The conclusion of the NHL regular season means it’s time for members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association to submit their choices for many of the league’s individual awards. And the longer I’m afforded the privilege of submitting a ballot, the more I'm determined to rehabilitate the league’s most unfairly ridiculed and run-down, emasculated and emotionally-stigmatized honor.
Of course, I refer to the Lady Byng Trophy, presented to the NHLer “adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”
The way some people refer to the Byng, it’s as if the winner gets a big blue best-in-show ribbon following an onstage castration ceremony. When then-Toronto Maple Leaf Alex Mogilny won the Byng in 2003, he refused to show up and accept it, while other NHL types need only hear the “lady” part of the award’s name before they dismiss it as a dusty anachronism and indication of a player’s softness on the ice. When they do, those deep thinkers reveal themselves as myopians who regard femininity as a weakness – a recent example being former Isles GM Mike Milbury’s suggestion that Pens coach Dan Bylsma “take off his skirt” – while making no effort to understand the history and true nature of the Byng.
In case you weren’t aware, the actual Lady Byng was the wife of a Canadian war hero and former Governor-General. That’s admirable enough, but her request that the award be given to a player who embodies on-ice respect and dignity is even more reason to celebrate it.
Yet, somehow, the Byng has become a target for derision and for the life of me, I can’t understand why. If a soft touch such as Alexandre Daigle won it repeatedly, that would be one thing. But scan a list of Byng Trophy winners since its inception in 1925 – including Toe Blake, Dave Keon, Stan Mikita, Gilbert Perreault, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Kariya, Brett Hull, Pavel Datsyuk and Martin St-Louis – and tell me you’d turn a single one of those legends away from playing on your team. You’d be a fool if you said yes.
If the Byng is such a terrible comment on the caliber of a player’s game, why don’t we create the anti-Byng award? We could present it to the thinnest-skinned NHLer, the mega-macho hothead who can be thrown completely off his game with a couple whacks across the ankles or a cross-check in the small of the back. That sounds like a player every Stanley Cup contender could use, doesn’t it?
The fact of the matter is that, as the Red Wings have demonstrated, you succeed by playing between the whistles, not after they’ve been blown. Detroit legend Nicklas Lidstrom – who, incredibly, has yet to win the Byng despite being a constant target and taking only 512 penalty minutes in 1,562 career regular season games – epitomizes the spirit of the honor.
If you tell me he’s soft, I would tell you (a) he isn’t; and (b) your head is.
Indeed, one of the reasons no NHLer can throw a clean bodycheck anymore without an immediate, time-wasting scrum of face-washes and assorted threats of bodily harm is because the game’s gatekeepers have permitted the erosion of basic standards of sportsmanship – and, yes, toughness – in favor of reactionary, ultimately pointless testosterone eruptions.
Having a hair-trigger temper would do nothing for 2011-12 Lady Byng candidates such as Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle (who has only eight penalty minutes in 76 games this season), Dallas’ Loui Eriksson (10 PIM in 80 games) and the Islanders’ Matt Moulson (six PIM in 80 games). Those stars are hard-core precisely because they refuse to buy into the hockey establishment’s phony notion of what hard-core is.
So kindly keep your derogatory Byng comments to yourself. The more you attempt to undermine what it is to be strong and tough in today’s NHL, the more you discredit yourself as a modern-minded hockey fan.
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