As the season winds down, Pro Hockey Writers Association chapters throughout the NHL have begun announcing the nominees for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The award, named after the former Minnesota North Stars player who died in January 1968 following injuries sustained during a game, is handed out annually to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”
The following players have been announced as nominees. The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards following the season:
Anaheim Ducks: TBA
Arizona Coyotes: Jakob Chychrun
The soon-to-be 20-year-old defenseman underwent off-season knee surgery that threatened to cost him his entire 2017-18 campaign. However, after four months of rehab, Chychrun returned to the Arizona lineup. He has since appeared in 46 games, netting three goals and 13 points. More impressive, though, is his increase in ice time. He’s skating upwards of 20 minutes per night, an increase of nearly four minutes when compared to his rookie season.
Boston Bruins: David Backes
Boston had high hopes for Backes in his second season in black and gold, but a battle with diverticulitis and subsequent colon surgery had the veteran center in line for two months on the sideline. Incredibly, he was able to return to action within a month. He has contributed 12 goals and 28 points in 50 games this season, though he’s currently sidelined due to a leg laceration suffered in mid-March.
Buffalo Sabres: Kyle Okposo
When Okposo landed in the intensive care unit of a Buffalo hospital following a reaction to concussion medication, there were concerns about his ability to continue his career. By the summer, though, Okposo was back on his feet and back on the ice. He has since returned to a top-six role in Buffalo and has chipped in 11 goals and 40 points in 70 games with the Sabres.
Calgary Flames: Matt Stajan
Dedication is one of the defined characteristics a player must display to earn the Masterton, and few things say dedication quite like 1,000 games played, a milestone Stajan reached this season. He also reached the 1,000-game mark while accepting a diminished role. A middle-six forward who averaged more than 15 minutes of ice time across his first four seasons with the Flames, he has since skated 12 minutes per game over the past four campaigns while continuing to contribute in all facets of the game.
Carolina Hurricanes: Jordan Staal
Staal’s performance alone in a leadership role with the Hurricanes could have very well earned him the Masterton nomination, but his return to play after enduring the tragic loss of his infant daughter in late-February would make him a worthy winner. Staal, one of Carolina’s captains, missed only three games after suffering the heartbreaking loss.
Chicago Blackhawks: Jeff Glass
It wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Glass went his entire career without seeing the NHL. At 32, the gold-medal winning Canadian World Junior goaltender’s marauding career had taken him to Kazakhstan, Russia, Italy and Belarus, but a return to the AHL in 2016-17 earned him a look with the Blackhawks after starter Corey Crawford fell injured. In his NHL debut on Dec. 29 — more than 14 years after he was drafted — Glass stopped 42 shots and picked up his first career NHL victory.
Colorado Avalanche: Carl Soderberg
In a 2016-17 season that was chock full of disappointment, few players had a worse time than Soderberg. Fresh off a 51-point debut season in Colorado, he struggled mightily, finishing the campaign with a scant six goals and 14 points in 80 games and plummeting down the depth chart until he was fighting to even sniff the ice. Soderberg has managed to right the ship this season, though, with 16 goals and 35 points as an effective top-six pivot for the Avs.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Zach Werenski
Where does Werenski fit into the Masterton conversation? Well, sportsmanship is one quality voters are asked to look at and nothing a player can do on ice says sportsmanship quite like staying out of the penalty box. The Blue Jackets defenseman has only 16 penalty minutes this season despite playing nearly 23 minutes per game across 72 games this season.
Dallas Stars: Mattias Janmark
The 2016-17 campaign was supposed to be a breakout campaign for Janmark, who dazzled at times during his 15-goal, 29-point rookie season with the Stars, but ahead of his sophomore campaign he was diagnosed with Osteochondritis dissecans, a joint disorder, and missed the entire season. He fought back from the ailment, however, to return this season and is now on pace to finish the season with 20 goals and nearly 40 points.
