With the homestretch of the regular season upon us and the post-season on the horizon, Professional Hockey Writers Association chapters throughout the NHL have begun the yearly announcement of nominees for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The award, named for the former Minnesota North Stars player who died in January 1968 as the result of injuries sustained during a game, is handed out annually to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”
Last year, the Masterton was awarded to then-New Jersey Devils and current Nashville Predators center Brian Boyle, who was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia ahead of the 2017-18 campaign but returned to play and scored 13 goals and 23 points in 69 games with the Devils last season. Other recent recipients include Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, then-Florida Panthers winger Jaromir Jagr and Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
The following players have been announced as nominees for the Masterton this season. Three finalists will be chosen from the list, and the winner of the award will be announced at the NHL Awards at season’s end:
Anaheim Ducks: After missing all but two games last season due to what was at first suspected to but later found not to be Guillain-Barre syndrome, Patrick Eaves appeared primed to make his return this season. Unfortunately, this season has been as difficult as the last for the 34-year-old. He has only been able to skate in seven games with the Ducks this season, playing another seven with the AHL affiliate San Diego Gulls, and his return to the NHL is uncertain given his continued battle to remain healthy.
Arizona Coyotes: Michael Grabner’s first season with the Coyotes was off to an excellent start, the speedy veteran winger scoring six goals and 11 points in his first 25 games with the club, but his campaign was derailed when a serious eye injury sidelined Grabner, 31, from December through to early March. Two games into his return, Grabner scored a pair of goals and he has proven himself to be one of the best shorthanded weapons in the NHL this season. His six shorthanded goals are the most in the league despite his playing only 36 games.
Boston Bruins: The ageless wonder, Zdeno Chara, has already signed on for another season with the Bruins, and the towering defenseman has proven that he hasn’t lost much of a step despite recently celebrating his 42nd birthday. With five goals and 14 points this season, Chara has been able to contribute when he’s been in the lineup, and his 21-minute average ice time is proof positive that he can still make an impact on the game. Chara recently became the 22nd defenseman in NHL history to score 200 career goals.
Buffalo Sabres: Jason Pominville isn’t the player he once was for the Sabres, certainly not as productive as he had been during his prime years spent in Buffalo, but that doesn’t mean the 36-year-old hasn’t contributed. His 15 goals and 28 points put him fourth and seventh in team scoring, respectively, and he continues to play an important role as a leader and versatile, reliable bottom-six skater. A perpetual vote-getter for the Lady Byng, Pominville is going to be in that conversation again this season with just four penalty minutes in 68 games.
Carolina Hurricanes: Just when it looked like Curtis McElhinney had found a home in Toronto, he was waived by the Maple Leafs and scooped up by the Hurricanes. Such is life for a career backup. A crease veteran, the 35-year-old McElhinney has made the most of his split-time starting gig in Carolina, though, with a 19-9-2 record, .915 save percentage and two shutouts in 30 games. It’s never easy to bounce around the league, but McElhinney, now on his seventh team, has been great in his new home.
Columbus Blue Jackets: TBA
Calgary Flames: Nominated primarily because he’s maintained a high standard of play late into his career, Mark Giordano isn’t going to win the award. He likely won’t be a finalist, either. But that’s OK, because the 35-year-old defenseman is gunning for the Norris Trophy, which speaks to how well he’s played this season. With 16 goals and 72 points in 75 games, he’s one of the highest scoring defensemen during an age 35 season or older in NHL history. Add in his defensive acumen and ‘Gio’ has Norris written all over him.
Chicago Blackhawks: There was concern that Corey Crawford’s career was over when he missed the majority of last season and wasn’t ready to start the current campaign due to the aftermath of a concussion, but the two-time Stanley Cup-winning netminder returned to the crease and has been the backbone of a porous Blackhawks defense. Though his numbers don’t scream success, his .909 SP and 2.91 goals-against average are impressive marks considering his workload. The real victory here, though, is that the 34-year-old is healthy enough to continue his career.
Colorado Avalanche: It could be argued that despite the likelihood Carl Soderberg will fail to set a new career high for points – he’s at 46 points entering Friday, five back of the 51 points he scored during the 2015-16 season – that this has been the best offensive season of the 33-year-old’s NHL career. After a trying season a couple years back, Soderberg has fired home 22 goals, the most of his career, and has remained a top-six fixture in Colorado all season. Also worth noting is that Soderberg battles legal blindness in his left eye, but that hasn’t slowed him down.
Dallas Stars: At a certain point, Taylor Fedun had to worry whether or not he was ever going to crack the big club and become a full-time NHL rearguard. The 30-year-old had bounced from the Oilers to the Sharks to the Canucks and on to the Sabres without a shot at a full-time gig. But after being acquired from Buffalo in November, Fedun has made his way into the Stars’ lineup and, barring a scratch or two, he hasn’t left since. Is he a top-pairing blueliner? No, but with four goals and 11 points in 49 games, he’s finally getting his chance and proving he can contribute.
Detroit Red Wings: There were whispers that Niklas Kronwall was done, that he wouldn’t return this season, instead following in the footsteps of others who have entered into so-called LTIRetirement. For Kronwall, it was repeated knee injuries that threatened to end his career, but the 38-year-old Red Wings defenseman has fought through the pain to play all but three games this season, which is the final campaign of his contract. He’s not the same player as he was during his prime, but Kronwall has scored three goals and 23 points in 73 games.
Edmonton Oilers: Andrej Sekera’s off-season Achilles tear had some wondering not when but if the veteran blueliner would return. The 32-year-old wasn’t all that far removed from a knee injury that cost him the final games of the Oilers’ 2017 playoff run and nearly half of the 2017-18 campaign, and here he was sidelined for months with another lower-body ailment. The puck-moving defender returned in mid-February, though, and while he hasn’t been the big-minute blueliner he was at the beginning of his Oilers tenure, Sekera has managed to pick up three assists and play a meaningful role on the back end.
Florida Panthers: Derek MacKenzie, 37, announced ahead of the campaign that this would be his final season in the NHL, and his last go-round in the league hasn’t at all gone as planned. Injured early in the season, MacKenzie was forced onto the injured reserve, underwent shoulder surgery and his season has been limited to just one game. A veteran of 600-plus games, MacKenzie scored 51 goals and 125 points during his big-league tenure, carving out a career as a fourth-line wrecking ball.
Los Angeles Kings: In a sense, Jack Campbell falls into the Dubnyk category of Masterton nominee. Though not producing Vezina Trophy calibre numbers this season, Campbell earns the nod given his dedication through the ups-and-downs in his career. The 27-year-old was once a highly touted prospect, selected 11th overall in the 2010 draft by the Stars, but he had played only seven NHL contests prior to this season. He has found a fit in Los Angeles, however, putting up good numbers as an injury replacement last season before posting a .925 SP and 2.32 GAA in 27 appearances this season.
Minnesota Wild: TBA
Montreal Canadiens: Knee ailments cost Andrew Shaw a large chunk of the 2017-18 campaign and he was forced to spend 15 games on the sideline this season with a neck injury. Despite that, he continues to be a fan favorite in Montreal, a crash-and-bang type player who contributes on the scoresheet. In 58 games, he has scored 18 goals and 42 points, and the 27-year-old is on pace to finish with 20 goals for the second time in his career despite missing nearly a quarter of the campaign.
New Jersey Devils: It’s been a far fall for Cory Schneider, who was a Vezina candidate three seasons ago and has since had to battle numerous lower-body injuries while attempting to find his form. The 33-year-old netminder has started to look a lot like his old self over the past several weeks, too. Playing in front of a disastrous ‘D’ corps, Schneider has a 6-5-1 record, .933 SP and one shutout in his past dozen starts. There’s hope that this is the start of a new chapter in Schneider’s career.
Nashville Predators: Much like Fedun, Rocco Grimaldi’s nomination is tied to his rise from minor-league fixture to NHL regular. Since leaving the University of North Dakota following the 2013-14 season, Grimaldi, a second-round pick, 33rd overall, by the Panthers in 2011, had played only 37 NHL games across four seasons. This year was different. The 26-year-old started the campaign in the AHL, but was called up in November and has stuck with the Predators since, scoring five goals and 13 points in 53 games while skating fourth-line minutes.
New York Islanders: Robin Lehner, 27, told his emotional, inspiring story of battling addiction and bipolar disorder ahead of the season, and he has given an already incredible story of his 2018-19 season the best possible ending by turning in the best performance of his career. Statistically, Lehner has been among the league’s best goalies, turning in a .928 SP and 2.17 GAA, and he forms the best one-two punch in the NHL with Thomas Greiss. Lehner is a frontrunner for the Masterton.
New York Rangers: Brendan Smith was maligned in his first full season in New York, demoted to the minors at one point and spending only 44 games with the Rangers in the first season of his four-year, $17.4-million pact. He has earned himself a steady role on the Blueshirts’ blueline this season, though, and the 30-year-old has chipped in three goals and 10 points in 58 games as a regular third-pairing defenseman.
