Since 1968, the NHL has annually awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy to the “player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” The Award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) and the winner gets $2,500 donated to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund in his name.
It’s a great honour to win the award and it has covered some of the best narratives in NHL history. Like when Pittsburgh Penguin great Mario Lemieux won the Trophy in 1993 after he overcame Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and totaled 160 points in just 60 games.
Saku Koivu of the Montreal Canadiens won in 2002 after he, too, overcame Lymphoma.
Josh Harding won the award two seasons ago after a season in which he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
It’s not an award that receives tireless debate on its finalists like the Hart or Vezina, but it represents the feel good story for that NHL season. That being said, there have been some very qualified finalists who didn’t walk away with the Trophy. In 2009, Richard Zednik didn’t win the Masterton in the season following the year he lost 5 pints of blood (and almost his life) in an on-ice almost-tragedy. But nobody was saying Steve Sullivan didn’t deserve the award after coming back from a major back injury that shelved him for two seasons.
Many said Daymond Langkow deserved the award in 2011, the season he came back after his life-threatening neck injury when he was hit in the back of the neck by a teammate’s shot. But when Ian Laperriere won for his dedication off the ice (his post-concussion syndrome and eye injury from blocking a shot the season before officially ended his career) nobody could disagree.
It’s often very difficult to pick this winner. While you can debate whether Aaron Ekblad deserves the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year based on his stellar play as an 18-year-old or if Filip Forsberg deserves it based on his, you can’t do the same with the Masterton. There is no statistical analysis that can be used. It’s just the PHWA deciding who’s shown the best dedication or who has the saddest story.
We’re not even done with the regular season and there are already several well-deserving Masterton nominees for this season. It’s unfortunate that there have been so many saddening occurrences but it will definitely make for an interesting Masterton race.
10. Martin St. Louis – New York Rangers
When the Rangers went down 3 games to 1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season against the Pittsburgh Penguins, tragedy struck the St. Louis family as his mother, France, passed away. Instead of taking time off to mourn the loss, St. Louis kept playing and, with this added inspiration for him and his teammates, the Rangers came back against the Penguins and rode the wave all the way until the Stanley Cup Final before falling to Los Angeles in 5 games. During that stretch, St. Louis scored one of the most emotional goals of the season, a tally that came on Mother’s Day which landed a few days after the funeral.
This year, St. Louis has 44 points in 63 games and has continued to look good with the Blueshirts.
A death in the family usually bodes well for players’ chances at the Masterton. Jose Theodore won the award in 2010 after his two month old son, Chase, died due to complications from premature birth. Last year, Martin St. Louis’ teammate Dominic Moore won the award after his 18 month absence as he was caring for his wife, Katie, during her battle with liver cancer.
Another thing St. Louis has going for him is his career. St. Louis’ career in and of itself could be enough to win the Masterton.
Martin St. Louis’ career is the definition of perseverance. His size (a mere 5 ft. 8 in.) left NHL clubs disinterested in the talented college athlete and he somehow went undrafted. He kept working on his game and, although he’ll be listed as one of the smallest players in NHL history, he’s had quite the prolific career. He has 6 all-star game appearances, was the Leading Scorer twice, the MVP (both according to players and the writers in ’04), and is a Stanley Cup Champion. And let’s just say the Masterton isn’t only awarded to injury comebacks or sad stories. Until the ’90’s the majority of Masterton winners were just older players winning the award just because they were old players and they “exemplified the qualities of dedication and perseverance.” If St. Louis doesn’t win it this year, I expect he’ll win it further down the road as he continues to defy the odds.
9. Zach Parise/Ryan Suter – Minnesota Wild
When Zach Parise and Ryan Suter both decided to sign with the Minnesota Wild in the Summer of 2012, they shared the same ideology; they were both going to be closer to their family.
A little over two years later, we understand the importance of their decision as both of their fathers, J.P. Parise and Bob Suter, passed away this season. The time they spent with their family is precious time that indubitably made the whole signing decision worth it.
On the ice, the two superstars have been amazing. Parise leads the team in points and Suter is second in the entire NHL in time on ice per game. They were both crucial players in their season turnaround and deserve all the accolades they receive.
Both of these players are deserving of the Masterton, given their resiliency through adversity this season, and it’ll be interesting to see which player is chosen by the Minnesota media.
8. Nick Foligno – Columbus Blue Jackets
In Craig Custance’s telling article about the Columbus forward, you can understand just how special this season has been for Foligno. Not only has he had a career year, one that has included the honour of being a captain in Columbus for the All Star Game, but it’s coming after a season in which his daughter battled a rare congenital heart disease called mitral valve arcade. It was a long battle but she was able to come out on top.
It was an emotional year for Nick but he’s rebounded extraordinarily well. He’s tallied 57 points in 61 games and has truly emerged as a star player.
