LAS VEGAS -- The safest play in Vegas right now? Bet on the NHL's annual awards show becoming a permanent fixture in Sin City.
Just two years after moving south from Toronto, the ceremony is quickly devolving into a goofy, almost Golden Globes-esque mess... and that's exactly what it needed after being nearly starched to death in its old format.
Let me clarify here: when I write mess, that's not a knock. Instead, consider it a genuine tip of the cap to whoever finally recognized that the honorees might not appear quite so stilted if only the atmosphere around them was loosened up a bit.
And loose this was. Not quite live-without-a-net, but close enough. There was a TelePromptr on hand, but almost everyone who used it, especially host Jay Mohr, went off reservation looking for a laugh. That approach worked more often than not and when it didn't, the failures were at least the result of swinging for the fences. The night was so open-collar that even the normally taciturn Dave Tippett, winner of the Jack Adams Trophy for coach of the year, cracked wise at his team's expense, saying, "Normally this is where the winner would thank his owner, but I don't think I know all 29 of mine."
So, what worked? Start with Mohr. A surprising choice to act as emcee, especially considering how often he's taken shots at the sport, but he was key to the overall Vegas vibe. He avoided the long monologue and kept his segments brief and punchy while getting in a couple shots at the expense of the Bruins and Coyotes. Oh, and he did a killer Tracy Morgan impression.
Comedian Reese Waters (who accurately noted, "You don't know me") got a big laugh from his "count the black people" quip, but his best moment was backing off his own introduction to allow Alex Ovechkin time to finish his Ted Lindsay Award (formerly the Lester Pearson) acceptance speech. Give the man credit for recognizing who the people, if not the producers, wanted to hear.
High marks to Ovechkin himself, who spent the duration of the show cutting up like the class clown and proving once again that there is no one around this game who is having more fun than Alex.Yeah, he slips on the black hat every once in awhile and his English is worse than a Bullwinkle villain's, but the guy's personality is infectious. Every day that he's not the league's top marketing priority is a wasted opportunity.
Some other highlights from the gala evening:
Jose Theodore's moving Masterton acceptance speech. Nuff said.
Tyler Myers' Calder Trophy remembering-everyone-who-helped-me-get-here acceptance stemwinder. He'd probably still be up on stage thanking the nurses at his orthodontist's office if the lights had been left on for him.
Ryan Miller thanking his back-up, Patrick Lalime. Classy move.
Martin St. Louis reading his acceptance speech off his Iphone. "It's called technology, folks."
Patrick Kane's new friend.
Michael Rosenbaum name-checking Zarley Zalapski.
An entertainment lineup that was pertinent to this decade. The ideal choice for a musical act would have been The Fratellis, whose song Chelsea Dagger was placed into heavy rotation during the playoffs thanks to the scoring exploits of the Blackhawks, but with Snoop Dogg and Travis Barker replacing Chaka Khan as the party starters (albeit through the magic of videotape), it was all gravy after that.
And then there was the highlight of the night: this taped segment featuring Bobby Ryan trying to work his way through a post-Olympic squabble with Anaheim teammate Ryan Getzlaf. One of the greatest hockey bits ever? Sure beats Waikiki Hockey.
Poor kid will probably be called Silver the rest of his life.