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The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association announced each chapter’s nominees for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, annually given to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”
Last season, then 44-year-old Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr received the Masterton Trophy, beating out Pittsburgh Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis and Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers.
In 2015 Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk won the Masterton one year after bouncing around with three organizations and almost losing his role as an NHL goaltender. Dubnyk is now a two-time all-star and could be listed as a Vezina Trophy finalist for the second time in his career.
The Masterton has been given out since 1968.
Here is the list of this year’s Masterton nominees as selected by each Professional Hockey Writers’ Association chapter along with a portion of each chapter’s blurb on the player.
Anaheim Ducks: Andrew Cogliano
Cogliano is a four-time Masterton Trophy nominee with the Ducks, and is the NHL’s reigning Ironman at 779 consecutive games, having never missed a game in his NHL career. Only one player in NHL history has played more consecutive games to start his career: Doug Jarvis (the NHL’s all-time Ironman overall with 964 consecutive games from 1975-88).
Arizona Coyotes: Radim Vrbata
Vrbata leads the Coyotes in scoring after signing a one-year, bonus-laden contract. He reached the 1,000-game plateau March 9 with almost half of those games with the Coyotes, and he’s eclipsed 600 points. Aside from contributing on the ice, Vrbata has emerged as a role model for the team’s youth.
After the Coyotes traded center Martin Hanzal, Vrbata was named an alternate captain – a fitting recognition since he exudes the professionalism and dedication it takes to assemble a lengthy and successful career in the NHL.
Boston Bruins: Zdeno Chara
It takes only the highest levels of perseverance and dedication to log over 1,300 NHL games and play past your 40th birthday, and Chara has both of those qualities in overflowing amounts as one of the oldest players in the league.
The Bruins captain has also been the embodiment of good sportsmanship in his 11 years as captain of the Black and Gold while leading teams with his steady, hard-working hand through epic highs and lows with the Original Six franchise. Chara is always at the forefront of the Bruins charitable efforts.
Chara had missed only 41 games for the Bruins in his first 10 seasons with the team in a remarkable show of durability and toughness as a physical defensive stopper that’s never shied away from the big hits, the big players or the big ice time totals. The veteran D-man is having a banner season as a 40-year-old that started with leading Team Europe to the World Cup Final against Team Canada, and it’s continued with his season-long mentoring job helping develop 20-year-old rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo.
Buffalo Sabres: Brian Gionta
The veteran captain earns the nod in the wake of his best season in his three years since joining the Sabres. Gionta has 15 goals as of March 30 and has played all but three games the last two seasons. But more than numbers, he is a calm presence in the locker room and is always accountable and available to his teammates, coaches and the media.
Calgary Flames: Mikael Backlund
A first-round pick of the Flames in 2007 (24th overall), he’s had a career campaign while playing on a line with Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk. It’s been a long time coming for Backlund. Since joining the Flames, he’s battled through injuries including a broken finger, shoulder separation and abdominal pull which caused him to miss significant periods of time in the early stages of his NHL career. The Swede has improved the defensive side of the game and is now one of the most consistent players on the Flames. He is frequently trusted with shutting down opponents’ top lines.
Backlund’s off-ice contributions are equally impressive. His commitment to the community is irrefutable and he is willing to attend any and every community event with a smile on his face. Dating back to the 2013 floods in Calgary, he was first on the phone to orchestrate a fundraiser for flood relief on the morning of June 21 just hours before he was scheduled to fly home to Sweden for the summer. Once he arrived home, Backlund unfortunately had to say goodbye to one of his best friends who had a long and courageous battle with cancer. He then decided that he would enter the “Ride for Hope” bike race in Sweden in his honor. Backlund ended up raising $23,000 for children’s cancer research and now makes it an annual event.”
Carolina Hurricanes: Derek Ryan
Few players have taken a longer, or more unlikely, journey to the NHL than Ryan, undersized and undrafted, who has finally established himself with the Hurricanes as a 29-year-old rookie.