7. Lance Bouma – Calgary Flames
On Brian Burke’s Calgary team full of truculence, grit, and abysmal possession numbers, one player has been the most truculent, gritty and, uhmmm, well, he hasn’t necessarily been driving possession but he’s still been a factor.
That player is Lance Bouma.
Bouma has 26 points in 63 games this year with just 13:49 average time on ice per game. But if you look at his game log, you can see that his time on ice has gone up significantly over the course of the season. Recently, he’s been skating to the tune of 15-18 minutes a night.
And he’s deserved it. He’s put in the work. He’s 6’1, 210 pounds and has been a physical presence on the ice.
He has 219 hits. The next highest total for a player on Calgary is 115. This is the largest discrepancy between two players on the same team in the entire NHL. He’s been a warrior on a Calgary team that has seen some impressive success this year (and he’ll need to keep it up after the loss of captain Mark Giordano).
I honestly wonder if Lance Bouma wears a letter in Calgary next season.
— Ryan Pike (@RyanNPike) February 23, 2015
What’s more impressive is that in October of 2012, Bouma sprained his MCL and ACL in a game in the AHL in Abbotsford and was wiped out for the rest of the season. Bouma worked hard to get back and actually made it to the big leagues last year as he played 78 games last season for the Flames.
But this season he’s worked even harder and now it appears that he’s working as the heart and soul of this team.
6. Rick Nash – New York RangersRick Nash was not himself in last year’s playoffs. It seemed like he was still bothered by his recent concussions and it was really affecting his play. Earlier in the season he missed 6 weeks from a concussion after a hit to the head by Brad Stuart. He scored just 3 goals in 25 playoff games last season and didn’t record a single point in the Cup Final loss against the Los Angeles Kings. He was tentative with the puck, avoided the high traffic areas, and didn’t have the same drive we’ve seen in the past from the 6’4 talented power forward.
That same 6’4 talented power forward is 2nd in the league in goals this year with 38 of em and is top 5 in the league in shots taken. He’s poised to break his career high in goals (41) and has been one of the most exciting players in the league. Whatever was bothering him last season is long forgotten (probably not the best choice of words for me here, but, like, whatever) and it appears that he’s back to his old form.
5. Mike Fisher – Nashville Predators
Going into this season the Nashville Predators had a lot of question marks on the offensive front. In terms of players in the center position, let’s just say they weren’t too intimidating.
So when news broke that Mike Fisher was going to be out for 4-6 months last July for a ruptured Achilles, people were already writing the Predators off.
The Predators turned out to be better than most expected. They were 14-5-2 by the time Fisher was ready to return to the lineup on November 27th and people were wondering how the 34-year-old center would add to the chemistry of this team that was on a roll.
Long story short, Fisher is on pace for his highest goals per game pace of his 15 year NHL career. He has 16 tallies in 46 games and shows no signs of his Achilles injury being a problem. Injury aside, it’s a nice year for the veteran forward who even celebrated the birth of his first child with Country star Carrie Underwood at the end of February.
4. Corey Perry – Anaheim Ducks
Corey Perry’s 2014-2015 got off to a mumpy start – erm, I mean bumpy start.
Corey Perry was one of the first NHL players to be diagnosed with the mumps this year. He missed two weeks in November from the affliction.
Fast forward to December and, guess what? Perry suffers a knee injury. This time he’s on the shelf for a few weeks.
It’s a start to the season that can only be categorized as bad luck. To be one of the players hit with the mumps and then to miss more time because of a knee injury is not what the 29-year-old star had in mind coming into the season.
And still, even though he’s missed 15 games this year, Perry still sits in the top 10 in the league in goals scored and has the fifth best goals per game pace in the NHL with .54.
It’s the sort of season that could be excused for Perry who finished 2nd in the league in goals last season. But his sticktoitiveness and drive this year has been impressive and one has to imagine he’s in serious consideration for the Masterton.
3. Olli Maatta – Pittsburgh Penguins
As I’ll point out later, there are a few players on the Penguins who could be in the running for the Masterton Trophy. Kris Letang had a stroke last season and Pascal Dupuis is out for the year with blood clots.
It’s a bizarre list but poor old Olli Maatta wins the competition of the most saddening circumstances. He has a tale so unfortunate that it would impress Lemony Snicket and an injury record so heartrending that most are cheering for the 20-year-old Finnish defenceman to make a full recovery and become the player he’s shown shades of.
Last May, Maatta underwent shoulder surgery and had an estimated 4-6 months of recovery time and was expected to miss the beginning of this season. Maatta had a quick turnaround and actually healed in time for the Pens season opener on October 9th in which he had 3 assists.
Then the Penguins announced that Maatta was undergoing neck surgery to remove a potentially cancerous tumor in his thyroid gland. You read that correctly.
After the late-October surgery, Maatta was back on the ice by November 11th and was back in the lineup a little while later.
Then, on December 19th, Maatta was diagnosed with the mumps.
