We scribblers have the honor of deciding the winners of five major NHL trophies: Hart, Calder, Norris, Selke and Lady Byng. But the league doesn't like it when writers make their choices public in advance, so we're going to do something a little different here with the regular season ticking down to its final days....
Welcome to the first annual NHL Dater Awards. Some recipients will like receiving them. Others will not.
The votes are in:
Ken Hitchcock (St. Louis Blues)
Columbus GM Scott Howson fired him exactly 59 games after the veteran coach had taken the Blue Jackets to the playoffs for the first and still only time in franchise history, in 2009. The team then rapidly turned into a worse joke than anything Henny Youngman ever served up. The Blues, 6-7-0 when they hired Hitchcock last November, could win the Presidents' Trophy. Howson remains employed in Columbus, which....well, let's move on.
Tomas Fleischmann (Florida Panthers) and Michael Ryder (Dallas Stars)
Both were deemed expendable by Colorado and Boston, respectively, when their contracts were up. Their combined totals entering Friday, March 30: 120 points on 60 goals (Fleischmann 25, Ryder 35) and 60 assists (Fleischmann 33, Ryder 27). The Avalanche likely will miss the playoffs for the third time in four years, largely because of a lack of scoring. Boston wishes it had another goal scorer for the playoffs. Imagine that.
Brian Elliott, (St. Louis Blues)
He's posted only nine shutouts and is contending for the Vezina Trophy just nine months after being let go for nothing by Colorado. Yeah, the team in front of him has helped, but his numbers have been astounding (23-9-3, 1.48 GAA, .943 saves pct.) for a guy who was supposed to be a sieve.
Jonas Gustavsson (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Much like giving the former original cast member of Saturday Night Live his own TV gabfest, it seemed like a good idea at the time to wine and dine the 6'-3" goalie after he had some fine seasons in the Swedish League. Toronto proved to be the winning suitor and Gustavsson came into the NHL in 2009 with the nickname "The Monster", which is now an unfunny irony to long-suffering Leafs fans. He couldn't win many games and he couldn't stay healthy much. He even got hurt during pregame warm-ups on March 29. A disaster, yes, but at least he's lasted longer than The Chevy Chase Show, which was cancelled after only five weeks.
The NHL and the Phoenix Coyotes
One of these decades can we get a resolution as to what they're going to do? Can we finally just know whether there is a new owner who will keep the Yotes in Glendale or move them to Quebec, Seattle, Kansas City, Portland, Las Vegas, Hamilton or any one of a dozen other places? I mean, we'd all love to read another story about how Jerry Reinsdorf or Greg Jamison or some other buyer has emerged and the future looks bright in Phoenix and the league is committed to making it work and, oh, by the way, there's no deal yet and keeping the team there another year could go down to a last-minute Glendale city council vote telecasted on cable access. Unfortunately, this situation has truly devolved into one of the most tired storylines in sports history.
James Wisniewski (Columbus Blue Jackets)
In the fine tradition of the former Atlanta Hawk being paid more money than NBA icons Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, Wisniewski's six-year, $33 million deal with the Jackets has always looked, um, shall we say, crazy. Two 30-point and two 20-plus point seasons as a defender on mostly bad teams and suddenly he's worth THAT kind of dough? Wisniewski got off to a roaring start in C-Bus by nailing Cal Clutterbuck of the Wild and getting himself suspended for eight games. Since then, things haven't gotten much better.
Entering their game on March 29, they had suited up 45 players this season. That tops the total number of drummers who played at one time or another for the illustrious World's Loudest Band in Rob Reiner's famed rock "mockumentary" This Is Spinal Tap. At least no Wild player (that we know of) spontaneously combusted and was reduced to a little green globule or died in a bizarre, unsolved gardening accident, as did two of Tap's unfortunate stickmen.
Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins)
Hockey and politics don't usually mix much or well. So when the netminder boycotted the Bruins' White House visit because of his beliefs, it set off a firestorm that seems in retrospect to have been a troublesome distraction for his team. As a guy making $5 million a year in the United States, he probably wasn't the best poster child for alleged repression by Big Gubmint.
Ilya Bryzgalov (Philadelphia Flyers)
Two words: "universe" and "humungous."
Anyone who doesn't get a little choked up watching this clip from HBO's 24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the Winter Classic probably isn't human. This 10-year-old showed us what a real hockey fan looks like.