April 06, 2009
The nominees for the 2009 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy have been slowly revealed by the NHL, and today it was the Pacific Division's turn.
Please recall that the Masterton Trophy is "an annual award under the trusteeship of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and is given to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey." The Professional Hockey Writer's Association chapters for each franchise put forward the candidates for their team.
Let's see ... George Parros of the Anaheim Ducks? Why not. Stephane Robidas of the Dallas Stars is a good choice, although Mike Modano could probably earn this nomination every season. Michal Handzus of the Los Angeles Kings is a stellar choice after a total turnaround season. Zbynek Michalek of the Phoenix Coyotes is evidently in the NHL. And for the San Jose Sharks, it's ... CLAUDE LEMIEUX?!
Looking back at the players that won this award is like watching a marathon of Hallmark Hall of Fame made-for-cable movies. "The Goalie Who Overcame Bacterial Meningitis"; "The Forward Who Battled Cancer"; Ken Daneyko in "Demon in a Bottle"; "The Pat LaFontaine Story."
Thinking of Claude Lemieux as a creature with that level of sympathetic virtue is tougher to swallow than shoe leather. He's one of the most hated men in hockey history, and a player for whom the adjective "human garbage" is liberally applied by some fans (mostly of the Detroit Red Wings persuasion).
The notion of Lemieux winning anything remotely connected to sportsmanship about as comprehensible as the inventor of the pipe bomb winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
But as Meat Loaf taught us: two out of three ain't bad. Claude Lemieux isn't a model of sportsmanship, but his journey this season is undeniably one of "perseverance" and "dedication to hockey." He took a contract on spec, played his heart out in the AHL and has managed to stick with the Sharks as a 43-year-old winger. He went from punchline to the fourth line, and deserves a level of respect for that.
There's a less-than-zero chance that voters will elevate Claude Lemieux over inspirational candidates like Brian Pothier of the Washington Capitals or Richard Zednik of the Florida Panthers. But his candidacy is understandable and legitimate ... even if they've have to take a blowtorch to that "sportsmanship" thing on the trophy if he won it.