April 11, 2011
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is given to "the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey," which typically means the player who overcame the most squeamish, tragic or devastating injury or incident to persevere in the NHL.
It's the Lifetime Original Movie of hockey awards; the ones that feature inspiring triumphs over adversity and not, like, the teachers sleeping with their students ones ...
Look at the last 20 years of the award: The only two players that didn't have some heartfelt hook to their candidacy were Dave Taylor with the Los Angeles Kings in 1991 and Adam Graves with the New York Rangers in 2001, who were given the award for long-term service.
(Ed. Note: As some have mentioned in the comments, Graves lost an infant son in 2000, so that played into this Masterton win in 2001.)
Coming up, the candidates for the Masterton and our choices for the five most compelling picks.
The Masterton candidates are each nominated by the 30 chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The New York Rangers chapter did not offer a nomination this season; keep in mind they're also boycotting the overall awards vote this season because of the New York Islanders/Chris Botta mess.
Here are the nominees for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy this season:
Of that group, that five players that really stand out for us:
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Minnesota Wild
Between March 25, 2009 and Dec. 1, 2010, Bouchard appeared in a single NHL game, his career halted and threatened by concussions suffered in the 2008-09 regular season and the 2009-10 training camp. He finally returned this season to score 38 points in 59 games. His road back to the NHL was an arduous one; if this is an award for perseverance, then Bouchard's worthy of it.
Kris Draper, Detroit Red Wings
As we said earlier, the Masterton isn't necessarily the "thanks for the memories, old timer" award, although there does seem to be that kind of winner once every decade. Draper, 40 in May, is that old timer, playing for nearly two decades, winning four Stanley Cups and becoming a beloved player in Red Wings history. Which isn't too shabby for a dude that was sold to Detroit by Winnipeg for $1.
Ray Emery, Anaheim Ducks
What else can you say that hasn't been said? From bottoming out in Ottawa to image rehab in Russia to his injury with the Flyers to his against-all-odds comeback with the Ducks, Emery's journey is the stuff this award was made to honor. It's not just coming back from avascular necrosis; it's coming back and helping the Ducks to a fourth-place finish in the West at a time of crisis for their goaltending.
Daymond Langkow, Calgary Flames
No one that's seen this play will ever forget it: The incident that occurred on March 21, 2010, the puck fracturing his neck, sparking fears of spinal cord injury.
He attempted to rehab from it twice, only to be forced to cut his comeback short. His third, desperate attempt was successful, and Langkow returned to the Flames lineup on April 1 for his 1,014th NHL game. Again, a veteran player who willed his way back to the NHL.
Ian Laperriere, Philadelphia Flyers
A tricky candidate, seeing as how he hasn't played even a second of NHL hockey this season, but consider that Lappy spent 18 years in the League; and that he blocked a slap shot with his face in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, missed most of the postseason with a concussion and a fractured orbital bone, and then returned to finish out the playoff run for the Flyers.
After concussion symptoms derailed his 2010-11 season, he worked as an ambassador for the team, on TV and working as an unofficial minor league instructor with the Phantoms.
An inspiring player, as evidenced by this: