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My 2021 Awards Ballot: Why Marleau for Masterton? Why Not Matthews for Lady Byng?



Credit: NBCS Bay Area

I was honored to be one of 100 PHWA writers selected to vote for this year’s NHL Awards.

We voted on six trophies (Hart, Norris, Calder, Lady Byng, Selke, Masterton) and both the All-Star and All-Rookie Teams.

Here’s how I voted for the Lady Byng, Selke, and Masterton — I’ll reveal my Hart, Norris, Calder, All-Star, and All-Rookie picks during the Stanley Cup Finals, when those winners will be announced.

Masterton Trophy

Oskar Lindblom was the winner. Here was my vote:

1. Patrick Marleau
2. Matt Dumba
3. Dustin Tokarski

Look, Oskar Lindblom deserves to win the Masterton every year. What better “exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey” than beating cancer to play a full regular season?

But he was my top vote last year too — Lindblom, Bobby Ryan, and Stephen Johns were the finalists, Ryan winning — so I wanted to honor other players this season.

That’s a big part of why I went with the San Jose Sharks’ Patrick Marleau.

I usually try to avoid the “homer” pick — before this vote, the highest I had ever voted a player on a team that I was credentialed for was William Karlsson second for the Lady Byng in 2017-18 — but I think breaking Gordie Howe’s record for All-Time Games Played certainly qualifies as perseverance and dedication to the sport.

For the record, I was credentialed by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18 and by the San Jose Sharks since 2018-19.

Dustin Tokarski might be a left-field selection, but consider that almost five years passed between NHL games for the Sabres goaltender — Oct. 28, 2016 to Mar. 22, 2021, stops in San Diego, Lehigh Valley, Hartford, Charlotte, Wilkes-Barre, and Rochester. I love stories like that.

Lady Byng Trophy

Jaccob Slavin was the winner. Here was my vote:

1. Jaccob Slavin
2. Jared Spurgeon
3. William Karlsson
4. Aleksander Barkov
5. Sean Couturier

I guess I better explain my vote, since it might be my last one!

The Lady Byng is awarded to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

That seems clear enough, right? Be a good sport, don’t be an ass on the ice, and be a excellent player. Personally, I count off-the-ice behavior too — that’s not in the literal definition, but my call.

And contrary to Damien Cox’s Twitter ravings, it has nothing to do with being the best player — it’s a “high” standard of play, not the “highest.”

But I digress: Before I explain Slavin, let’s talk Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews — who deserve other awards, for sure — but not this one.

McDavid was fined the maximum allowable for this March elbow on Jesperi Kotkaniemi — and in my mind, probably should’ve been suspended. There isn’t any amount of points that McDavid can put on the board to get my Lady Byng vote after a cheapshot like that. At least this season.

Matthews is a more complicated case. There’s no doubt that last year, he shouldn’t even have been nominated — though I made the mistake of voting for him — he had, in retrospective, disqualifying acts both on and off the ice in 2019-20.

Here’s How I Defend Voting Auston Matthews for Lady Byng…

Now? We can easily put the Scott Sabourin diss in the past, but harassing a female security guard?

Melissa Geschwind spoke to this:

Matthews did issue a brief apology after coming to a settlement with the security guard in Nov. 2019, but far as I know, he hasn’t said or done anything else to demonstrate contrition or growth.

To Geschwind’s point, it’s not about time, it’s about growth. That makes sense when we’re talking about a behavioral matter.

Now obviously, it’s hard to measure growth from our perspective — none of us in the media are Matthews or in his inner circle — and it’s very possible that he’s learned from the incident in private.

But Geschwind’s objection is also reasonable: The passage of time doesn’t mean that Matthews has learned a thing. And I think learning from this mistake is important when we’re talking about an award for “sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct.”

All said, I can understand why my colleagues voted for Matthews this year. Unlike McDavid, there’s no obvious on-the-ice incident to drag down his candidacy — and the off-the-ice incident was two seasons ago. If we’re judging by strictly this campaign, I have no objection to voting Matthews for the Lady Byng.

