LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Something about the end of the annual awards signifies that the finish line is in sight. Here are some random thoughts on a momentous day for the NHL that included the announcement of a 31st franchise in the home of the awards, Las Vegas, and a first Hart Trophy for the first American-born scoring champion.
Let’s start with Patrick Kane. It wasn’t quite a Carey Price-type hardware haul, but it was pretty close for Kane, who won the Hart Trophy as league MVP, Art Ross Trophy as scoring champ and the Ted Lindsay Award as the player-elected MVP. It was a nice touch for Kane to say “Batman Returns” was his favorite movie growing up, given that actor Michael Keaton presented the Hart, even though Keaton is from Pittsburgh and is an admitted Penguins fan. In other Batman-related news, host Will Arnett played Batman in The Lego Movie. The most recent Chicago Blackhawk to win a Hart Trophy was Stan Mikita in 1967-68. Kane’s linemate, Artemi Panarin, earned rookie of the year honors, besting Connor McDavid and Shayne Gostisbehere.
Missing in action: the funny
Speaking of Arnett. With all due respect to the comedic actor, why is it so hard to make the annual awards show funny? Or even fun? Just asking.
Are they leaving Las Vegas?
It will be interesting to see how the NHL handles the annual awards show moving forward, now that Las Vegas has its own hockey team. Once the team begins play in 2017-18, other teams won’t likely be too enthusiastic if Vegas continues to host the awards. Although the show might leave me wanting, the city certainly doesn’t. Regardless, maybe now the NHL will find a way to have the awards and the draft in the same city, which would make sense, given how important both events are for the league and the now 31 franchises and how it spreads team staff thin to have events in different cities, often at opposite ends of the country.
Nine years ago to the day, Kane was drafted first overall by the Blackhawks. I recall meeting Kane just before training camp later that fall, and he was maybe 150 pounds and looked like he’d be crushed by NHL competition. He ended up winning rookie of the year honors and went on to win three Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. “I was just talking about it,” Kane recalled. “I remember getting drafted and going through all the combine interviews and the whole process and just kind of thinking at the time, I didn’t really care where I got drafted and what team it was. Now, you look back on it and say how lucky and fortunate I was to go to an organization like the Chicago Blackhawks and a great city like Chicago. Great players that were already there, in the system, great players that were coming up, great players that we added. I feel very, very fortunate. It’s been quite a ride. Obviously, a lot of great moments along the way, and I feel like, [at] 27 right now, hopefully there’s some more in the cards.”
Kings for a night
It was a nice night for the Los Angeles Kings, who are beginning preparations for their 50th anniversary season. Both Drew Doughty (Norris Trophy as top defenseman) and Anze Kopitar (Frank J. Selke Trophy as best two-way forward) came out on top of hotly contested awards categories. Kopitar knocked off defending Selke winner Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins to become the first King to win the trophy. Kopitar also won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct, though he was not on hand for the ceremony. As for Doughty, he earned his first Norris nod and had to best defending Norris winner Erik Karlsson, who had a terrific season with 82 points while playing in all 82 games for the Ottawa Senators. “Doughty does it all, with and without the puck,” Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun on Wednesday. Babcock coached Doughty on two Olympic gold medal teams for Canada. “He gives his teammates and his coach confidence when he is on the ice. Best in the big moments.”
Drive-by interview with a Stanley Cup-carrying Sidney Crosby
The Penguins captain had a chance to talk about those crazy kids he’ll be playing against at the World Cup and what he’s got planned for the Stanley Cup.
Photos: NHL awards from Las Vegas
The NHL awards can be large on cheese and short on teeth, the perfect combination for Las Vegas! So what better way to tell the story than through photos? Behold.
Most missed player?
No question. Jaromir Jagr, who was reportedly back home with his ailing father, was notable in his absence. The winner of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance and dedication to hockey would have been a welcome addition to the proceedings. The award, presented by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, has sometimes been about players who have overcome personal or physical challenge, but I loved the Jagr award because, as Florida Panthers executive director Peter Luukko, who accepted the award on behalf of Jagr, said, the 44-year-old Jagr truly epitomizes the essence of the award. Yes, the workhorse Jagr does have a key to the Panthers’ practice facility.
Trotz knows expansion
There were some interesting observations by Jack Adams Award winner Barry Trotz on what lies ahead for the new expansion team in Las Vegas. Trotz, of course, was the first head coach of the Nashville Predators when that was an expansion franchise in 1998-99. He encouraged the Las Vegas franchise to embrace the uniqueness of its marketplace. Just as there aren’t many places like Nashville and that became part of the Predators’ identity, Trotz encouraged Vegas to do the same. As for being a coach visiting the city, he figured it might be easier for Western Conference teams because it’ll become old hat, as opposed to Eastern Conference teams such as his Washington Capitals, who will visit just once a year. “We’re going to be like kids in a candy store,” the Capitals coach said.