The NHL Awards take place tomorrow in Las Vegas, at 7 p.m. EST — that's 4 p.m. Vegas time, which leaves the rest of the night to party (woo!). They will once again be hosted by everyone's favorite comedian, Jay Mohr.
(Okay maybe that last part wasn't true, but I do enjoy the guy. Hopefully knowing he had the gig again this year meant he watched more hockey.)
The season-end awards are a time for reflection on individual performances, where we get to hear players act humble, claim that personal accolades don't really matter, but know that they're secretly boiling inside their heads, praying they win.
You don't become one of the NHL's best players without being competitive, and tomorrow night will be no different — despite the volume of "just happy to be nominated's" we'll have to wade through.
Of course, it's not that bold a claim to point out that guys want to win these awards, especially when you look at what it can do for their careers.
Players simply won't admit that, for the same reasons as usual. The culture of hockey is one that requires players to never be bigger than the game, and that's a thing of beauty. Our players don't take the podium, point two thumbs at themselves and take five minutes to talk about This Guy. Most guys can't wait to step down and take their trophy. I hope that never changes.
Still, losing a personal award must make a guy feel like Shooter McGavin-ing the trophy from whoever won, given what it can do for a career, and a life.
A quick look at a few of the things that improve with a win.
When agents talk to teams in the summer, they use just about every damn trophy their guy has ever won to sell them, especially in the minors. It's one thing to say "this guy played for (Blank) University," and another to say, "He went to (Blank) University and was the MVP, the fan favorite, and the defensive player of the year."
Teams need to know what differentiates one guy from the next. They'll sink to just about any depth necessary to tack personal achievements beside a player's name — "Did you know my guy was the Booster Club's Most Handsome Man of the Year?"
In the NHL, where players aren't vague names without faces, those individual accolades are used to drive the dollars up. It's a good thing the Vancouver Canucks locked up Ryan Kesler(notes) when they did — negotiating with a 41-goal scorer is one thing, but negotiating with a 41-goal scorer who also won the Selke is a whole other ball of stick wax.
The hockey world is smaller than most people realize — players, GMs, coaches and the like all seem to be connected to one another by one or two degrees of separation, at most. Putting a League-wide accomplishment beside your name can mean simple things like more ice time, a bump in your legacy, and better treatment from coaches and fans alike.
I remember the hushed tones with which people described Duncan Keith(notes) in Kelowna (where he summers) after he took home his Norris. This is the same guy that would go months without wearing his tooth (pre-losing more), yet suddenly he was a local legend. A lot of perks come with status like that.
We're rarely shocked by the names who get nominated for NHL awards, and neither are player agents. They know when they have a guy who could win one at the start of the year, so they often chuck a clause in the contract that provides a bonus to their player if they win any personal award. This is a no-brainer for GMs too — they have no problem paying to have good players, and performance bonuses are a way to ensure that if a guy lives up to his potential, he can pocket a little more coin.
Bigger than cash, respect and negotiating power though, is the simple beauty of being recognized after a year you poured your heart into, as corny as that sounds. Having talent is one thing, and we often write off the success players have as just the result of that god-given gift. We know they train in the off-season, we know they work hard, but the commitment from the best players in the league shouldn't be underestimated.
Tomorrow night, Jay Mohr will grab the mic and have a little fun, which the players are likely to enjoy.
But despite the laughter and the polite interviews, you can be sure these guys want to win. Being competitive doesn't fade away just because you've had a few cocktails.