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Cuba Gooding Jr. brings some much-needed levity to NHL Awards

Cuba Gooding Jr. was a bright spot in an otherwise straight-laced night in Vegas at the NHL Awards. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Cuba Gooding Jr. was a bright spot in an otherwise straight-laced night in Vegas at the NHL Awards.

There's a reason the Golden Globes make for a more compelling broadcast than the Academy Awards. It's the bratty, misbehaving kid brother of the big show, a couple of booze-fueled hours of snotty, catty fun that plays out with the understanding that the wheels of decorum are likely to come flying off at any moment.

It's that spirit of anarchy --  and the potential for viral video gold -- that makes the otherwise grating exercise in self-congratulation tolerable.

And Cuba Gooding, Jr., god bless 'im, brought it to Tuesday night's NHL Awards.

Gooding's always been a bit of a wild card at these events, but Tuesday was something special. Whether it was fueled by his love of the game, or perhaps some sort of social lubricant, he was a magnificent hot mess during his three-award segment, saving a broadcast that was sinking beyond the point of parody.

That might not be the widely held opinion --  an early review of Gooding as a trending topic on Twitter suggested as much -- but it was must-see TV. Before he took the stage, the show was about as hip as your grandpa's high-waisted slacks. And then he started rolling ... and you couldn't take your eyes off him.

He worked blue, prompting the unsuspecting censors to bleep him twice. He mixed in some racial humor. He insinuated familiarity with Andrew Ference's wife. He ripped the NHL's penny-ante approach to the broadcast. He shouted names at random, kicked a monitor, made awkward small talk and creepily rubbed Mark Messier's skull.

It was mesmerizing.

Knowing how painfully serious the league takes itself, I'd bet that's the last we see of Gooding as a guest at an NHL event. But after watching George Stroumboulopoulos stumble his way through his emcee duties like it was his first time in front of a camera, I'm hoping someone at the head office has the guts to do the right thing: Make Cuba the host next year.

Some other quick thoughts on tonight's proceedings:

* As far as the actual awards went, it was a fairly predictable night. Sidney Crosby won the Hart and Lester Pearson. Tuukka Rask took home the Vezina. Nathan MacKinnon was the Calder winner and his coach, Patrick Roy, won the Jack Adams. Patrice Bergeron won a trio of awards (sort of): the Selke, the NHL Foundation Award and the cover spot on EA's highly anticipated NHL '15.

Duncan Keith was a bit of a surprise for the Norris, but the voting suggested it wasn't as close a race as many of us suspected. Keith earned 68 first place votes, and 1,033 points, to win easily over Zdeno Chara (21, 667) and Shea Weber (26, 638). Weber's latest loss in the category did not go over well with the Predators:

Drew Doughty, the best postseason defenseman in the world, finished sixth on the strength of eight first-place votes and 284 points. He'll have to take solace in his second Stanley Cup ring.

* No problem here with Roy winning the Adams -- tough to overlook a guy who turned a last-place team into a division winner -- but there was some interesting voting in the category. Not one ballot was cast for Stanley Cup finalists Darryl Sutter or Alain Vigneault, but Dan Bylsma (four third-place votes) and Barry Trotz (one third) earned some support ...  right before they were fired at the end of the season.

* The league's only 50-goal man, Alex Ovechkin, didn't get much love in the MVP voting. The defending champ earned one solitary fifth-place vote, placing him in a tie for 23rd behind Gustav Nyquist, Alex Steen, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Marleau, among others. Speaks volumes about the respect the voters had for his effort this season, doesn't it?

* I'm still trying to figure out if Ovechkin was being sincere or taking a shot when he thanked Adam Oates after being presented with his fourth Rocket Richard Trophy before adding, "He don't have a job now so…"

* Tough night of hosting for Strombo, whose constant stumbles made it hard to pick out his most painful moment. Was it when he sent us out to a live performance from someone named Phillip Phillips only to go to a taped bit? Was it one of his two pre-taped segments, the Underachievement Awards or the fake coach in NHL Revealed? Or how about his Catskills-ready selfie/Selke gag? I think it was right after that flop that Pittsburgh writer Seth Rorabaugh pointed out that the one benefit of the lockout was the lack of an awards show last season.

* Barry Melrose was right on the money when he said that the Selke has matured from a minor defensive player award into recognition of the best all-around player in the game. I don't think for a moment that any working GM would trade either Anze Kopitar or Jonathan Toews straight up for Bergeron, but the respect he's earned around the league was evident in the balloting. Bergeron picked up 112 of the 137 first-place votes and finished second on 21 of the remaining 25. He's starting to look like a dark horse candidate for admission to the Hall of Fame when he eventually hangs 'em up.

* Biggest win of the night: MacKinnon with 130 of a possible 137 votes for the Calder. At 18 years, 68 days he became the youngest player ever to win the award, and pocketed a bonus of $212,500 from his entry-level contract. Couple more years and he can spend some of it in the casino.

* What's an award show recap without some fashion talk? Best dressed: Semyon Varlamov for his Russian-made white with black trim outfit

Worst dressed: Matisyahu and his cropped sweat pants (and did his performance make anyone else yearn for the glory days of Chaka Khan?)

Extra effort award to P.K. Subban, who not only had to sell the merits of Marc Bergevin as a GM of the Year nominee -- you know, the guy he's currently negotiating against for his blockbuster new deal -- but found time to change his suit mid-show from a burnt orange number to something in the salmon range. The guy is a national treasure.

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