His journey took him through nearly every level of hockey, from juniors to Canadian universities to the UHL and AHL and Austria and Sweden. He finally got his first NHL shot last season with the Hurricanes, then became a full-time player this season.
Chicago Blackhawks: Marian Hossa
Coach Joel Quenneville often refers to Hossa as the consummate professional, a player who leads by example and has been an outstanding model for the Blackhawks’ young players to emulate. Whether he’s playing on the top or third line, Hossa’s focus has always been on what’s best for the Blackhawks. He recorded his 500th career goal earlier this season and played in his 1,300th game in Ottawa, where he began his career, on March 16.
Colorado Avalanche Rene Bourque
Bourque made Colorado’s opening-night roster off a professional tryout contract and, despite missing 17 games with three different injuries, including a concussion, he is the Avalanche’s fifth-leading goal-scoring with 11 – usually playing a top-six role.
An undrafted free agent from the University of Wisconsin, Bourque reached 700 career NHL games on Jan. 17 against the Chicago Blackhawks. Ironically, Bourque played his first NHL game in 2005 with the Blackhawks, who signed him after a four-year career at Wisconsin.”
Columbus Blue Jackets: Sergei Bobrovsky
Bobrovsky has returned to prominence as one of the NHL’s top goaltenders after three years of chronic groin injuries. He may well be in line to win his second Vezina Trophy after leading the league in wins (41), goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.935).
But it’s the battles he endured after winning his first Vezina in 2013 – and the dedication he showed toward transforming his body last summer – that makes him a strong candidate for the Masterton. Over the previous three seasons, Bobrovsky suffered six known groin injuries, missing 72 games, or roughly 30 per cent of the Blue Jackets’ schedule in that span.
Dallas Stars: Patrick Sharp
Sharp has displayed the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey throughout his career, but especially this season. Sharp twice was sidelined by concussions during the 2016-17 campaign for a total of 26 games.
He battled back and played in 35 straight games, but revealed in the process that he has been playing through lower body pain that will require surgery at the end of the season. Sharp is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but continues to play in hopes of helping his team.
Detroit Red Wings: Henrik Zetterberg
At 36, Zetterberg has been the Wings’ best and most productive player, with 63 points after 76 games. As of March 23, Zetterberg had 17 multi-point games, with 10 of them coming after the All-Star break.
That the Wings missed the playoffs is not for lack of leadership from Zetterberg, who had points in 17 of the 22 games the Wings played between Jan. 31 and March 21. Zetterberg also is the answer to how to get a teammate scoring – Anthony Mantha has been at his most productive playing with Zetterberg, as have Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist.
Edmonton Oilers: Patrick Maroon
Enjoying a career-high season in both goals and points, Maroon is the Edmonton Oilers nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
Maroon was discarded by the Anaheim Ducks for a minor league player and a fourth-round pick last season — with the Ducks retaining 25 percent of his salary. His fitness and commitment were in question, so over the summer Maroon recommitted to the game, losing 15 pounds and upping his off-ice game considerably.
Florida Panthers: Shawn Thornton
While this is likely Thornton’s final NHL season, he’s making the most of it. After being scratched by the Panthers for much of the first few months, he has become Florida’s regular fourth-line left winger in the second half.
Thornton is a Stanley Cup champion, winning with Boston in 2011 and Anaheim in 2007. Before earning a full-time role with the Ducks, Thornton toiled in the minors trying to find a spot with Toronto and Chicago and is one of the few players to log over 600 games in each the AHL and NHL.
Los Angeles Kings: Jarome Iginla
Iginla spent 61 games of this season with the Colorado Avalanche – the worst team in the NHL – and never outwardly complained about the group’s struggles. His teammates and coaches often praised how he pushed his 39-year-old body to compete every game and how he helped the Colorado’s bevy of younger players.
