LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Evgeni Malkin took a quick look around and could hardly believe his eyes.
There sat the Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award and Art Ross Trophy—all soon to be inscribed with his name after Malkin completed an impressive hat trick at the NHL’s awards show on Wednesday night. The Pittsburgh Penguins centre struggled to describe his emotions before calling it the best day of his life.
“It’s a special day to me,” said Malkin. “I hope it’s not the last one. I try to work every year and I hope to be here again.”
There could be no more fitting star of the show on an evening that saw every major award go to a first-time winner.
Malkin has been among the NHL’s elite players since entering the league in 2006, but this was his first real twirl in the spotlight. Twice a runner-up for league MVP, Malkin was a runaway champion this time around after a season that saw him hit the 50-goal plateau for the first time and finish with 109 points.
It left the Russian in a reflective mood. He thanked former teammate Sergei Gonchar during an emotional acceptance speech because of the great lengths the veteran defenceman went to early in Malkin’s career to help him make the adjustment to life in North America.
“I remember six years before, when I come, it was a different life, you know?” said Malkin. “I (didn’t) speak English. First (person) who took care of me, it’s Sergei Gonchar—he’s a great guy, unbelievable player. It’s my best friend here.
“Thanks to him and his family, he always supports me.”
Malkin edged New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos for both the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award. Neither of those players arrived at the Wynn Las Vegas expecting to knock off the Penguins star.
“I think Malkin deserved it,” said Lundqvist. “He was just outstanding this year. Dominated for a long time this year, and personally I was just happy to be nominated.”
The Rangers goaltender didn’t go home empty-handed. He won his first Vezina Trophy after a season where he posted eight shutouts to help New York claim the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Lundqvist had been nominated on three previous occasions before finally getting his hands on the trophy—a running theme this year. Veteran St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock also won his first Jack Adams Award after previously being a finalist in 1997, 1998 and 1999.
Over time, he stopped thinking about ever being labelled the best in his business.
“As you get older, you stop doing things on the promotional side and you just focus on you and the players,” said Hitchcock, who led the Blues to a 43-15-11 record after being hired in November. “So I mostly just forgot about it.”
It was a big night for Swedish-born players: Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson won the Norris Trophy while Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog took home the Calder Trophy.
Both seemed genuinely shocked to hear their name called.
“I don’t really think I understood how it works and how big it was until I came here,” said Karlsson, who forgot to thank his parents during a brief acceptance speech. “And once I sat down and saw that the first prize was mine, I didn’t really know what to do. It was a big night.”
Landeskog was so nervous heading to the awards that he forgot to pack a belt for the trip.
“I guess my focus was elsewhere,” he said.
Other winners included Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron (Selke Trophy), Florida Panthers defenceman Brian Campbell (Lady Byng Trophy), Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty (Masterton Trophy) and Doug Armstrong of the St. Louis Blue (GM of the year).
The biggest hardware was saved for Malkin, who became the fourth Penguins player in the last 20 years to be named NHL MVP following Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux. As a young boy in Magnitogorsk, he never dreamed he’d be keeping such company.
“I was just enjoying hockey when I’m growing up,” said Malkin. “Now I can’t believe I’m sitting here and around me (are) three trophies and the Hart Trophy too. It’s an unbelievable day to my family and me too.”
He’s going to need a bigger trophy case. Already a Conn Smythe winner and Stanley Cup champion from 2009, he was also named MVP of the IIHF World Hockey Championship in May after leading Russia to gold. That helped earn him the Kharlamov Trophy as the top Russian player this year.
Without doubt, there wasn’t a better individual performance by another hockey player on the planet this season.
“The amazing part of what he was doing is that the other players—both his teammates and the other players in the league—repeatedly say things about how dominant and how special and how awesome some of the things he was doing on the ice,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who attended the awards show. “(They talked about) how he was taking over games, how he was playing an almost unstoppable type of game.
“That’s what Evgeni was for almost two-thirds of the year and you could see it in his own teammates and other players looking at him and the reaction of how special it is what he’s doing on the ice.”