Oh and we’re not done yet.
In the middle of January it was announced that Maatta would be shut down for the season with a shoulder injury that would require surgery for the second time on the same shoulder in less than 8 months.
Olli Maatta has had some season: Tumor, mumps, season ending shoulder surgery. Someone owes that guy some good luck next year.
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) January 14, 2015
Maatta had 29 points in 79 games last season, an impressive total for a 19-year-old rookie. He followed that up with 9 points in 20 contests this year, even though he struggled at times with his play.
He’s so young and has so much talent and could easily become a super star in this league. He may not win the Masterton this year but he could receive a lot of buzz for it. I feel like if he bounces back well next season he’s almost a lock for the award.
2. Kimmo Timonen – Chicago Blackhawks
Kimmo Timonen didn’t play a single game this season for the team he played his entire career for. His tenure with the Philadelphia Flyers came to an end shortly before Trade Deadline Day when he was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Timonen’s been a trooper in Philly, playing 15 seasons there amassing 571 points in 1,092 games. It’s been a strong career and he recently announced that this will probably be his last season in the league.
Timonen was diagnosed with blood clots in his lower right leg and in both lungs during the Summer and people were wondering if he’d ever play another NHL game.
After months of speculation and quotes from Timonen about how he wanted to play hockey again, we finally received word that Timonen was definitively returning to action this season.
Then he was traded to the Blackhawks, a perennial Cup contender and there’s a sort of Ray Bourque feel to this as the Finnish defenceman is looking to capture a Stanley Cup ring before he retires.
But, failing that, there’s a very good chance he grabs the Masterton Trophy after such a difficult season and prolific career.
1. Rich Peverley – Dallas Stars
It happened exactly one year ago. It was a moment when the entire NHL simply stopped.
I was in Israel at the time, watching the Pittsburgh-Washington game at around 4:00 in the morning when my phone practically exploded with tweets about some situation that was brewing in Dallas. And it didn’t take long for me to realise just how serious the situation was.
I switched to the Dallas game and the silence of the feed was sickening. Players standing around and the announcers not saying much. Before too long, they announced the game would be postponed.
Rich Peverley, of the Dallas Stars, collapsed on the bench in the middle of the first period. While play was going on, the Dallas Stars bench was screaming at officials and skating onto the ice to draw attention to the situation. It was a terrifying. The video can be found here, but, again, it’s pretty disturbing.
You don’t have to play in the NHL in order to win the Masterton. Just 4 years ago Ian Laperriere was the first player to win the Masterton without playing a game in the season that he won it. He was a coach and mentor in Philly the year after a shot hit him in the face and he had to end his career. His coaching assignment was a good enough association with the league for him to qualify for the award and he went home with it.
If you look at Rich Peverley’s rotoworld injury page, well, let’s just say his future isn’t so clear right now. But Peverley is working hard on a comeback and may make it back to the league one day and it will definitely be an emotional night for everyone involved.
But Peverley is seeing some action in the AHL – as a coach.
Yup, Peverley is an assistant coach now with the Texas Stars as he’s trying his best to stay involved in the game. And, according to the NHL, that should be enough of a role for him to be considered for the Masterton.
One thing working against him here is that he isn’t the first person whose heart stopped on the bench during a game. Jiri Fischer’s heart stopped while on the bench in 2005 when he was with Detroit. He never made it back on the ice but he took up a job with the Red Wings organization. However, he never received the Masterton.
Other Potential Candidates
Pavel Datysuk (DET)- After playing just 45 games last year and missing another 11 this year, he is having a marvelous season and leads his team in points. He’s honestly The Magic Man.
Steven Stamkos (TBL)- After his devastating leg injury last year wiped out more than half his season, he’s back as one of the top goal scorers in 2015.
Nathan Horton (TOR)- Continues to battle his degenerative back injury with a positive attitude.
Jarmo Kekalainen (CBJ)- Speaking of Columbus players and injuries, Columbus’ GM deserves a cabinet full of trophies for the injuries he’s had to deal with this year. They already have 413 man games lost and they still have 17 games left. Holy moly.
Matt Stajan (CGY)- Lost his newborn son last year during the season and came back to finish the season. Continues to play this year and even celebrated the birth of a new child recently.
Corey Sarich (UFA)- Got into a horrific biking accident over the Summer (while working out for the upcoming season) and may never play again. A tragic story.
Pascal Dupuis (PIT)- He wrote a great piece about his battle with blood clots and his desire to return to the NHL.
Kris Letang (PIT)- Had a stroke last season and now appears to be a potential Norris candidate for the league’s best defenceman.
Keaton Ellerby (WPG)- His Aunt, Uncle, and their 5-year-old grandson went missing over the Summer before they were announced dead. Ellerby is in the AHL this year.
Jordin Tootoo (NJD)- Overcame alcoholism and continues to be an underdog in the league. Has been a spark plug in Jersey this year.