TAMPA - The NHL Awards ceremony was held last night in Tampa, with big-name winners and an incredibly close Norris vote that saw Colorado's Cale Makar win over Nashville's Roman Josi. Makar, of course, is in the middle of trying to win the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche over the third Norris finalist, Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman. But most of the night's winners have been watching the final on TV, having previously been eliminated. Have they been watching? (don't laugh - some players are so competitive they don't want to see who took the title they were chasing) And if so, have they learned anything from the Lightning and the Avalanche? I put the question to three trophy winners.
The New York Rangers stopper took home his first Vezina Trophy and what will almost certainly not be his last. His Rangers fell to the Lightning in the conference final after winning the first two games.
"It's so difficult because that's a very good team and we deserved to play in the final too," he said. "When it's 2-0 in the conference final, maybe we lost ourselves a bit. It was a really good experience for us and we will come back stronger next season.
"I watch every game right now - I have time (a line he delivered with perfect comic timing, for the record). They play so good and it's good to watch those goalies, Vasilevskiy and Kuemper. Vasilevskiy can win three Stanley Cups in a row, which is unbelievable."
The last New York goalie to win the Vezina was Henrik Lundqvist and funny enough, 'Hank' was Shesterkin's hero as a kid. He even wanted the same gear as Lundqvist.
"I asked my dad to buy me TPS pads, blocker and glove," Shesterkin said. "He told me 'No, we don't have money for that.' I say OK, next time I buy them for myself."
As it turned out, TPS was bought by Sherwood and Shesterkin actually wears Brians gear in the NHL - but it seems to have worked out just fine for him. And right when the Russian netminder arrived in New York, he had his believers.
"In the first pre-season game against the Islanders, I didn't play," Shesterkin recalled. "One child in the stands showed me a picture of myself on a sign that said 'future Vezina Trophy winner' and I thought, 'Why not? We have a good team for that.' Everybody helped me so much on the team."
The Toronto Maple Leafs sniper took home both the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, meaning he was voted as the best in the league by both the media and his fellow players. His Leafs put up a good fight against the Lightning in the first round, but once again failed to close out an opponent and eventually fell to the Bolts in seven games. Has he picked up any pointers along the way this post-season?
"I've been watching," Matthews said. "It's tough to say - I've been watching for six or seven years now at this time of year. Everyone understands how hard it is and you need a lot of things to go your way. We played a really good team in Tampa and there's a reason they're back in the final for the third straight year. It's a long journey of ups and downs and adversity but definitely one I anticipate on seeing through."
And hey - Matthews knows that the clock is ticking on his team to push through and make a serious playoff run.
"It's been, I think, three times we've played a team in the first round that has gone on to the final," he said (Tampa Bay, Montreal last year, Boston in 2019). "There's nothing you can do about it now except put your best foot forward."
The Calder trophy winner as rookie of the year, Seider was a blast to watch on the Detroit Red Wings blueline (just ask some of the opponents he wiped out with big hits or sweet goals). His squad has been rebuilding under GM Steve Yzerman and Seider is one of the cornerstones.
"It's still a long road and you're just hitting the highway," Seider said. "I'm looking forward to (growth) from not just myself, but the whole Detroit organization. We have a very bright future and I'm just excited."
Seider has been watching the Stanley Cup and taking notes.
"It's just relentless," he said. "They're coming out night after night and competing and playing the best hockey - in the summertime. That's what everyone tries to do and what we're looking forward to."
Colorado's Makar has obviously been a difference-maker for the Avs during their run and Seider was asked what part of the Norris winner's game he would love to have.
"Definitely his lateral movement on the blueline, just beating guys every single time he touches the puck," Seider said. "It's phenomenal to see what he brings to the table."
The Red Wings are getting to the point now where they should start to get competitive as soon as next season, depending on how the summer goes with trades, free agency and such. They play in an Atlantic Division where Tampa Bay, Florida and Toronto are all virtual locks for playoff spots, but the future of the Bruins is now up in the air. Ottawa and Buffalo are improving, so there could be a fun race for that fourth position (assuming the Metropolitan doesn't claim both wild cards).
"We want to aim for that spot 100 percent," Seider said. "You always have to be realistic and not look too far ahead, but other than that, what it comes down to is proving people wrong. A lot of people are doubting us and that keeps us motivated."