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Opinion: The Masterton Trophy Should Have Multiple Winners

The Bill Masterton Trophy has a special meaning to it, and Avry Lewis-McDougall says it deserves multiple official winners.

The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is a bit of a special one.

First awarded at the end of the 1967-68 season, it's not based on-ice performance and is the only award that a player can win once. The award criteria state that the award is given to "the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.

Anybody, regardless of position, is eligible for the award. Mario Lemieux to Brian Boyle and Jose Theodore are examples of past winners.

The Professional Hockey Writers Association determines the Masterton with each team chapter nominating a player, and it's a duty the voters take pride in being a part of. It's something that honors people who, in many cases, have dealt with life-altering circumstances, or have overcome other struggles and challenges along the way.

But no one desires to be a Masterton winner. And it can be a moral challenge. You're basically having to determine whether a player battling back from an illness or other personal matters should win over another player?

The issue comes up every year, yet the format has not changed. Two years ago, the major problem with the Masterton took center stage.

In the abbreviated 2019-20 season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the finalists for the award came down to Ottawa's Bobby Ryan, Philadelphia's Oskar Lindblom, and Dallas's Stephen Johns. All three players were worthy of the prize that year, with Ryan ultimately taking the award. Ryan's story saw him overcome alcohol problems before an eventual impressive return.

As much as the hockey world rallied around Ryan, there was an uncomfortable feeling. Ryan took the award over Lindblom, who battled Ewing's Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and Johns, who returned to the Stars after missing over a year due to post-traumatic headaches and post-concussion syndrome. 

This year, we have Carey Price, who overcame injuries a pill addiction to return late in the season; Zdeno Chara, who, at 45, has managed to continue his career; and Kevin Hayes, who lost his brother over the summer.

How can you value one player's struggles over another?

Other awards in the NHL allow for multiple winners; prominent examples include the Rocket Richard and the Jennings Trophy. Would anyone be upset if the Masterton became another multi-winner award?

When every team nominates a player for the award, that should be a list of the yearly winners; 32 players are honored with the Masterton. With the NHL Awards set to return to their traditional format in 2023 in Las Vegas, the NHL should alter the award to honor each team nominee. We may not get speeches, but every player should get their moment on stage at the ceremony. 

At the league level, there's no need to eliminate those who represent each team for the award. Honoring each player the team has nominated can also give further exposure to each player's story as opposed to just one receiving the spotlight. Outside of the finalists, not everyone may know the story of some of the nominations, and they might be stories worth telling, too.

Sometimes, not everything is about whom you can defeat on the ice. The Masterton is one of hockey's most prominent examples of that.


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