Friday, February 01, 2008

My Masterton Pick

The Bill Masterton Trophy is given each year to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. In practice this means a player who overcomes a significant hardship to play in the NHL and make an impact. My selection for this award is the same player I supported last year Owen Nolan. Nolan is playing with the Calgary Flames this year and is a solid grinder on the team that provides them with some depth. Nolan has had an injury plagued career. Specifically, he suffered a knee injury in 2004 which kept him out of all hockey games until the 2006/07 season when he made a comeback with the Phoenix Coyotes. He was successful enough in his comeback year to earn another one year contract, this time in Calgary. He has carried on with his NHL career despite injury that would have driven most players to retirement and despite having to relocate annually to play out one year contracts in new cities each season. I think he is the most worthy choice.

I also think that he likely will not win the award. The recent history of the award (for example Phil Kessel's win last season) shows that this award tends to be given to players who overcome illness to continue their career instead of significant injury. This is true even when the illness does not keep the player on the sidelines as long as Nolan was for his knee injury.

I think the two candidates who may be more likely, but less deserving, to win the Masterton are Fernando Pisani of the Edmonton Oilers and Jason Blake of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pisani had ulcerative colitis that kept him on the sidelines at the beginning of the season and had his hockey career in jeopardy. As serious as that is, it kept him out of the NHL for only the first two months of this season. It does not compare to an injury that kept Nolan out of hockey for two years. Jason Blake has cancer. It is a chronic condition (as opposed to one that keeps him out of the NHL). It is clearly serious, but it has not forced him to miss any protracted period of games this season.

I think Owen Nolan is the best choice for the Masterton Trophy. Most players would have retired when his knee was not ready to go in 2005/06 after spending an entire year (the lockout year) rehabbing it. Most players would not have been willing to come back to the NHL and play out a series of one year contracts until his career is completed. The perseverance and dedication to hockey required to have kept Owen Nolan playing in the NHL despite his injuries is the kind of thing that should be rewarded with the Masterton Trophy.

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