You’ll never hear a wise hockey fan say, “[player name] belongs in the Hall of Fame — he won five Lady Byngs!”
The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the player who meets the unofficial criteria of recording lots of points and very few PIMs. A needless award? Yes. Painfully flawed in that Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom never won it? Yep. But alas, it remains in the NHL awards rotation.
According to the points-and-PIMs criteria, Ryan O’Reilly will surely win the 2013-14 edition, after topping 60 points and spending just two minutes in the box all season. The lone minor came in his 72nd game, and he was called for the unlikeliest of infractions: failing to drop his broken stick.
Officially, the award goes to “the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” Let’s take the gentlemanly part one step further — statistically, which Byng winners have been the most gentlemanly of the gentlemen?
Here’s the Lady Byngiest of Lady Byng winners — the top five least penalized recipients since 1967 expansion.
5. Paul Kariya – 6 penalty minutes (1996-97)
Having won the award a year earlier with 20 penalty minutes, Kariya made it his goal to “out Byng” himself, and he did just that, taking only three minor penalties in a season that saw the speedy Canadian left winger score 44 goals and 99 points. Those numbers made the former Maine Black Bear a finalist for the Hart Trophy that same season.
4. Rick Kehoe – 6 penalty minutes (1980-81)
The all-time Pittsburgh Penguins team is arguably the most talented group of any NHL franchise. But before Crosby and Malkin and Jagr and Mario, there was Rick Kehoe. He peaked in 1980-81 with 88 points, and whaddya know, that’s the very year he became gentlemanly enough to win the Lady Byng. Kehoe’s teammate Randy Carlyle won the Norris Trophy the same season and Greg Millen was the man between the pipes, with a sparkling 4.16 goals-against average.
3. Brian Campbell – 6 penalty minutes (2011-12)
‘Soupy’ is one of only three defensemen to win the trophy and the first since Red Kelly won it with the Detroit Red Wings 58 years earlier. Campbell’s Byng win in 2012 is perfect proof of the lots-of-points-and-few-PIMs formula; he also recorded just six penalty minutes the season previous with the Blackhawks but wasn’t a finalist. The difference? 27 points in 2010-11 versus 53 in 2011-12.
2. Jean Ratelle – 4 penalty minutes (1971-72)
The longtime New York Rangers center was a shoo-in for the award in 1972, as he broke the 100-point barrier for the only time in his career, while going to the box twice. Making his season more impressive by contrast, linemate Vic Hadfield also topped 100 points that year, but Hadfield recorded 142 penalty minutes to Ratelle’s four.
1. Butch Goring – 2 penalty minutes (1977-78)
Incredibly, Goring went penalty-free three seasons after winning the award in 1978, but failed to take home the Lady Byng that season (though he did win the Conn Smythe). Despite recording single-digit penalty minute totals 14 times in his career, 1978 with the Los Angeles Kings was his only Byng win. Goring and Craig Ramsay share the record for most games in a season (78) without a single penalty in the expansion era NHL.