Ottawa Senators: An already upsetting off-season that saw the departure of Erik Karlsson got that much worse when Jean-Gabriel Pageau tore his Achilles and was sidelined through the first three months of the campaign. The 26-year-old got back into the lineup in early January, however, and hasn’t missed a beat. His three goals and 10 points in 33 games aren’t eye-popping numbers, but Pageau has been a steady top-six forward on a club in dire need to top-six talent.
Philadelphia Flyers: A disappointing start to his tenure in Philadelphia was followed up by a strong performance in the early season by Brian Elliott, but injuries derailed the veteran keeper’s campaign. For half the season, Elliott, 33, was sidelined with lower-body ailment, this after missing nearly 30 games last season with lower-body injuries. Despite his injuries, Elliott has turned in a .912 SP and 2.81 GAA in 25 games. The crease is Carter Hart’s now, but Elliott was the best option going before the kid’s arrival.
Pittsburgh Penguins: How many years running have we expected Matt Cullen to call it quits? Two? Three? Four? But the 42-year-old keeps on ticking. This season, back in Pittsburgh after a stop over in Minnesota, Cullen is proving he can still be an effective depth pivot on a contending team. Six goals and 18 points in 66 games won’t make this the best offensive year of his career – and who would expect that of a 40-year-old in a young man’s league? – but his contributions have been important, especially shorthanded.
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton’s knee surgery had some wondering how effective ‘Jumbo Joe’ would be upon his return. Well, here’s the answer: the 39-year-old has 16 goals, tied for the second-most he’s scored in the past six seasons, and 46 points in 67 games. Not bad at all. At his advanced age, Thornton has had to adjust to a role down the lineup and he’s playing fewer minutes than he has since his early career, but he’s still one of the game’s best playmakers and he’s aging like a fine wine.
St. Louis Blues: Jay Bouwmeester became, in some ways, a scapegoat in the early season. The Blues were struggling, and some St. Louis faithful blamed the aging defenseman for the blueline’s woes. As the season has progressed, though, he has proven he can be the same, steadying presence on the back end that he has been throughout his career. At 35, he might not have too much left in the tank, but Bouwmeester can still move efficiently and play the understated game that made him a top-four defenseman throughout his career.
Tampa Bay Lightning: TBA
Toronto Maple Leafs: Minnesota wasn’t about to shell out nearly $4 million for Tyler Ennis to fail to produce like a top-six talent, so they cut ties with the diminutive winger, buying out the final year of his contract. Their loss has been the Maple Leafs’ gain. Playing fourth-line minutes in Toronto, the 29-year-old has scored 12 goals and 18 points in 47 games, making him a useful piece in the bottom six. Where he goes from here, who knows, but Ennis has shown this season that he can still make an impact in the NHL.
Vancouver Canucks: Nothing has come easy for Jacob Markstrom, 29, who was once considered one of the best goaltending prospects in the NHL. He battled to earn his spot as a No. 1 in a big-league crease, and he’s truly arrived over the past two seasons. This year, Markstrom has turned in a solid .912 SP and 2.78 GAA on a Canucks team that is highlighted by its young offense standouts, not its defensive stalwarts. Markstrom appears ready to take the next step in his career as he enters into his 30s.
Vegas Golden Knights: No one thought much of the Golden Knights plucking Ryan Carpenter off waivers from the Sharks last season. To that point, he had been a career minor-leaguer who was an injury replacement in San Jose and nothing more. This season has been a coming out party for the 28-year-old, though, as he proves he can play his role to perfection. Finally a full-timer in the NHL, he has five goals and 17 points this season.
Winnipeg Jets: Dmitry Kulikov’s off-season was painful, arduous, but the Jets defenseman battled back from his summer back surgery to play an important role for Winnipeg this season, particularly in the face of injuries on the back end. Though rarely used in a top-four role, Kulikov, 28, has stepped into bigger minutes when injuries necessitated it, and he has managed to contribute six points – all assists – in 51 games this season.
Washington Capitals: It was one of the most unique off-seasons in recent memory. Traded to Colorado, waived, bought out and brought back by the same Washington in the same summer, Brooks Orpik has found his place right back on the Capitals blueline as the reliable leader. The 38-year-old isn’t going to play a big role in the post-season, but having him patrolling the blueline is a comfort for the organization, who have relied on Oprik’s presence for the past five seasons.