Ryan O’Reilly was nominated by the Buffalo chapter of the PHWA for the Masterton Trophy. On the surface the nomination seems like a slam dunk. However, the decision has come under intense scrutiny around the hockey world. O’Reilly had his off-ice issue this summer, but under the definition of the award he’s a perfect fit.
The William Masterton Memorial Trophy is described as “an annual award under the trusteeship of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and is given to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” That is a direct description from NHL.com that can be seen here.
When someone describes the type of player that O’Reilly is some of those words are used. He’s extremely dedicated to the game, works hard, and is a great leader in the dressing room. The 24-year-old center is usually the first one on the ice at practice and the last one off the ice. On numerous occasions he’s held his own practices after practice for a handful of players who want to participate. He’s a team first player who wants to help make his teammates better. He holds himself very accountable for his play on the ice and expects the same from others on the club.
A few days between games means it's time for Professor Ryan O'Reilly to start skills school. pic.twitter.com/SHH5Batlhl
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) March 24, 2016
During his rehab from his recent knee injury, O’Reilly worked as hard as he could to get back on the ice quickly. After spending long periods of time on the ice working out, he had to be literally kicked off by the staff.
The younger players on the roster such as Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart have spoken about the guidance they’ve received from O’Reilly and how valuable he’s been in their first full NHL season. He’s helped them work on their craft on the ice, as well as guided them on how to behave off the ice as a professional.
So, let’s get into what all the fuss is about. Over the summer after signing his new contract O’Reilly was charged with impaired driving and leaving the scene of an accident. Obviously this wasn’t the best first impression for a player who just became the organizations highest paid player. Before I go any further let me say one thing. Am I excusing these actions by O’Reilly? Absolutely not. Do good people sometimes make bad mistakes? Absolutely. Since this incident he’s been a model citizen and has probably exceeded the expectations of most so far this season. Also, the case against O’Reilly is still ongoing and we don’t know what the final outcome will be yet.
This is where the argument against O’Reilly’s nomination lies. It’s thought by some that this incident makes O’Reilly undeserving of the award nomination. He doesn’t have the character that is required to be a part of this great honor. To the people making that argument I completely disagree with you. Furthermore I urge you to scroll up and read the description of the award again.
The Masterton Trophy is awarded to the player who exemplifies the required characteristics towards the game of hockey. I can’t think of many players who care about the game of hockey and are as dedicated to it as O’Reilly. He entered the season with a lot of pressure on his shoulders with the new contract and he’s exceeded those expectations. He’s one of the, if not arguably the most important player on the Sabres roster. I think O’Reilly is an excellent nominee for the Masterton Trophy.