For Ryan O’Reilly to be passed over for the Lady Byng Trophy this season would require members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association to blunder almost as badly as they did last year when they made Alexander Ovechkin an first-team all-star at both left and right wing.
O’Reilly plays big minutes – 24th in the league in 5-on-5 ice time per game – against the opponents’ best lines and led the league in takeaways, all the while only getting two penalty minutes this season. In his 72nd game, he broke his stick on a faceoff against Logan Couture and kicked the puck back to his defenseman before being called for playing with a broken stick. O’Reilly led his team in goals, logged more ice time than any other forward on the team and manages to get the puck away from his opponents without going on the wrong side of the rulebook.
Only three times in the history of the award has a Lady Byng winner had fewer penalty minutes than O’Reilly this season – Syl Apps in 1941-42, Bill Mosienko in 1944-45 and Bill Quackenbush in 1948-49 each had zero in far fewer games. Butch Goring won the award with just two PIM in 1977-78. Three years later, Goring had zero penalty minutes in 78 games, but somehow managed to finish fourth in voting with just 4.4 percent of the vote.
Of the finalists, the one who least deserves to win is Martin St-Louis and it has nothing to do with the fact that he has already won the award three times and that he had eight more penalty minutes than O’Reilly this season.
Martin St-Louis did not get my vote for the Lady Byng, basically because he didn’t deserve it. St-Louis may have had only 10 penalty minutes this season, but he did anything but prove he was worth of the award that goes, “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t believe that a player who sulks and whines and demands a trade out of town because he wasn’t originally selected for the Canadian Olympic team “exhibits the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct.” In most corners of the world, we would call a guy who does something like that a big baby.
When Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman took the job of heading up Canada’s Olympic team, he knew he would have to make some difficult decisions and the one on St-Louis put him in an absolutely untenable decision. There’s no doubt he would have loved to have named St-Louis to the original roster, but the reality was that the coaching staff and the other members of the management team had very serious concerns about having St-Louis on the roster.
Forget about whether they were right or wrong in that assessment. The fact was they were put in that position because they were seen as having the most expertise for the job. And they didn’t want St-Louis on the team. So what was Yzerman supposed to do? Go against the wishes of virtually everyone else charged with putting the team together just to soothe the feelings of one player on his roster?
If there’s one player who should have understood Yzerman’s predicament, it should have been a veteran like St-Louis. But instead he took it personally and allowed it to create a rift between him and his GM that could not be repaired. So arguably the greatest player in the history of the Lightning franchise tarnished his legacy by not only pushing his way out of town, but engineering a trade to the only team to which he’d report.
If there’s anything sportsmanlike or gentlemanly about any of that, please feel free to let me know because it completely escapes me. That’s why I would give the Lady Byng to O’Reilly or fellow finalist Patrick Marleau or about 500 players ahead of St-Louis.