A.K.A. 7 Awards the NHL Should Give
Each year, the NHL gives out awards to celebrate the best goalie, defenseman, coach, and all-around player, among others. But I’ve always found their awards lacking. Yes, scoring more goals — or allowing less goals — than your competitor wins the game, but hockey is about much more than that.
So, back in 2018 I created the Puck Junk Awards to give props to the NHL’s biggest surprise player, toughest son-of-a-gun, and the guy that everyone hates, among others. And this year, Puck Junk Podcast cohost Tim Parish chipped in his two cents on who should win these awards that we wish were real.
So, without further ado, here are your winners of the 2021 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…Alex Nedeljkovic of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Why? Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic appeared in just six games for the Hurricanes from January 2017 to March 2020. And while he had success at the AHL level — he backstopped the Charlotte Checkers to a Calder Cup Championship in 2019 — he was hardly a household name among hockey fans, especially those outside of the Carolinas. That changed in a hurry when Petr Mrazek went down with an injury, thrusting “Goalie Ned” into the starting role. And boy, did he roll with it! Nedeljkovic posted a 15-5-0-3 record and led the league with a 1.90 GAA and a .932 Save %. He also had 3 shutouts. With both Mrazek and James Reimer becoming UFAs this summer, and given his stellar performance, Nedeljkovic will be the Canes starter next year.
Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks (2020)
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. Had this award existed a decade ago, past recipients would have included Peter Forsberg and Claude Lemieux. Since COVID-19 made it much harder for a player to “un-retire” and make a comeback, we’ve had to tweak the criteria a bit for 2021 to include any player who made an NHL comeback, regardless of whether or not they had retired or were otherwise on hiatus.
And the winner is…Joe Thornton of the Toronto Maple Leafs!
Why? After Joe Thornton parted ways with the San Jose Sharks in 2020, he played in Switzerland for a few months before returning to the NHL with the Maple Leafs for 2021. Granted, Thornton’s last game with the Sharks was in March and his first game with the Leafs in January, so he wasn’t really out of the NHL all that long. Still, during those summer months, it was questionable if “Jumbo Joe” would be back for his 23rd year in the league.
Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes (2020)
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…Michael Houser of the Buffalo Sabres!
Why? A lot of dominoes — namely, the five Sabres goalies ahead on the depth chart — had to fall in order for 28-year-old Michael Houser to get into his first NHL game. Carter Hutton, Linus Ulmark and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen were all injured. Jonas Johansson was traded to the Avalanche. And Dustin Tokarski, who went 2-8 in 10 starts, was burnt out. Hauser, who spent most of the season on the Sabres’ taxi squad, finally made his NHL debut, stopping 36 of 38 shots and earning the win. He got to start the next three games too, posting a 2-2 record and a 3.46 GAA. Not great stats, but not bad for a guy who was never drafted and spent most of the past eight years in the ECHL.
David Ayres, Carolina Hurricanes (2020)
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…Brady Tkachuk of the Ottawa Senators!
Why? Brady Tkachuk led the league with seven fighting majors during the 2020-21 season AND he led the Senators in scoring with 36 points in 56 games, so there is no one more deserving of this year’s Bob Probert Punchbowl. Tkachuk won four out of his seven fights according to HockeyFights.com. While that win/loss ratio doesn’t make him the next Bob Probert — or even the next Keith Tkachuk for that matter — Tkachuk nonetheless puts up the points and drops the gloves when necessary.
Ryan Reaves, Las Vegas Golden Knights (2020)
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…for the second year in a row, there will be no winner of the Kessel Kup.
Why? The Kessel Kup is only awarded if a player who should have won MVP honors did not. But that doesn’t apply in 2021, as Andrei Vasilevskiy rightly won the Conn Smythe in 2021. The lazy approach would have been for the media to give the award to Nikia Kucherov, who led the league during the playoffs with 32 points in 24 games. Fortunately, Vasilevskiy got the award he deserved, so the Kessel Kup is unnecessary for a second season in a row.
Not Awarded in 2020
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…Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning!
Why? Pretty much every hockey fan outside of the Tampa metropolitan area complained profusely about Nikita Kucherov during the playoffs. They argued that his return to the lineup after the regular season ended was, in Kucherov’s own words, “number one bullshit,” because it put the Bolts well over the salary cap. (Never mind that there IS no salary cap during the postseason, but I digress.) Then, Kuch has the audacity to lead the league in playoff scoring, and later appear shirtless and drunk in the postgame press conference after the Lightning won the Stanley Cup for the second time in two years, ruffling the feathers of oldschool hockey purists. He ripped on Habs fans for over-celebrating the Canadiens winning one game in the Finals, and on Marc-Andre Fleury for winning the Vezina instead of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Anyone who wasn’t bleeding Bolts blue this year wanted to pop Kucherov in the ol’ kisser during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames (2020)
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (2019)
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (2018)
The McLlwain Medal of Merit
Named in honor of NHL journeyman Dave McLlwain, who suited up for four different NHL teams in one season, this award honors the guy who changed teams the most in 2020-21.
And the winner is…Greg Pateryn of the Minnesota Wild…and then the Colorado Avalanche…and then finally the San Jose Sharks.
Why? Defenseman Greg Pateryn is the only player to suit up for three NHL teams during the 2020-21 season. He played three games for the Wild, then was traded to the Avalanche for defenseman Ian Cole. Pateryn’s stint with the Avs lasted only eight games before he was traded again, this time to the Sharks for goalie Devan Dubnyk, where he played just two games. In all, Pateryn season consisted of 13 NHL games between three NHL teams — that’s gotta be a record! — and 11 more games in the minors split between two AHL teams. That’s five teams in a five-month span, so Pateryn probably lived out of a suitcase in 2021.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Kings / Canadiens / Capitals (2020)
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. ■