The NHL Awards went off without incident – well, almost without incident – but let’s face it, in terms of entertainment value, the show teeters between polite applause and stunned bemusement. The awards also create more than their share of controversy, and not just in the expected and natural debate about winners and runners-up. And although the NHL Awards are in some ways better than they’ve been in past years, there’s still some work that needs done.
Here are four ways I’d make the NHL Awards better:
1. Full disclosure from vote-casters. As I argued yesterday, compared to the Hockey Hall of Fame Awards, the NHL Awards are a model of transparency. That said, the process could and should benefit from fully embracing transparency and revealing how members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (myself included) voted.
This way, when fans are alarmed to see the voting results include someone casting a second-place Hart Trophy vote for Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist as someone did this year, they can turn to the voter in question and ask he or she to defend their rationale. We might not agree with the explanation, but at least we’d have one.
There’s little hockey writers loathe more than the anonymous cowards who dwell in the comments section, so I don’t know how any of us can continue justifying hiding behind anonymity during the time we cast our ballots.
2. More direct descriptions of awards. As noted above, you’re always going to have fans arguing over which player was most deserving of any award. However, there’s an increasing problem with the voting, and it’s all about subjective interpretation. For instance, for years, some voters have looked at the Hart Trophy in its strictest definition – the player adjudged to be most valuable to his team – and other voters (myself included) have come to see it as the league’s most outstanding player. (The short version why: because value is subjective, whereas “outstanding” allows for a wider breadth of candidates to be considered.)
Similarly, the Norris Trophy (won this year by Hawks blueliner Duncan Keith) has, more often than not in the past three years, gone to a player who was especially proficient at one end of the rink, and not nearly so effective in his own zone. That flies in the face of the description of the honor, which is to be given to the defenseman who possesses “the greatest all-around ability” at the position. That simply wasn’t true with either P.K. Subban or Erik Karlsson, yet they won the Norris in the two years prior to this past season. Something is wrong here.
The easy fix is to reword the trophies and/or their explanations and make them clearer. The Hart would go to the most outstanding player. The Norris would go to the most outstanding defenseman. At least then, we’d all be voting on the same thing. Right now, we’re not.
3. No more tape-delays. I understand how difficult it is, in modern TV’s splintered landscape, to produce and distribute a program enjoyed by multiple countries at the same time. But the way the NHL Awards were consumed this year and in previous years isn’t in line with the communal experience many hockey fans have grown to love.
The show could be seen live as it happened in some regions, on tape-delay in some other areas, and not at all in others. When people can see the results in real time on Twitter and other social media outlets, the experience starts to look like NBC’s abysmal tape-delay Olympics broadcasting. That is not ideal, to say the least.
4. Surprise us with some big names. Stephen Colbert has had a hockey connection in the past and would’ve made a host non-hockey fans could be lured in by. Same goes for noted hockey fans Jon Hamm or Bill Burr – the latter of whom would be their best host in years. If you want to ensure full attendance from NHL Award nominees, fly in Kate Upton. Hire Neil Young for the musical portion.
Phillip Phillips? Sorry, but no, no. Splurge on big names, and the media impact that follows will impress.