Minnesota Wild: Eric Staal
Rumors that the game passed him by were completely false. With things admittedly stale in Raleigh playing for the rebuilding Hurricanes the past few years and following a tough, short playoff for the Rangers, Staal signed a three-year deal with the Wild, worked relentlessly off the ice to prepare for camp and has resurrected his career.
Centering a top-six line, Staal looks refreshed, is second on the Wild in goals as of this writing and has proven to be the ultimate pro and role model on a Wild team that needed fresh blood. He has raised the level of expectations, is loving life raising his three boys in a hockey-rich market and became the first player from the illustrious 2003 draft to hit 1,000 games in March. His family also started a foundation in Thunder Bay that focuses on giving back to families and children fighting cancer. It hits close to home — his wife’s sister died from liver cancer at age 24.
Montréal Canadiens: Paul Byron
Byron was told he was too small to play in the NHL his whole life, but he’s always proved people wrong. Despite his less-than-ideal 5-foot-8, 160-pound build, Byron is one of Montreal’s most courageous players. Claimed off waivers by the Canadiens from the Flames on October 5, 2015, he slowly climbed his way up the team’s depth chart and has now become a bonafide top-nine forward. He has reached the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career even though he was barely used on the power play for most of the season.
Nashville Predators: Matt Irwin
Early-season injuries to several of Nashville’s defensemen prompted Irwin’s late October recall, and he used the opportunity to become more than a fill-in. He became a regular in the lineup even after the others became healthy. In January, the Predators rewarded the 29-year-old Irwin with a one-year, one-way contract extension.
New Jersey Devils: Andy Greene
Completing his second season as the Devils’ captain, the 34-year-old undrafted free agent out of Miami (Ohio) remains the team’s No. 1 defenseman and used on both the power play and penalty kill. His ironman streak of 350 games, the third longest in franchise history was snapped due to a left arm injury that cost him 12 games Jan. 6-31 and he also missed four games March 4-9 after his father passed away.
Still, he leads the team in average ice time and has been an exemplary role model both on and off the ice for a rebuilding franchise with a bevy of AHL call-ups filling the roster.
New York Islanders: Thomas Greiss
At age 31, Greiss has finally earned a long-term contract and a spot as a No. 1 goaltender. After the 2004 third-round pick bounced through the Sharks, Coyotes and Penguins organizations as a backup to mainstay goaltenders, Greiss landed with the Islanders in 2015-16 and promptly took over as the regular goaltender.
His .925 save percentage in 38 starts last season was a franchise best mark and his work in getting the Islanders past the opening round of the playoffs for the first time in 23 years was notable.
New York Rangers: Dan Girardi
Girardi, who was undrafted in 2003, has made front offices regret that lapse in judgment since.
After signing a two-way deal with the Rangers, the Welland, Ont., native was called up from the AHL on Jan. 27, 2007 after an injury to Darius Kasparaitis, and has been almost impossible to remove from the lineup since.
The 32-year-old ironman who consistently is among the team’s leaders in blocked shots and also hits by a defenseman, will finish the season ranked ninth on the team’s all-time games played list (781 as of March 21) and is likely to extend his franchise lead in post-season games played (110).
Ottawa Senators: Craig Anderson
While this has been a strong season for the Senators’ goaltender on the ice, it’s been a difficult and trying year off it since learning his wife, Nicholle, was diagnosed with a rare form of throat cancer in late-October while the team was in Vancouver.
After leaving the Senators briefly to be with Nicholle, Anderson returned to the club at her urging on Oct. 29th when the club lost backup goalie Andrew Hammond to a groin injury in Calgary. Though, Nicholle was still trying to deal with the shock of the diagnosis, she told her husband “your team needs you” and he had a memorable effort on Oct. 30th in Edmonton. Anderson made 37 stops in a 2-0 shutout win at Rogers Arena.
