To nobody’s surprise, Connor McDavid looks like he will be adding more hardware to his trophy case this June, most notably the Art Ross Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, and the Hart Memorial Trophy, but there’s another prestigious award that he could be receiving at the end of the season as well. McDavid could also be the recipient of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded to the play who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. McDavid has battled back from a near career-ending injury but has still managed to lead the league in scoring for nearly the entire first half of the season.
It was the final game of the season and the Edmonton Oilers were taking on the Calgary Flames. The game had no importance other than the chance for bragging rights, Calgary had already secured first place in the Western Conference, while Edmonton was starting their golf season early once again. Edmonton won the game 3-1, but lost their captain and star player due to injury.
Early in the second period McDavid was carrying the puck into Calgary’s zone and was making an attempt to drive the net. As he was cutting towards the net, Flames defenceman Mark Giordano managed to take McDavid’s legs out with his stick as he went for the puck, causing the Oilers star to crash into the net legs first, with his knee taking most of the impact. Time momentarily stood still in the hockey world as we watched the face of the NHL struggle to get back up to his feet.
It was originally diagnosed as a small PCL tear, but as we learned in the recently released trailer for ‘Whatever It Takes’, a documentary about McDavid’s incredible comeback story, his injury was revealed to be a lot more complicated than what was originally reported.
After being assessed by multiple medical professionals it was confirmed that McDavid had suffered a major knee injury. He tore his PCL completely in half, and also suffered torn lining on the back of his knee joint and a crack in the front of his tibia. Initially it was recommended that McDavid undergo reconstructive surgery, but if he went through with the procedure he would miss the entire 2019-20 season, and it could possibly have permanent effects on the way he skates and how his knee functions as a whole.
McDavid and his camp then consulted with three more doctors who decided that it may be better for him to rehab the injury without surgery. The young Oilers’ captain was forced to make a decision that could have a huge impact on his career moving forward.
McDavid made the decision to allow his injury to heal on its own through a strict regimen of stabilization, diet, exercise, and rehab. This was the most advanced non-surgical rehabilitation programs ever attempted on a star athlete.
With the help of Dr. Mark Lindsay, former NHLer Gary Roberts, and a team of physiotherapists and coaches, McDavid was back on the ice just 179 days after suffering the injury to his knee. He scored one goal in a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on opening night.
Other Deserving Candidates
There has been a lot of well-deserved Masterton Trophy winners since the award was introduced in 1968. From Brian Boyle returning to the NHL after battling leukemia to Gary Roberts who successfully recovered from a possible career-ending surgery to correct bone spurs and nerve damage. This years crop of nominees will rank up there with some of the best feel-good stories that we’ve ever heard.
Stephen Johns from the Dallas Stars is someone who has showed amazing perseverance in his battle back to the NHL. He was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, but didn’t break into the NHL until the 2015-16 season, as a member of the Stars. He hadn’t played a game since the 2017-18 season due to post-traumatic headaches, that is until the Stars sent him down to their American Hockey League affiliate the Texas Stars on a conditioning stint with intentions of recalling him once he was ready.
He made his return to the ice Jan. 11 against the Toronto Marlies where he picked up a goal and three assists in a 5-3 win. He was recalled by the Stars shortly after but was placed on the LTIR. On Jan. 18 he was activated and officially became part of the Stars roster again. He was able to get one game in before the All-Star break where he played 18:29 and received an interference penalty in a 7-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild.
After 22 months of not playing hockey, Johns returned to the NHL, and if he can make a positive impact on the Stars’ season moving forward then he definitely deserves a nomination for the Masterton.
There’s a couple of goalies who are deserving of the award after dealing with the loss of their fathers this season, Jacob Markstrom and Marc-Andre Fleury. Markstrom’s father passed away on Nov. 10 after losing a battle with cancer. It’s been incredible what Markstrom has been able to accomplish this season while dealing with such a tragic loss. He has a 18-13-0 record this season and has backstopped Vancouver to first place in the Pacific Division. Fleury’s father passed away shortly after, on Nov. 27 due to illness. Like Markstrom, Fleury has been solid this season while dealing with his tragedy. He is 19-12-4 this season and has helped propel the Vegas Golden Knights into a four-way tie for second in the Pacific.
Carolina Hurricanes forward Erik Haula is another player who has dealt with a tragic loss this season, but has continued to be an inspiration to everyone. At the beginning of January Haula and his wife, Kristen, announced that their unborn daughter had died. That’s a truly heartbreaking moment, but it makes it even more impressive that Haula has been able to return to the Hurricanes and still manage to be an impact player. He has 11 goals and 19 points in 30 games this season.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Justin Holl deserves some recognition for the award as well, given the impact he’s had with the Maple Leafs this season and what he’s had to go through to get there. Holl was a healthy scratch in 71 out of 82 games last season, and he was beginning to question whether or not he’d ever get a real shot in the NHL.
Fast forward to this season, and Holl has been a pretty important piece on the Maple Leafs’ back end. The 27-year-old has a goal and 13 points in 47 games this season while averaging 16:56 a night, he’s also fifth on the team in hits (58) and blocks (44). Holl’s career looked like it was going nowhere with Mike Babcock leading the way, and it wasn’t until after Sheldon Keefe replaced him, where Holl added another level to his game, this led to him inking a three-year, $6 million contract extension on Dec. 31, 2019.
Why McDavid Is the Front Runner
Not to take anything away from Johns, Markstrom, Fleury, Haula, and Holl whose stories are incredible in their own right, but the way that McDavid has performed this season after suffering what could have been a career-ending injury separates him from the rest of the pack, he’s seemingly a better player than he was before the injury. Like I mentioned earlier, he’s leading the league in scoring heading into the All-Star break, the 23-year-old has 27 goals and 76 points through 49 games this season. His 27 goals are tied for sixth in the league and his 49 assists lead all players. He’s also first in the league in points per game (1.55) and power play points (34).
On top of having tons of individual success, he’s also leading Edmonton’s charge as they battle for a spot in the playoffs. They’re currently tied for second in the Pacific Division with 57 points. They’re even with Calgary, Vegas, and the Arizona Coyotes, while Vancouver barely holds onto first in the division with 58 points. The Oilers are 5-1-1 to start the new year, and McDavid has five goals and 14 points in that stretch. If he keeps this up in the second half of the season we’ll be seeing the Oilers in the playoffs come April.
The work that McDavid put in to be ready for this season is definitely inspiring and shows how dedicated he is to the Oilers organization. So, not only is McDavid likely to win the Art Ross and either the Ted Lindsay or the Hart (or both), but he is also the front runner to take home a well-deserved Masterton Trophy.
The ‘Whatever It Takes’ documentary will air on Friday after the Skills Competition.
Josh Vold covers the Edmonton Oilers here at TheHockeyWriters.com