And indeed, as the passage of time doesn’t mean that Matthews has learned a thing — it can also be true that his silence doesn’t mean that he hasn’t.

I also get if some voters want to keep the award to on-the-ice achievement, because in many cases, this off-the-ice stuff is a challenge to navigate.

I’ll say this: The truth is, by and large, we really don’t know these athletes who we judge to be “gentlemanly” or not. For sure, it’s a challenge to be judge and jury of the unknown here.

But I’ll stick to my guns here: The Lady Byng should be about on-the-ice play and conduct — plus our best judgment of these players’ conduct off the ice. And I think it’s fair, because of the magnitude of the security guard incident, to expect Matthews to show, in public, why he deserves an award for being a gentleman. He did something obviously wrong — and he hasn’t righted it in an obvious way, at least not enough for this trophy.

Again, this is not a bar that Matthews has to overcome for the Hart Trophy or an All-Star Team selection or another entirely performance-based honor.

I would suspect Matthews could care less about winning the Lady Byng. But if he does care — greater public acknowledgement of his mistake, advocacy for women, just for example, could change my vote in the future.

So why Slavin?

Over the years, I’ve tried to become a better voter with thought-out principles for my votes. For example — I believe goaltenders and defensemen are every bit as valuable as forwards, if not more so— so my Hart vote will reflect that.

As for the Lady Byng, I’ve tried to evolve beyond a pure, just pick the guy who takes the least penalty minutes voter.

Granted, Slavin had just 2 PIMs this year — for a delay of game — but that’s not the only reason why he got my vote.

In my mind, it’s easier to avoid penalties when you’re not asked to defend as much — so an offense-first guy like Johnny Gaudreau will have more trouble getting my vote — than a defensive stalwart like Slavin (and Jared Spurgeon) tasked with big minutes and the toughest match-ups. The three forwards on my list — Karlsson, Aleksander Barkov, and Sean Couturier — reflect that ethic too, in terms of defensive responsibilities.

In short, I think it’s easier to play clean when you’re Gaudreau (or Matthews) as opposed to Slavin.

As for the off-the-ice stuff, I’ve only read and heard positive things about Slavin. Like I said, more often than not, we don’t really know these guys, we’re taking our best guesses.

But you know what? In a way, I do agree with Cox — the PHWA shouldn’t have, or should have a much smaller part in, the vote for the Lady Byng:

See the complete Lady Byng voting here.

Selke Trophy

Aleksander Barkov was the winner. Here was my vote:

1. Joel Eriksson Ek
2. Patrice Bergeron
3. Aleksander Barkov
4. Anze Kopitar
5. Mark Stone

I was one of just four voters to put Eriksson Ek on top of my ballot.

Here’s why I went with Eriksson Ek: First, I’ve obviously been impressed when I’ve watched him. The San Jose Sharks played the Wild eight times this season, so I got a pretty good dose of Eriksson Ek.

Second, his match-ups have been tough. Of these five forwards, per Hockey Viz, Eriksson Ek faced the most difficult competition at 5-on-5.

Also impressive: Per Evolving Hockey, 75.49% of Eriksson Ek’s 5-on-5 faceoffs were in the neutral or defensive zone. Compare that to 58.52 (Bergeron), 65.21 (Barkov), 68.05 (Stone), and 68.79 (Kopitar).

Short-handed usage matters a lot to me too: Eriksson Ek, Kopitar, and Bergeron are first-choice penalty killers on their respective teams, unlike Stone and Barkov.

Finally, I consider the Selke to be a two-way award — disqualifying Phillip Danault and his paltry production, for example — and while Eriksson Ek is no Bergeron, Stone, Barkov, or Kopitar offensively, the Wild center’s 19 goals and 11 assists are solid.

Eriksson isn’t an unimpeachable candidate, by any means — he won less than 50% of his faceoffs and his 1.76 Points Per 60 at 5-on-5 is the lowest in this group — but he also has a lot in his favor.

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