The NHL claims that The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is "an annual award under the trusteeship of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and [that] is given to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey." But what it really means is that the award is given to the player that overcame the most squeamish, tragic or devastating ailment or injury.
In many ways, the Masterton is like the NHL's version of the Best Actor Academy Award -- it's usually the battle between those who put in remarkable performances, those who have paid their dues and deserve some career-affirming hardware, and those who overcame some sort of ghastly malady (on screen). Yes, there are exceptions; but as good as Denzel was in "Malcolm X," he didn't play a blind guy like 1992 Best Actor Al Pacino did in "Scent of a Woman." Tom Hanks ruled the world in "Big," but there was no chance Dustin Hoffman wasn't going to win for "Rain Man" in 1988.
That's why as much as he deserved a nomination, Ty Conklin of the Pittsburgh Penguins was ignored. Criminally, really: If this award is the League's de facto "comeback player of the year" honor, almost no one deserves it more than the guy who rebounded from one of the ultimate playoff embarrassments (video) to an unlikely career resurrection that helped lead the Penguins during their injury-plagued regular season. Should have been you, ConkBlock.
The nominees this year are Jason Blake of the Toronto Maple Leafs, defenseman Chris Chelios of the Detroit Red Wings and right wing Fernando Pisani of the Edmonton Oilers. Of the three, Chelios is clearly at a disadvantage because he's just ancient rather than living with an unfortunate disease. Here's the skinny on the Masterton field:
Why Blake Deserves the Masterton: Blake was diagnosed with rare chronic myelogenous leukemia last year, and played through the disease in a rather valiant way. He was a big money free agent and wasn't putting up the numbers expected of him; while the Toronto media cut him some slack, there was still undeniable pressure that manifested itself again this week when Blake said he wouldn't raise a fuss if he were traded by the Leafs. But Blake remained a pro throughout his ordeal this year, including during a rather contentious incident involving Sean Avery. There's no reason not to honor his efforts with an award.
Why Chelios Deserves the Masterton: In January, Chelios became the second-oldest player to compete in the NHL, trailing only Gordie Howe. This was his 24th season in the League, and he continues to personify the blue-collar, lunch-pail aesthetic that makes him such an undeniably inspirational player. When asked if he planned on becoming a suit like Steve Yzerman and Brett Hull, Chelios said: "I've made a lot of bad calls over the years as a player, so I'm not going to even pretend to know what I'm talking about." Awesome, but his story just doesn't have the tragic details of the other nominees.
Why Pisani Deserves the Masterton: If it's not Blake, might as well be Pisani, who battled through ulcerative colitis to return to the ice for the Oilers. We detailed his plight in a post earlier this week; going to the bathroom "20-30 times a day, losing a lot of blood and a lot of weight" and looking like skin and bones to the point where it was like he "was staring at Mr. Burns" in the mirror." Yikes ... maybe we can have co-Masterton winners this year (sorry, Cheli).