crowd tells you something happened a dozen seconds before you see it on the simulcast. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve heard end before I saw them end.
That was the case in Philadelphia when the Blackhawks won. We were all standing in a mass of humanity in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center as overtime was ongoing, watching on the monitors. When Kane scored to win the Cup, he started celebrating, but it took everyone else a few moments to comprehend what happened. I’m going to do my best to describe the noise we heard when that goal was scored: It was like someone had attached a vacuum to the arena and was sucking out all the sound; then there was yelling in the distance, the low echoes of a celebration on the ice; then, behind us, these loud, bellowing, ecstatic cheers coming from the electronic media visiting from Chicago, dropping any pretense of decorum to enthusiastically acknowledge that the Blackhawks had eliminated the Flyers. That’s how it played out in the bowels, as surreal in the tunnel as it was on the ice.
2. What happened to the game-winning, Cup-clinching puck? It has been a source of some hockey scholarship through the years, sparked by a $50,000 reward offered by Harry Caray’s Restaurant for the missing puck. Wayne Drehs of ESPN had an extensive report on the puck and the theory that linesman Steve Miller had it, using video evidence from Crossing Broad as a jumping-off point. Miller has said he never touched the puck, but the Chicago Tribune showed definitively that he had. Kris Versteeg recently said on NBC Sports Chicago had he seen Miller pull it out of the meshing.
The Outside The Lines report all but places the puck with Miller. But he has denied having it: “I never touched it,” he told ESPN in 2011. “And if I did, I would have handed it over right after the game if I had it.”
I enjoyed Ed Olczyk‘s take on it: “Hopefully you’ll be able to see it, but probably somewhere in 25-30 years all of a sudden somebody will be maybe auctioning it off, the puck there, on SpaceFace or some worldwide auction company, an auction house will be auctioning off the goal that Patrick Kane scored to win the Stanley Cup in 2010. I would have to say that it will arise from the ashes at some point. I do believe it will. I do not know who or how or where, but I do believe at some point we’ll see it.”
3. As much as the Blackhawks’ win was the most memorable moment of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, I’ll always remember them for Chris Pronger. This was the second time in his career that Pronger put a team on his back and carried it to the Stanley Cup Final, after Edmonton in 2006. He didn’t have his best series against the Blackhawks on the ice, but it might have been the apex of his career as a pest.
Please recall Pronger stealing the game puck in the Blackhawks’ first two wins of the series. Some of us thought it was a stunt to pull the spotlight away from the struggles of his team against Chicago. Pronger confirmed recently that it was targeted harassment of the Blackhawks.
“I was trying to piss them off, really. I didn’t necessarily think that it would gain the national attention that it did, but really I was just trying to piss them off,” Pronger told the Snow The Goalie podcast.
What inspired him, in part, was seeing that the Blackhawks had a shrine that collected their game-winning pucks in the dressing room. “If we lose a game, I’m not giving them a puck. Why should they get it? When you win a game, you don’t win a puck. It’s not their puck. It’s the league’s puck,” he said.
While we don’t know what happened to Kane’s game-winning puck, we know what happened to Pronger’s stolen pucks. “I have one. The first game, I threw it in the garbage. The second game, it’s sitting right over here on my desk,” he said with a laugh.
Listen To ESPN On Ice
With Emily Kaplan on vacation, we spoke with Dimitri Filipovic of ESPN, along with Alison Lukan and Murat Ates of The Athletic about the NHL Awards, playoff matchups and the ongoing struggle for the NHL in dealing with issues of racial injustice and inequality. Listen, rate and subscribe here!
Winners and losers of the week
Winner: Hockey Diversity Alliance
Congrats to Evander Kane, Akim Aliu and the other members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance for creating an independent entity to further the causes of diversity and inclusion for hockey. While I’m hopeful that NHL executive VP Kim Davis and the league’s new working groups on diversity can produce effective change, getting a nudge from the outside can push the NHL forward on these issues.
Loser: Best intentions
I completely understand what the NHL was attempting with that video it created (and has since deleted) featuring Tyler Seguin at a #BlackLivesMatter protest. It’s the kind of “actions, not words” example we’ve all demanded from white NHL stars that have spoken out against racial injustice in the past dozen days, whom the league has been amplifying to its millions of social media followers.
Best intentions, poor execution: When the video started featuring comments from fans praising Seguin, it veered off into marketing rather than advocacy. That’s where the backlash was justified, and that’s the lesson the league should take from this.
Winner: Xavier Gutierrez
Fabulous news from the Arizona Coyotes, as Gutierrez becomes the first Latino team president and CEO in NHL history. “I think this is the continuation of a lot of efforts of what came before me to have this sport and this league reach out to new fans,” he said.
Loser: Eugene Melnyk
This ugly split between the Ottawa Senators and the Sens Foundation, and a scathing Ottawa Sun report about it, have put the most problematic owner in the NHL back into focus. Sean McIndoe of The Athletic has a chronicle of the chronic issues with the Senators owner, whom the NHL continues to stress is an owner in good standing with the league.
Winner: Shifting perspectives
It was inevitable that John Tortorella was going to have to address global protests over police brutality four years after he said that he would bench any player that peacefully demonstrated during the national anthem. What I did not expect was Tortorella saying he would no longer punish a player that took a knee during the anthem, in an interview with The Athletic.
“I have learned over the years, listening and watching, that men and women who choose to kneel during this time mean no disrespect toward the flag,” he said, adding that he’d like to see “a moment of unity and reflection prior to the national anthem dedicated to protesting the racial injustice in our world.” Listening is good. Growth is good. Kudos to Torts for doing both.
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
Strong words from Geoff Molson for those who want the Montreal Canadiens to hire a president of hockey operations. “I don’t really have to prove myself. I’ve been doing this for 11 years. I now have a lot of experience in it and I feel confident in my abilities. The media can judge however they choose to.”
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN