With the 2016 NHL Awards Show taking place tomorrow, the internet has been abuzz with which players should win certain awards, or why a particular trophy should be renamed. But I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the NHL’s forgotten awards. Each of these six awards were given out at different times over the NHL’s 99-year history, but all were discontinued for one reason or another. It’s time for a little NHL history.
The O’Brien Trophy
First Awarded: 1910
First Winner: Montreal Wanderers
Last Awarded: 1949-1950
Last Winner: New York Rangers
Given For: Being the Stanley Cup
loser runner-up, among other things.
The O’Brien Trophy — also known as the O’Brien Cup — was first given out to the National Hockey Association champions from 1910 to 1917. It was named after Ambrose O’Brien, who founded the NHA. Back then, the Stanley Cup wasn’t owned by any league; a team had to be champions in their own league before they could challenge for the Stanley Cup. Thus, many teams that won the O’Brien Trophy also went on to win the Stanley Cup.
When the NHA disbanded, the O’Brien Trophy was awarded to the NHL playoff champions. Once the NHL assumed control of the Stanley Cup, making that their ultimate prize, the purpose of the O’Brien Trophy shifted. First, it was given to the best team in the Canadian Division, while the American Division winners would get the Prince of Wales Trophy. But for a 12-year span from 1938-39 to 1949-50, the O’Brien Trophy was given to the runner-up in the Stanley Cup Finals; that is, to the team that lost the Stanley Cup. After that, the NHL retired the trophy.
NHL Plus/Minus Award
First Awarded: 1982-83
First Winner: Wayne Gretzky
Last Awarded: 2007-2008
Last Winner: Pavel Datsuyk
Given To: The player that has the highest plus/minus rating. The winner must have played at least 60 games in the season to qualify.
Plus/minus is probably the most-criticized “old school” hockey statistic. Maybe that’s why the NHL Plus/Minus Award was retired after 2008. Either that, or they couldn’t get a brand of beer to slap their name on it.
This award has changed names and appearances over the years. When it was first introduced, it was called the Emery Edge Award, which sounds awesome. It had no real name for the 1988-89 season, but then was renamed the Alka-Seltzer Plus Award, then the Bud Ice Plus-Minus Award and then finally the Bud Light Plus-Minus Award.
Should the NHL re-introduce this award, I would hope that they would again call it the Emery Edge Award, which might be named after a sponsor, but sounds much cooler than the Immodium AD Plus-Minus Award or the Toyota Corolla Plus-Minus Trophy, or some other ridiculous, mile-long sponsorship name. Which brings us to our next award…
The Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award
First Awarded: 1999-2000
First Winner: Ed Belfour
Last Awarded: 2006-07
Last Winner: Niklas Backstrom
Given To: The goaltender who has competed in 25 or more games and has the best save percentage.
Officially known as the — (deep breath) — MBNA/MasterCard Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award, this trophy was given out from 1999-2000 to 2006-07. It was named after former NHL goaltender Roger Crozier, who played in the NHL from 1964 to 1977, then later worked for MBNA from 1983 until his death in 1996. But, of course, it was also named after MBNA. Do you see a trend here? The award came with a $25,000 prize that the winner could donate to the youth program of his choice.
NHL/Sheraton Road Performer Award
First Awarded & Last Awarded: 2003-04
First Winner & Last Winner: Joe Sakic
Given To: The player that scores the most points on the road.
Sheraton Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. decided to sponsor an award for the 2003-04 season. The logic behind this was that players stay in hotels when they play road games. So why not give an award, sponsored by a hotel, to the player that scores the most points on the road?
The only time the NHL/Sheraton Road Performer Award was given out was 2003-04. It was won by Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche, who scored 22 goals and 27 assists for 49 points in 41 road games. The 2004-05 season was cancelled due to the lockout, and then the NHL/Sheraton Road Performer Award disappeared into obscurity. Really. I can’t even find a picture of it online.
Scotiabank/NHL Fan Fav Award
First Awarded & Last Awarded: 2009-10
First Winner & Last Winner: Roberto Luongo
Another trophy that seemed to be more about the sponsor than the award itself, the Scotiabank/NHL Fan Fav Award — yes, “Fav” and not “Favorite” — was an award where fans got to vote for their favorite current player. Not surprisingly, Roberto Luongo won the award in its first, last and only year.
NHL Lifetime Achievement Award
First Awarded: 2007-08
First Winner: Gordie Howe
Last Awarded: 2008-09
Last Winner: Jean Beliveau
The NHL Lifetime Achievement Award was given out for two years to a retired NHL great “in recognition of their overall contribution to the league and sport.” Gordie Howe won the award in its first year, while Jean Beliveau won it the next year. The trophy given to Beliveau in 2009 differed from the trophy given to Howe in 2008.
Why the NHL discontinued this award is beyond me. If hockey fans like anything, it is remembering the league’s past heroes. So it would be great to have a retired player appear at the annual awards show, give a speech, and give fans that nostalgic feeling they get whenever they see one of their childhood heroes again.
Plus, there are so many who are deserving of this award; from Wayne Gretzky and all he has done as an ambassador for hockey, to Mario Lemieux for saving hockey in Pittsburgh as both a player and an owner, to Willie O’Ree for his work with the NHL’s Hockey Diversity Task Force. If any award should make a comeback — much like Mr. Hockey did in 1974 — it should be this one. ■
8 thoughts on “Remembering Six Forgotten NHL Awards”
I’d really like to see a Crozier type award where its 42 games minimum while the charity gets 42K. Then I think the Lifetime Achievement award would make the ceremony less Mickey Mouse more Memorial… Not having the fans vote for a favorite player shows how little the league cares about their fans… The Road Award would be cool if they have to play at least 40 games or something like 35 road ones… This is better than many of these hacks/cut/pasted articles that are recycling names over and over ;). The +/- award is something I don’t miss unless they apply it only to D-men where its harder to jump off the ice to save your rating… I wont call the guy out by name, look at a Nashville Predators video of a certain Russian who jumps off the ice leading to an easy goal :). They have a different coach back then so it sure didn’t help his job or the team to do that ;)…
Thanks for the comment, and for the compliment on my article.
I remember Alex Ovechkin leaving the ice when it became apparent that the other team was going to score a goal — and they did. But I think the NHL ended up giving Ovie a minus later that night or the next day; a stat correction.
I always was interesting in the O’Brien trophy. Partly because I am in Renfrew, Ontario once a month or so and partly because I love to read about the history of the league. What is interesting to think about is that in some ways the Campbell trophy replaced it, albeit a decade and a half later. What I could never really get was what the point of retiring it and then not bringing it back was (again in the mindset of someone looking back and knowing expansion happens in 16 years and there would be multiple divisions again).
I agree that the Lifetime Achievement Award should have been kept.
It makes so much more sense than having the Mark Messier leadership award, which seems more like a vanity thing than an actual trophy.
I agree about the Messier Award. It forces sportscaster to awkwardly talk about “what a great leader” Mark Messier was during his career. Funny how they never bring up how he left New York in 1997, or his time with the Canucks, or pretty much anything he did in his second tour with New York.
I think most of us feel this award was more of Messier being a narcissist than wanting to reward someone.