Every year, the Professional Hockey Writers Association breaks up into its local chapters and nominates one player from every team as a finalist for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, before convening to decide on an actual winner. Now, if we’re being honest about the whole thing, the actual winner is going to be Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators, for how he’s balanced caring for his wife as she battles cancer while making the Sens look like an actual playoff team.
But that makes the team awards individually interesting in their own right. It gives an opportunity for us to see who the stories are across the league, what they’ve done, and what they’ve overcome. Toronto’s nominee this year? None other than Morgan Rielly.
Congratulations Morgan Rielly, Leaf nominee for the 2017 Bill Masterton Trophy as chosen by Toronto Chapter of the PHWA.
— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) March 28, 2017
Rielly was the no-brainer nomination here. After all he….
*stops to think*
Okay, I’m not here to rip on Morgan, but I’m not entirely sure why he’s this year’s nominee. The cited conclusion seems to be the fact that he was able to come back from his high-ankle sprain quicker than advertised, and he’s handled his first dose of serious media criticism well. But he’s receiving criticism for his play for the first time in his career because he’s struggled through much of this year, and even more so since returning early from said injury. A token pat on the back for a guy who is nice with the media seems to be the target here and in that regard, good for Morgan. Whether or not he was the best fit, he still has done the best he can with the pressure surrounding him. Not to mention, it’s certainly not on him if others want to give him that pat on the back. He’s here to play hockey and be a representative for the team, and there’s little doubt that he’s done his best to at least be around to do that as much as possible.
For a few others who I think could have been Toronto’s nominee for the award, which is given to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey”, I’d also consider…
- Frederik Andersen, who suffered a serious shoulder injury in Olympic qualifying in the summer and managed to bounce back to become everything the Leafs hoped for in a starter, even when times were tough and skepticism was rampant.
- Nikita Zaitsev, who went undrafted as a teen and was cut from two NHL training camps, only to keep honing his craft in Russia. Through years of effort, he earned the attention of the Maple Leafs, signed his ELC at 24 years old, and has had a strong season as a rookie playing on the first pair.
- Nazem Kadri & Tyler Bozak, who have constantly been under the microscope in Toronto and often pitted against each other, and are now both having career years while taking on additional roles for the team (Kadri as a shutdown player, Bozak as an internal leader).
- Connor Brown, who was constantly written off by scouts, reporters, and fans for most of his way up his development path and will likely hit 20 goals as a rookie, and
- Mitch Marner, who was believed by many to be too small for the NHL at this stage, missed some time to injury, and is still in the thick of the Calder Trophy race, all while injecting youthful excitement and energy to the room.
But, again, since Rielly doesn’t have much of a say in who votes for him, since this is nowhere close to when Ryan O’Reilly got nominated by the Buffalo PHWA in the same year that he drunk drove a car into the side of a Tim Horton’s, and since none of these guys are touching Anderson’s eventual hardware, let’s call the above a shoutout to some interesting stories rather than a crusade to get a nomination reversed and move on to the next thing.