Despite the humility with which most NHL players accept individual awards, receiving one is something most of the guys have dreamed of their entire lives. These awards separate the superstars from the rest.
Individual awards tell stories. No one is surprised to see that Alex Ovechkin has won the Rocket Richard Trophy nine times for most goals scored in the regular season. However, when you see that the trophy was claimed by Jonathan Cheechoo in 2006, you might have to do a double take. The same can be said about the Vezina Trophy in 1985 when it was won by the late Pelle Lindbergh, the 2002 Hart Trophy (Jose Theodore), and many more.
Having more individual awards in the NHL would mean that more players would receive recognition. This may not sound important, but here’s why it is: It would market the game. Particularly in the United States, people watch sports to see star players. There’s a reason there were so many Golden State Warriors fans in the mid-to-late 2010s; so many Pittsburgh Penguins fans since 2005; so many fans of whatever NBA team Kevin Durant goes to. If players receive more recognition, especially in non-traditional hockey markets, it will draw fans that otherwise might not watch hockey.
So, without further ado, here are five trophies the NHL should introduce:
1. Wayne Gretzky Award: Most Assists
Even if Wayne Gretzky had never taken a shot in the NHL, he’d still hold the all-time record for most points. However, in The Great One’s autobiography, he talks about how we tend to value goals more than assists. In 1979-80, Gretzky and Marcel Dionne tied for the league lead in points with 137. Because Dionne had more goals, however, he was awarded sole possession of the Art Ross Trophy. In honour of Gretzky and others who set the plays up more than they finished them, the NHL should institute an award for most assists.
2. Scott Stevens Trophy: Best Defensive Defenseman
Full credit for this idea goes to the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast, where they discussed this is a recent episode. You can check it out here.
The Norris Trophy, awarded to the best all-around defenseman in the regular season, is too often given to the highest-scoring defenseman. There’s no problem with that: if a player can score 25 goals from the blue line while keeping the opponents’ stars at bay, they deserve some credit. However, there are also guys that only score three goals a year, but rarely make a mistake defensively. These players also deserve recognition. We have a trophy for best defensive forward, why not have one for best defensive defenseman?
With the emergence of analytics and the influence they now have on the game, there are surely better ways of judging best defenseman than mere points and plus/minus. Stats like time on ice, goals against when he’s on the ice, percentage of penalties killed, etc. should be highly valued.
The Chiclets crew suggested that the trophy be named after Scott Stevens, one of the hardest-hitting defensemen the NHL has ever seen. Because it was their idea, we’ll keep that name for this article. However, we wouldn’t complain if it were named after someone who never won a Norris Trophy, such as Borje Salming.
3. Best Line
The NHL already has the William M. Jennings Trophy, which is usually awarded to the best goalie tandem (although it is occasionally awarded to a single goalie). It tells the story of a goaltending team that’s had an outstanding season. An award for the best line would also tell a story. For example, Henrik and Daniel Sedin receive credit as some of the best players in Canucks history. However, Alex Burrows, who played on a line with the Sedins for years, is often forgotten.
Similar things can be said about many lines throughout history, such as the Red Wings’ “-OV” line, the Sabres’ “French Connection” line, and more. When a star player is involved, they tend to get all the credit, and the others are forgotten.
Since line juggling happens often from game-to-game or shift-to-shift, one thing that might need to be introduced here is a minimum amount of ice time in which players play together to qualify as eligible.
4. Most Points in the Playoffs
In the playoffs, only one individual award is given: the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. The trophy certainly tells a story, especially when it’s won by a player on the losing team. However, it can only be given to one player, even when several may deserve credit for incredible playoff success. The NHL should introduce a trophy for most points, and perhaps several more for things like most goals, most assists, best defenseman, etc. Once again, this would shine light on more individuals, which only helps to market the game even further.
5. Cinderella Story
Each year, there seems to be an incredible story of rags to riches. Whether it’s a team or an individual, someone is going to have the year of their life, and they should get recognition.
The 2018-19 St. Louis Blues would be a great example, as they were famously in last place in league stadings in January, and went on to win the Stanley Cup that year. We all know the story of Mario Lemieux’s miraculous return from cancer in 1993, when, despite missing a large portion of the season, he came back to lead the league in scoring. That would be worthy of this award.
There are so many more stories to be told. There’s so much more credit to be given. The NHL has an opportunity to let their stars shine brighter. Not only would introducing more trophies help the league and the players, it would grow the game of hockey.
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