Detroit Red Wings: TBA
Edmonton Oilers: Adam Larsson
Not much has gone right for the Oilers this season, but Larsson has been able to produce at least some positives in Edmonton. While he hasn’t shone statistically — he has four goals and 12 points — his nearly 22 minutes per game are third-most among Oilers blueliners and he has been among the more steady rearguards. Larsson has battled through the death of his father this season, as well, and continued to log big minutes upon returning to the lineup.
Florida Panthers: Roberto Luongo
One of the winningest goaltenders in NHL history, Luongo hasn’t had it easy in his pursuit of entering into the top-three on the all-time wins list. The 38-year-old, who will turn 39 before the campaign closes, has fought through lower-body, upper-body and hand ailments this season, but that hasn’t stopped him from surpassing Curtis Joseph for fourth on the all-time wins list. He’s also turned in a stellar .927 save percentage and 2.55 goals-against average.
Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Brown
Few players have seen a resurgence this season quite like Brown. A former Kings captain — he was infamously stripped of the ‘C’ ahead of the 2016-17 season — Brown has seemingly found his game again under John Stevens and the trust put in the veteran winger by Los Angeles’ new bench boss has paid off. Skating first-line minutes once again, Brown has scored 23 goals and 55 points, both of which are the best totals for the 33-year-old since the 2011-12 season.
Minnesota Wild: Matt Cullen
Cullen concluded the 2016-17 campaign as a 40-year-old three-time Stanley Cup champion with more than 1,300 games played in the NHL. So, if he had decided to call it a career, few would have been surprised. But Cullen, wanting the opportunity to return home, signed on for one season with the Wild and has potted 10 goals and 21 points in 73 games as a 41-year-old.
Montreal Canadiens: Antti Niemi
Bought out by Dallas in June, Niemi signed with Pittsburgh, was waived and claimed by Florida, then cut again and picked up by Montreal and has since become one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise disastrous year for the Canadiens. Niemi, who appeared as though he could be out of the league entirely the way his campaign was heading, has overcome a rough first outing in Montreal to turn in a sparkling .936 SP and 2.25 GAA in 17 games with the Habs.
Nashville Predators: Austin Watson
The Predators’ rough-and-tumble winger has earned himself a reputation for rugged play over the course of his young career and has made his living as a bottom-six forward willing to do what it takes to win. He has a knack for physical play and shot blocking, but his role as a penalty killer hasn’t stopped him from netting a career-best 12 goals to go along with 16 points in 71 games this season.
New Jersey Devils: Brian Boyle
Boyle is, without a doubt, the favorite to win the Masterton. Diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia ahead of the season, yet has battled the disease and continued playing this season. In fact, not only has Boyle played, but he has pieced together an impressive 13-goal, 23-point season that puts him in line to potentially finish the campaign with the second-best offensive season of his career.
New York Islanders: Josh Bailey
Bailey, selected ninth-overall by the Islanders in 2008, had long been primed for a breakout, but it was starting to feel as though the playmaking pivot would never truly turn into the top-flight scorer it was believed he could be. However, in 2016-17, Bailey began to show signs of becoming an every-game threat and he has further raised his game this season near point-per-game performance.
New York Rangers: Chris Kreider
Days before the start of the second half of the schedule, Kreider was sidelined with a blood clot issue and was forced to undergo rib resection surgery in January. The surgery wouldn’t cost Kreider his season, however, as he returned in late-February after missing 24 games and has since scored four goals and 14 points in 15 outings while skating top-six minutes for New York.
Ottawa Senators: Mark Borowiecki
Borowiecki’s not a standout on the Senators blueline, but his effort is unquestionable. Though he has had to miss considerable time this season due to a concussion, Borowiecki has averaged upwards of 14 minutes as a third-pairing rearguard, all the while dishing out nearly 200 hits and blocking more than 70 shots. He also set a career high this season with three goals and his 10 points put him one shy of matching his career-best mark.
Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux
Statistically, it appeared the decline was coming for Giroux. After a few seasons as one of the game’s top scorers, he had fallen back to the pack and registered only 14 goals and 58 points in 2016-17, the second-worst full season total of his career. But Giroux has been outstanding this season, leading the league with 65 assists and sitting on the fringe of the Art Ross Trophy race with 91 points in 76 games.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Kris Letang
Letang’s history with injury is no secret as the 30-year-old has battled everything from minor bumps and bruises to season-ending concussions and a stroke. That hasn’t stopped Letang from continuing to contribute as a top-pairing, minute-munching rearguard in Pittsburgh this season, though. After recovering from a concussion that cost him the entire playoffs in 2016-17, Letang has scored six goals and 45 points in 73 games this season.
St. Louis Blues: Carter Hutton
Despite entering Tuesday as the league leader in goals-against average (2.02) and save percentage (.934), Hutton took a circuitous route to becoming a standout in an NHL crease. In fact, the 32-year-old didn’t even land a regular backup gig until he was a 28-year-old playing with the Predators. From 2009-10, when he left UMass-Lowell, Hutton has suited up for seven teams across five organizations, and he’ll enter this summer as an intriguing free agent option.
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton
Longevity and late-career production are two major reasons why Thornton is in the running for the award. The 38-year-old is entering the twilight of his career with no guarantee he’ll continue on beyond the current campaign, yet he remains as effective as ever. Before he suffered a right knee injury that has kept him out of action for two months, Thornton, who also recovered from surgery on his left knee in the off-season, had 13 goals and 36 points in 47 games.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos
Stamkos’ 2016-17 season was supposed to be his chance to guide the Lightning to the Stanley Cup after a blood clot cost him the majority of the past post-season, but as soon as the Tampa Bay captain got going again, his season was over due to a knee injury. Stamkos has returned full of fire this season, however, blasting home 27 goals and 86 points in 75 games.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Roman Polak
A broken leg in the first round of the 2016-17 post-season seemed like it could be the end of the road in the NHL for Polak, 31, particularly as his role in the NHL had diminished from a top-three rearguard to that of a defender who was fifth or sixth on the depth chart. But Polak was able to rehab his leg, earn himself a tryout with the Maple Leafs and later a one-year deal to fill out the blueline in Toronto.
Vancouver Canucks: Derek Dorsett
One of the most amazing early season stories was Dorsett’s seven-goal start to the campaign, but the story had a disappointing end as the 31-year-old was forced to retire 20 games into the season. Dorsett had battled a neck injury, one that required surgery and cost him his season, in 2016-17, but a disc herniation cropped up in the early season which led to the announcement that he could no longer continue his career.
Vegas Golden Knights: Brad Hunt
Ahead of this season, Hunt, a diminutive defenseman, had size limit his NHL opportunities. He had played only 33 games in the big league despite brilliant numbers in the AHL. But the expansion draft and a standout pre-season performance saw Hunt make the Vegas roster, and while he hasn’t been an every-game player for the Golden Knights, he has made his mark when in the lineup. In 42 games, Hunt, 29, has three goals and 18 points.
Washington Capitals: Devante Smith-Pelly
A second-round pick in 2010, Smith-Pelly failed to catch on and find consistency in the big league, going from Anaheim to Montreal to New Jersey, but his struggle to catch on was never more evident than when he was bought out by the Devils in the off-season. But Smith-Pelly, 25, was able to land with the Capitals and contribute seven goals and 16 points in 69 games in a fourth-line role.
Winnipeg Jets: Tyler Myers
The 2016-17 campaign was trying for Myers physically, to be sure, as he dealt with lower-body injuries that limited him to 11 games, but the premature birth and health issues faced by his newborn son made what was essentially a lost season far more difficult. Myers’ son is happy and healthy now, though, and so is the Jets blueliner. Hard not to be with seven goals and 38 points on a playoff-bound Stanley Cup contender.