Since then, it’s a been a difficult rollercoaster ride for Anderson and his family. He left the team in early-December to be at Nicholle’s side while she underwent treatment for her cancer at a New York-based facility and came back after the all-star break. On March 11, his 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche allowed him to set the franchise record for wins with 147 which moved him one ahead of Patrick Lalime (146) plus Anderson is only three games shy of 500 in his career.
Philadelphia Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
When it came time on March 2 to name a new alternate captain to replace the recently traded Mark Streit, the Flyers could have gone the obvious route. If they had chosen an established star such as Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier, no one would have blinked an eye.
Instead, they tabbed a 32-year-old Frenchman whose biggest claim to fame was once drawing the checking assignment on Connor McDavid and battling the Edmonton star to a goal-apiece fare-thee-well.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury
The longest-tenured Penguin, Fleury has set a standard for perseverance and sportsmanship despite losing the starting job he had held for over a decade with the Penguins. A Stanley Cup-winning minder with a limited-movement clause on a multi-year contract, Fleury has neither publicly nor privately made an issue of disappointment in becoming the No. 2 option behind Matt Murray. In fact, Murray has credited Fleury in helping guide him through a first full NHL season.
The unique situation surrounding Fleury, who only two years ago signed a four-year extension with the Penguins, could have resulted in discord given his popularity amongst teammates and stature as the all-time leader in most significant franchise goaltending categories. That it has not, even trade speculation swirled dating to the last NHL Entry Draft, is a testament to Fleury’s dedication to his teammates, organization and the game of hockey. For those reasons, and the example he has set during a trying time, Fleury is our nominee for the Masterton.
San Jose Sharks: Aaron Dell
Dell, the Sharks backup goaltender, took as an unconventional route to the NHL as one could imagine. He played in the AJHL instead of major junior hockey in Western Canada, went to North Dakota for three years, then embarked on a pro career that took him to the CHL, ECHL, AHL and back to the ECHL before he signed an entry-level deal with San Jose in March of 2015.
Dell spent the last few weeks of that season in Worcester before the Sharks moved the team to San Jose. He had to surpass Troy Grosenick to earn the No. 1 job with the Barracuda last year. Dell re-signed with the Sharks on July 1 and made his NHL debut at the advanced age of 27 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Oct. 18 this season. He won that night, and has gone 10-5-1 with a .936 save percentage and 1.85 GAA to leads all goalies with at least 16 games thru March 20.
St. Louis Blues: Ryan Reaves
The 30-year-old was selected in the fifth-round of the 2005 NHL draft, making him the longest-tenured Blue. It is difficult for any player to remain with one organization for 13 seasons, but for a late-round pick who is an energy player, it’s even more impressive.
Reaves, who’s suited up in 400-plus games over seven seasons, has done so by adapting his role to the changing climate of the NHL. He had a career-high 13 fights in 2011-12 and has just 10 in the last two seasons combined, but he continues to be an effective contributor. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound right winger shed some weight last summer and became more focused on playing the system reliably than being overly physical. The result this season has been a personal-best plus-minus rating and a chance to set a career-high in points.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos
For the third time in four seasons, Stamkos suffered a long-term, traumatic injury that robbed him of some of his prime playing years. First it was a broken leg that occurred during a game on Nov. 11, 2014, when Stamkos slid in to a goal post during a game in Boston. Stamkos remained out until March, which also cost him a spot on the Canadian Olympic team. Then at the end of the 2015-16 season, Stamkos was diagnosed with a blood clot that forced him to miss the entire postseason until Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
After a summer filled with questions about his contract status, Stamkos remained with Tampa Bay and was off to one of the best starts of his career with nine goals and 20 points in the opening 17 games of the season before suffering a partially torn meniscus during a game at Detroit on Nov. 15 that would require 4-6 months recovery.
Even for an upbeat individual, enduring three such injury issues in a span of four years could lead to self-pity. While Stamkos endured some of that shortly after surgery, the Lightning captain pushed that all aside and went back to the grueling rehabilitation process, persevering through any of those feelings to work his way back to health once again.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Morgan Rielly
Rielly is completing his fourth NHL season at a challenging position for a young player. Most of this year he has been part of the team’s top defensive pairing and in late March ranked third in the league at 31.3 shifts per game.
