Arguing why one player "deserves" the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy over another is a little squirmy, because it's essentially a contrast in hardships.
Does a disease trump a concussion? Is a personal tragedy a more formidable obstacle than a hockey-related injury? It's like arguing over which worthy charity most deserves your dollars, and we don't even get to put a magnetic ribbon on our cars after it's over.
Goaltender Ray Emery(notes) of the Anaheim Ducks, forward Daymond Langkow(notes) of the Calgary Flames and forward Ian Laperriere(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers are the three finalists for the 2010-11 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded "to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
The Professional Hockey Writers Association nominates 30 players, one from each team chapter, and then votes on three finalists. A $2,500 grant from the Professional Hockey Writers' Association (PHWA) is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.
Here's our take on the original group of candidates, and the top five most deserving.
The trio up for the award offers its own tales of harrowing hardships and triumphs over adversities; who wins the 2010-11 Masterton?
Why Ray Emery Deserves the Masterton
From the NHL:
Ray Emery battled back from a career-threatening injury to reach the NHL and played a major part in the Ducks' successful push for a playoff spot. Emery underwent a complicated bone-graft surgery last April to repair a deteriorated ball joint in his right hip, the result of a disease called avascular necrosis which interrupts blood flow to the area and causes cells to die. After months of rehabilitation he signed with Anaheim as a free agent on Feb. 7 and went 7-2-0 with a 2.28 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 10 NHL regular-season appearances.
Emery's story goes well beyond the injury of course: The fact that he blew his chance with the Ottawa Senators, was exiled in Russia, earned a job with the Flyers and then went through injury hell makes his a compelling narrative. There are still those who simply don't like Emery no matter how he's reformed his life; but there are others who look beyond past foibles to accept how impressive this comeback is.
Why Daymond Langkow Deserves the Masterton
From the NHL:
On more then one occasion, it appeared Daymond Langkow's NHL career was over. After suffering a serious neck injury on March 21, 2010 against Minnesota, Langkow was twice forced to stop working out in the hopes of return. He made a third attempt and finally the recurring problems subsided. More than a year after being hit on the spine by a puck and suffering a fractured vertebra, Langkow made the comeback complete on April 1 when he laced up for his 1,014th NHL game and recorded an assist and +2 rating in the Flames' 3-2 win at St. Louis.
Again, the visuals speak much louder:
Ouch indeed. He willed his way back to the NHL, and fought through incredible setbacks and long odds to make it happen. He's a fan favorite in Calgary as well. Deserving candidate, and it's more than a little miraculous that he made it back.
Why Ian Laperriere Deserves the Masterton
From the NHL:
Ian Laperriere sustained a severe injury during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he blocked a shot with his face against New Jersey and suffered a concussion and fractured orbital bone. He returned a little more than a month later to finish the Flyers' playoff run that ended two games short of a championship. Laperriere attempted to return in training camp, but could not overcome his concussion-related symptoms and has been on the long-term injury list all season. Nevertheless, he has served the Flyers in several capacities, particularly as a mentor for young players in the organization.
As we said in handicapping the field, he's a tricky candidate. No question he's made of the sort of stern stuff that the Masterton is intended to celebrate. But should this award go to someone that actually played in 2011?
The counterargument: The award is given "to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey." He didn't play, but he is a player; and there's no question that what he did while out with that injury fits the criteria.
Emery. His injury was so rare, and his rehabilitation so impressive, that we expect him to win.
Langkow is completely worthy, but we felt Bouchard was another player that persevered through a prolonged rehab filled with setbacks, false hopes and, finally, overcoming the odds to be a solid contributor to the Wild. But we also felt he was symbolic of the concussion issue in the NHL, too. If these things can have a snub, he's a snub.
In the end, Emery's tale is the stuff of Lifetime Original Movies. Which means it's the stuff of the Masterton.