The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is given annually to the NHL player who "best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey."
Like the devil incarnate, it's taken on many forms. Sometimes it's a de facto "comeback player of the year" award. Sometimes is the NHL's version of a Lifetime Original Movie, with a player overcoming injury/addiction/disease to persevere. Sometimes Ray Emery gets nominated and hits on all points.
Last season, the Philadelphia hockey writers' nominee, Ian Laperriere of the Philadelphia Flyers, ended up as the 2010-11 Masterton winner. After fracturing his face and suffering a severe concussion in the 2010 playoffs, he admirably attempted a comeback in training camp; when that fell short, he remained with the organization doing everything from ambassador work to player mentoring.
This season, the Philadelphia hockey writers have nominated Flyers winger Jaromir Jagr for the Masterton; and at its surface, it doesn't exactly seem in keeping with the usual contenders for the trophy.
In fact, you may consider his candidacy as a total joke, given the makeup of previous winners, but please: Let's consider the incredible hardships that have befallen Jaromir Jagr in the last few seasons, shall we?
• He had to leave for Russia after his contract demands — both in term and in team — weren't met back in 2008; forcing him to settle for a contract worth upwards of $7 million per season (before bonuses) and playing in a League that under-appreciated him to the point where it only named one of its all-star teams after him.
• He was treated like a hockey deity by everyone save for Alex Ovechkin at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, and that lovefest helped him reconsider a return to North America for the 2011-12 season. Again, he had to fight to prove himself worthy of a contract at age 39, as only about a dozen teams were throwing money at him before he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers (for the paltry sum of $3.3 million), after assuring that his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, had their rooster sufficiently tantalized before the courtship ended.
• With the Flyers, he was forced to drag some plug named Claude Giroux up and down the ice all season, turning this talentless placeholder for Sean Couturier into a Hart Trophy candidate, of all things.
• He was also put on exhibition for an HBO reality series like a proud tiger at a Chinese zoo, and was injured in a game he was forced to play inside of a baseball stadium.
This extraordinary self-sacrifice, overcoming of insurmountable odds and living in abject poverty clearly make Jaromir Jagr more than a Masterton candidate, but a Masterton winner …
… oh, who are we kidding: His nomination is a farce, right? There aren't a hell of a lot of candidates on the Flyers to begin with, but Jagr? Outside of "old guy still playing hockey well," there's nothing Jagr has done that warrants even a sniff of this award, unless choosing not to walk away from a cold streak on blackjack qualifies as perseverance.
We asked a member of the Philadelphia media that nominated Jagr to defend the pick. He obliged.
Frank Seravalli is the Flyers beat writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. These views are his own and not necessarily those of the voting chapter members. Take it away, sir:
"Over the years, the backlash about the Masterton Trophy has been understandable - from fellow writers, broadcasters and fans alike. The focus and finalists for the award have often been centered on players who have made an extraordinary comeback, whether it be from an injury, disease or freak accident. That's commendable.
"But that's not why I voted for Jaromir Jagr as our Masterton Trophy nominee from the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Jagr isn't even a comeback player in my mind. He never stopped playing, he just went to a different league.
"Instead, the Masterton Trophy is the award presented to a player who 'best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.' For me, the key with Jagr is his dedication to hockey. From the time he arrived in Philadelphia last September, he's been nothing but a true professional, as far as our eyes can tell. Most fans have heard the story of the team returning home from a preseason road game to find Jagr skating by himself, after midnight, at the team's practice facility. Not because he missed practice that day. Just because he was bored and wanted to skate.
"Jagr is 40 years old. He has accomplished just about everything one can in hockey: two Stanley Cups, two World Championships, an Olympic gold medal, a Hart Trophy, at least a hundred million dollars worth of salary, 8th all-time in NHL points. The list of accolades can go on and on. Recently, we were hanging around waiting to talk to a player in the Flyers' locker room. It was at least 45 minutes after most players had exited the ice. They had played the night before. He came off, dripping sweat, with a 40-pound weighted vest and ankle weights tied to each of his skates. He loves to play the game. He wants to win.
"Most importantly, Jagr is humble. He wants to help his teammates. In January, Claude Giroux went through a 12-game goal scoring drought, which is a pretty damaging streak for a possible Hart Trophy candidate. Both players were skating down on a 2-on-1 with an empty-net and Jagr fed Giroux before they even crossed the red line. He later told me that he "would have missed anyway." Most of his teammates played with him in video games as kids, yet Jagr can frequently be seen either drawing X's and O's with the Flyers' bevy of rookies or laughing and joking with them. He will help his teammates in any way he can - and he is one of the few universally adored players in that Flyers locker room.
"So, for those who say that I voted for Jagr as the 'easy' comeback choice, they haven't been able to see him in action like I have over the past 6 months. I was skeptical when the Flyers first signed him last July, given the rumblings about a possible bad attitude, but this Masterton Trophy should be one more feather in an already filled cap when he decides to finally hang it up. Especially at his age, I haven't seen a more dedicated player to his craft."
• • •
OK, so Frank makes a suitable argument about Jagr's dedication to the game, and there's no question his work ethic has been a model example for the Flyers. (After previous veteran leaders exhibited slightly less dedication to mind and body. They're in Los Angeles now).
But if anything, Frank's convinced us that Jagr's candidacy is less a joke than a misguided nomination, given the nature of the award.
Sorry, but working your ass off and keeping your ego in check at 39 years old don't exactly trump breaking an orbital bone (Laperriere) or losing a child (Jose Theodore) or multiple back surgeries (Steve Sullivan) or CANCER (Jason Blake and Phil Kessel).
If that's all it took, then Selanne and Lidstrom would like a word, Philly scribes ...