The NHL is not shy when it comes to recognizing its own.
It has annual awards for the most offensive player (Art Ross) and least offensive (Lady Byng). It has four trophies dedicated to players whose main task is to keep opponents from scoring.
It celebrates its best newcomer, the guy who scores the most goals and the one best at leading. The most valuable player on the ice and off ice get hardware to take home. Coaches, GMs and builders in the United States are honored each year.
Heck, even Joes who do nothing more than write about or broadcast the sport are eligible for recognition.
All told, there are 18 individual trophies listed in the NHL Guide and Record Book. Curiously, however, only one of those baubles is dedicated to the playoffs.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand the Stanley Cup is “the thing” in the spring and there has been a proliferation of trophies in society, in general. (I’m still waiting to be nominated for the Montgomery Burns Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence Award, BTW).
But if we’re committed to that route, one in which the best of the best in a plethora of categories is feted, why not extend that logic to the post-season?
The Stanley Cup-winning team plays roughly 22 games each playoff season. That’s just more than 25 percent of a regular campaign. And, as we’ve come to learn from the NHL’s messaging about discipline, one playoff game equals roughly three regular season games, in terms of significance. The math is rudimentary.
Yet individual recognition for players at the most important time is limited to the Conn Smythe, a trophy whose candidates shrinks to two or three by the time the voting is conducted. It virtually always goes to a player on the winning team: one of the leading scorer, the great defenseman or the stellar goalie.
This may have made sense in the Original Six era, when the playoffs were a two-round affair. Heck, the 1960 Montreal Canadiens only needed eight games to win it all that spring, thanks to consecutive sweeps. That’s basically one round by today’s standards.
In addition, the saturated coverage in the playoffs affords voters greater opportunity to truly read a player’s worth. The Eastern Conference beat writer, for example, who only sees Jonathan Quick twice in person each year, is focused on him nightly in April, May and June, in the most critical situations. We get a more accurate, first-hand assessment of how players compare.
Bearing the aforementioned in mind, I think it’s time the NHL considered complementing the Conn Smythe with playoff awards for the best goalie, defenseman and forward, thereby giving players on non-Cup winning clubs the chance for due recognition. This is something the IIHF already does at shorter tournaments, such as the World Championships and Olympics (they also allow the media to pick all-star teams).
For fans and media members, it would give us another measuring stick when it comes to debating players’ value at contract and Hall-of-Fame consideration time. And for the league, it provides more fodder for promotion and could be another opportunity to sell sponsorships. Sounds like win-win, doesn’t it?