A.K.A. 7 NHL Awards We Need Right Now
The NHL gives out 17 individual awards at the end of the season. To some, that might seem excessive. Do we really need a Mark Messier Award for Leadership when the league already has two awards for MVPs?
However, I would argue that the NHL needs more awards, so in 2018 I created some new ones. We all know who the highest scorer, top coach and best goalie are. Now, let’s give props to the toughest player, greatest surprise and biggest jerk, among others. Plus, there is a new Puck Junk Award for 2020.
Here are your winners of the third-annual Puck Junk Awards.
The Chris Kontos Trophy
For the player you never heard of that came out of nowhere and surprised everyone — like the way Chris Kontos did when he scored four goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the team’s first-ever game back in 1992.
And the winner is…Dominik Kubalik of the Chicago Blackhawks!
Why? Quick question: who heard of Dominik Kubalik before the 2019-20 season? Please raise your hand. Yep…that’s what I thought. Other than a random Kings blogger, not many would remember when Kubalik was drafted by Los Angeles 191st overall in 2013. Fast forwards six years, and Kubalik led all rookies with 30 goals, was third in scoring among rookies and was third in voting for the Calder Trophy, behind winner Cale Makar and runner-up Quinn Hughes. Thirty goals by a guy who spent the past two seasons playing in Switzerland is a nice surprise and worthy of the Chris Kontos Trophy.
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (2019)
William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights (2018)
The Boomerang of the Year Award
For the player that went away, and then came back, only to go away again. Had this award existed a decade ago, past recipients would have included Peter Forsberg and Claude Lemieux.
And the winner is…Justin Williams of the Carolina Hurricanes!
Why? Nineteen-year veteran Justin Williams is this year’s winner of the Boomerang of the Year because he “decided to step away from the game” in September 2019, then returned in January 2020 to play with the Hurricanes, then retired for good in October. Williams scored 15 points in Game 7 games, earning him the nickname “Mr. Game 7.” Not the most creative moniker, but no one can doubt William’s performance when it mattered most.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Los Angeles Kings (2019)
Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators (2018)
The Len Broderick Trophy
For the goalie least likely to play in an NHL game, but actually got to play in an NHL game. The award is named after Len Broderick, who was a “standby” goalie that suited up for the Montreal Canadiens for one game in 1957 to fill in for Jacques Plante.
And the winner is…David Ayres of the Carolina Hurricanes!
Why? Could it really be anyone but David Ayres? The 42-year old Zamboni driver and rink facilities manager was also the Toronto Maple Leafs’ designated emergency backup goaltender (EBUG) on the night of February 22, 2020. When the visiting Carolina Hurricanes lost both of their goalies due to injuries, Ayres donned the pads and a ‘Canes uniform, played almost half the game, made eight saves and earned the win. He is the first EBUG to be credited with a win, and the oldest goalie in history to win his NHL debut. Ayres was also the feel-good story for the NHL this past season.
Hunter Miska, Arizona Coyotes (2019)
Scott Foster, Chicago Blackhawks (2018)
The Bob Probert Punchbowl
For being a tough mofo that can fight and contribute offensively.
And the winner is…Ryan Reaves of the Las Vegas Golden Knights!
Why? Reaves fought three times last season. That’s not really impressive until you consider that Reaves doesn’t fight much because he doesn’t have to. During his first five years in the NHL, Reaves fought 46 times. Eventually, players around the league wised up and don’t challenge Reaves much these days. Case-in-point: when Reaves hit Tyler Motte of the Canucks with an illegal check to the head, no one on the Canucks stood up to Reaves. And the one-game suspension that Reaves served for that hit was the only time in 2019-20 that he was not in the Golden Knights’ lineup. Reaves may not have a lot of points — he had eight goals and seven assists last season — but he contributes in other ways. He makes his teammates play bigger than they are, takes a regular shift on the fourth line, sometimes gets power play time and led the league last season with 316 hits. The Golden Knights signed Reaves to a two-year, $3.5 million extension in the offseason. The guy can fight but he also gets a regular shift and makes over $1 million per year.
Michael Ferland, Carolina Hurricanes (2019)
Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals (2018)
The Kessel Kup
For being the Stanley Cup MVP who was not given Stanley Cup MVP award because his more-popular teammate was voted as Stanley Cup MVP. Named in honor of Penguins’ forward Phil Kessel, who should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2016 as the playoff MVP, only to lose to Sidney Crosby.
And the winner is...there will be no winner of the Kessel Kup for 2020.
Why? The Kessel Kup is only awarded if a player who should have won MVP honors did not. That does not apply in 2020, since Victor Hedman was named playoff MVP — and rightly so. Fortunately, the voters picked Hedman to win postseason MVP honors, instead of taking the easy way out and just voting for Nikita Kucherov, who led the team in scoring.
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (2019)
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals (2018)
The Claude Lemieux Award
For being the guy that everyone wants to punch in the face.
And the winner is…Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames!
Why? Matthew Tkachuk has evolved into the ultimate superpest — a player who gets under opponents’ skin but can also score. He netted 23 goals and 38 assists for 61 points in 68 regular season games for the Flames. But he is also an agitator, who will hit, slash, cross check or elbow opponents to get them off their game. (This video, entitled “Matthew Tkachuk Pissing People Off” is a good primer on the kind of stuff he pulls.) Perhaps Tkachuk’s most infamous moment was on January 11 when he hit Oilers forward Zack Kassian with two questionable bodychecks, then turtled when Kassian grabbed Tkachuk and tried to fight him. The thing is Tkachuk can fight, but many times chooses not to so he draws a penalty. Claude Lemieux would be so proud.
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (2019)
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (2018)
The McLlwain Medal of Merit (a new award!)
This new Puck Junk Award for 2020 rewards the guy who changed teams the most during the season. Named in honor of NHL journeyman Dave MccLwain, who was the first player to suit up for four different NHL teams in one season.
And the winner is…Ilya Kovalchuk of the Los Angeles Kings…and then Montreal Canadiens…and then finally the Washington Capitals.
Why? Three players spent the 2019-20 season with three different teams; the other two were Vladislav Namestnikov (Rangers, Senators, Avalanche) and Marco Scandella (Sabres, Canadiens, Blues). But Ilya Kovalchuk gets the freshly-minted McLlwain Medal of Merit for being the most high-profile player to twice change teams last season. The former first-overall pick started out with the Kings, which was surprising, given his lackluster performance with L.A. in 2018-19. After 17 games this season, Kovalchuk was a healthy scratch until the team bought him out in December. He then signed with the Canadiens on January 3, only to be traded to the Capitals on February 23. Unfortunately, Kovie plus Ovie did not equal Stanley for Washington, so the Capitals most likely won’t be Kovalchuk’s last team.
What player would you like to see win one of these awards? Or what new award would you like to see get created? Leave your suggestion below, or hit me up on Twitter. ■