Despite a high ankle sprain, he has maintained an average ice time of more than 22 minutes – a career high – and is in the top 50 for short-handed ice time among defensemen. Rielly is also expected to reach the 30-point mark for the second consecutive season, all of which has helped give the Maple Leafs a shot at their first playoff spot in many years.
Vancouver Canucks: Ryan Miller
Pointing to the workload makes a supportive Masterton Trophy nomination point about workhorse Ryan Miller. His perseverance, dedication and sportsmanship have never been questioned, but the 36-year-old Vancouver Canucks goaltender has exceeded that criteria.
With Roberto Luongo injured, Miller was not only the NHL’s oldest stopper, he was also facing the most vulcanized rubber. Through eight starts in the Canucks’ own version of March Madness with an injury riddled and offensively challenged offence, Miller faced 311 shots for an average of 38.8 per outing. He had faced at least 40 shots on nine occasions through 47 starts and on March 11 against Pittsburgh, he stopped 45 of 47 shots.
Washington Capitals: Brett Connolly
On his third team after the Lightning drafted him sixth overall in 2010, Connolly appeared to be a first-round bust when he came to the Capitals. But with Washington, he’s exceeded expectations with a 15-goal season, a career-high for him.
Connolly broke into the NHL as a 19-year-old, and he may not have been ready, scoring just four goals and 11 assists in his rookie year. During the 2014-15 season, Tampa Bay traded Connolly to Boston, and he fractured his finger in his second practice with the Bruins. He then had to watch the Lightning advance to the Stanley Cup final.
Boston didn’t qualify the 24-year-old restricted free agent after last season, and Washington scooped him up on a one-year, $850,000 deal.
Connolly’s season with the Capitals alone has been an exercise in patience and perseverance. He was a frequent scratch for the first half of the year, biding his time before earning a consistent place in the lineup as a third-liner. Of NHLers with 15 goals this season, Connolly is dead last in ice time (10:54 for 57 games).
Winnipeg Jets: Bryan Little
Little was selected by the Winnipeg chapter of the PHWA for his outstanding 2016-17 campaign and his ability to overcome a pair of serious injury challenges during the past two seasons – a broken vertebrae suffered last February in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and a knee injury he suffered four shifts into the season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Not only did Little work hard to get back into the lineup, he’s currently sixth in team scoring with 39 points in 52 games and is one of five players on the Jets roster that has hit or eclipsed 20 goals.
1. Craig Anderson
Anderson has personified the award this season. His ability to still put up excellent numbers despite off-ice hardship is a testament to him as a player. The fact that he never thought twice about leaving the Senators to be at his wife’s side during cancer treatment is a testament to him as a person.
— NHL (@NHL) October 31, 2016
2. Derek Ryan
Just a year ago at the age of 29, Ryan made his NHL debut. Now he’s a forward who averages almost 15 minutes per-night. His career has taken a lot of twists and turns to get to this point but it’s neat to see him finally become a regular on an NHL team.
3. Aaron Dell
Dell is another player who took the long route to the NHL, making his debut this season at the age of 27. Since then he has become one of the best backup goaltenders in the league and a guy who has proved he belongs.
4. Marian Hossa
Hossa’s resurgence at the age of 37 is a reason why the Blackhawks are one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this year. He currently has 10 more points and 12 more goals than a year ago. Even at his advanced age, he still plays hockey with the joy of someone in his 20s.
5. Zdeno Chara
Chara is not the player he once was, but he has adapted his game this season to stay effective. He still plays 23:12 per-night and has helped youngster Brandon Carlo learn the ins and outs of playing in the NHL. There are few players in the league respected as much as Chara and when he decides to retire, he will be known as one of the greatest defensemen in league history.
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