NHL's 2014 Masterton Trophy: Nominees, stories, favorites to win
You'll often hear it said that the Lady Byng is the award no player wants to win, but that's not right.
The one that almost everyone wants to avoid has always been the Bill Masterton Trophy.
Unfortunately, that's what it has become.
On the surface, the Masterton sounds honorable enough. It's awarded to the player who "best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication," traits to which almost everyone aspires.
But just like the Oscars tend to honor films that feature themes of tragedy, loss and misfortune, the Masterton has become a tribute to the cruelest twists and turns that fate can deal a player. Things have to go awfully wrong before you can take this hardware home.
With that in mind, here are the 29 nominees that have been announced as of Thursday afternoon, April 10 (Colorado, you're on the clock), along with some insight into why they were nominated by their local chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and their chances of succeeding Minnesota's Josh Harding as this year's winner.
The plot: Veteran defender played through a torn ACL in last spring's playoffs, then battled back from offseason surgery to play a significant role in his team's Pacific Division title-winning season.
Chances of winning: Nice story, but too often told to gain any traction with voters.
The plot: One of the enduring images of last spring's postseason was of the gutsy forward gritting his teeth and struggling bravely for 47 seconds of a penalty kill while playing on a leg he'd broken while blocking a shot only moments before.
Chances of winning: A truly selfless moment, but it, and his subsequent recovery, are likely to be overshadowed.
The plot: Struggling offensively under former coach Ron Rolston, Stafford was repeatedly benched and had the A stripped from his sweater. Given a fresh slate by Ted Nolan, he rediscovered his passion and his game and has become one of Buffalo's top forwards.
Chances of winning: On par with Buffalo's shot at making the playoffs.
The plot: Giordano's life story should be required reading for every kid who is told he'll never make The Show. An undrafted overager who was offered a three-way contract by only one team, he jumped at Calgary's offer and got to work. Ten years later, he's now the captain of an NHL team. This season, Giordano worked his way into consideration for both the Canadian Olympic team and the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman. Amazing.
Chances of winning: Maybe if the story had more truculence...
The plot: Forced into pseudo-retirement last season by the Canucks after an eye injury left him with severely diminished vision, Malhotra defied medical advice to pursue a comeback. The Hurricanes gave him a chance first in the AHL, then in Carolina when their need for defensive help became apparent. He rewarded their faith by asserting himself as one of the top face-off men in the game (59.1 percent) and an elite penalty killer.
Chances of winning: Malhotra's a good guy with a great comeback story. He should finish in the top three.
The plot: The veteran forward overcame knee and wrist injuries this season.
Chances of winning: There's very little meat in this gym mat.
Colorado Avalanche: TBD
The plot: The winger has put together a career-best season (18 goals and counting) while dealing with his infant daughter's grave heart condition.
Chances of winning: Slim, but Foligno's already won the real prize. Milana is doing well now and though facing additional minor surgeries, she has a bright and healthy future ahead of her.
Dallas Stars: Rich Peverley
The plot: Ostensibly, his nomination was based on the path he's traveled from long shot to a valuable and versatile forward in the NHL, but there's no ignoring the headline here.
Chances of winning: He's the sentimental favorite, although he's also the first to admit he shouldn't be. “I think there are so many people who have gone through extremely hard situations and come back, and those are the people who should get the attention," Peverley said. "If I come back, maybe I’ll deserve it, but I don’t want to have all of this attention because something bad happened to me.” He's right. The voters should wait to honor Pevs next year.
The plot: Old warhorse fights the urge to head out to pasture, opting for one more kick at the Cup.
Chances of winning: It'll make for a compelling angle if Detroit goes on a playoff run, but it's not much of a hook for Masterton voters.
The plot: The 6'-2", 191-pound forward has surpassed the 1,250 game mark and recorded 23 points (10G, 13A) and five power play goals this season.
Chances of winning: With no one really worthy on this team, Smyth's nomination was a tip o' the cap for his years of honorable service.
The plot: At 37, the former first-overall pick returned from a major hip injury that sidelined him more than nine months.
Chances of winning: You have to admire the dedication it took to rehab this injury, especially at his age. But the once imposing defenseman been largely ineffective since returning to action, which pretty much kills his chances.
Los Angeles: Willie Mitchell
The plot: At 36, the veteran blueliner came back from a pair of knee injuries that cost him his entire 2012-13 season to play a key role for the Kings. He's averaging more than 20 minutes a night and leads the team in blocked shots and, likely, safe decisions.
Chances of winning: It's a great story, but too familiar to stand out from the pack.
Minnesota Wild: Josh Harding
The plot: Harding continues to be one of the most inspirational stories in sports as he battles multiple sclerosis. He compiled an 18-7-3 record with a league-leading 1.65 GAA and .933 save percentage in 29 games before being sidelined in December while making adjustments to his treatment protocol. He was back on the practice ice last week, setting up a possible return to action next season.
Chances of winning: There's never been a repeat winner of the Masterton, but this could be the year. It's hard not to see Harding as one of the favorites.
The plot: After a dismal start that saw the mayor of Montreal try to run the Habs forward out of town, Desharnais refocused his efforts and emerged from the doghouse to play some of the best hockey of his career.
Chances of winning: Everyone loves the little guy who proves he can cut it in a big man's game, but Desharnais has no chance here.
The plot: A longshot to make the NHL when he was drafted 220th overall in 2000, Gaustad worked at his game until he matured into a reliable defensive center.
Chances of winning: It's a good story to inspire other underdogs, but it won't generate any votes.
The plot: Talk about dedication. Here's a man who is leading his team in scoring at a time when almost everyone else his age (42) has long since retired. His early morning and late-night workouts are so legendary that the montages almost edit themselves.
Chances of winning: There's a lot to admire in Jagr's story, but not enough drama to sway the voters.
The plot: A second-round pick by the Oilers back in 2003, winger McDonald paid his dues in more than 400 minor league games before finally becoming an NHL regular last season.
Chances of winning: He's the picture of perseverance, but playing a depth role ensures that his story will fly under the radar.
The plot: The journeyman NHL forward took a year away from the game to care for his ailing wife. His return after her tragic passing has been nothing short of inspirational.
Chances of winning: Moore is one of those guys everyone cheers for. He plays the game the right way and his priorities are in the right place. He deserves the win.
The plot: Former Norris winner returns from a career-threatening Achilles injury to regain his place as one of the best in the game.
Chances of winning: There's nothing quite like watching Karlsson wind it up and go from behind his own net, but that's not going to earn him any votes in this field.
The plot: The 39-year-old defender is well respected around the league for squeezing every last drop out of his limited physical abilities.
Chances of winning: Considering that he's spent all but four games this season in the press box as a healthy scratch, it's hard to see him generating any support.
The plot: Unsigned last summer, the veteran center started the season in Finland before landing in Phoenix where he's found his niche playing a defensive role.
Chances of winning: If playing in Phoenix can obscure the greatness of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Halpern's quiet success story isn't going to make a ripple on the national scene.
The plot: The 2013 Norris Trophy finalist had his life upended when he suffered a stroke in January. The ailment, brought on by a previously undetected hole in his heart, could have ended his season, but he battled back after 10 weeks on the sidelines to return to action just ahead of the playoffs.
Chances of winning: Hard not to be moved by this story -- a guy in peak physical condition stricken by a condition that's usually associated with the elderly. His case is so shocking that he's sure to be given serious consideration, but he's already a winner just by making it back to the ice this season.
The plot: The backup goalie earned this recognition for his "recovery after complex surgery to regenerate a leg nerve severed by an opponent's skate" while playing with the Worcester Sharks of the AHL back in February 2011.
Chances of winning: Another great story, but his injury and recovery transpired at the minor-league level. It's unlikely that will resonate with voters.
St. Louis Blues: Alex Steen
The plot: The winger suffered a concussion in December that cost him 11 games. Despite the injury and time missed, he continues to lead the Blues in goals (33) and is tied for the team lead in points (60).
Chances of winning: The injury curtailed his breakthrough season, but if this was the worst thing that happened to a Blue all season, they should consider themselves very lucky.
The plot: The sniper says the fractured right tibia that curtailed his season and ended his Olympic dream was his "adversity moment." That might be underselling it a bit. His efforts to fast track his recovery with an eye on Sochi were remarkable, and while he couldn't make it back in time for the Olympics, his pursuit of his goal was extraordinary. His eventual return to Tampa Bay's lineup hints at what a season this could have been for him. Playing on a leg that won't be fully healed until next season, he has 10 goals through his past 16 games.
Chance of winning: Given that his recovery was one of the most closely watched stories of the year, he'll get strong consideration.
The plot: A promising defender for the Lightning, Ranger simply walked away from the game early in the 2009-10 season. Three years later, he worked his way back in, first with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL and then with the Maple Leafs, who gave him a chance to prove himself this season.
Chances of winning: The hockey world has never been all that accepting of guys who march to their own drummer. And given Ranger's unwillingness to explain his decision, and a pretty bad season for Toronto, it's highly unlikely this nomination goes anywhere.
Vancouver Canucks: Henrik Sedin
The plot: Vancouver's venerable center appeared in his 1,000th game this season, but also saw his iron man streak of 679 games, sixth longest in NHL history, come to an end when he suffered a rib injury.
Chances of winning: This is another one of those "they had to pick someone" nominations, so let's just say his chances are not good.
The plot: Ward should be the poster child for perseverance. Unwanted in his draft year of 1999, the winger spent four years at the University of Prince Edward Island. After that, he hooked on with, and was cut by, three NHL organizations before finally making his league debut at 26. Now 34, he's enjoying arguably his best campaign and has topped 20 goals for the first time in his career.
Chances of winning: He's a two-time nominee because he's such a great story, but the field is too crowded this year for him to stand out.
The plot: The 35-year-old center managed to bounce back from a season so dreadful that it should have ended his career. Given one more chance by a Winnipeg club that was desperate to recruit talent, he proved to have more than fumes in his gas tank.Chances of winning: None at all.