The Washington chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) has nominated Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The trophy is awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship & dedication to hockey.
“Nicklas Backstrom last offseason noticed problems with his left hip, which was surgically repaired in 2015. It was enough to keep him off the ice for training camp and the start of the season. While turning 34, Backstrom went through a grueling rehab process off the ice before he could even start skating again in the hopes of returning to the Washington Capitals. Backstrom missed Washington’s first 28 games before making his season debut in mid-December. The veteran Swede in March recorded his 1,000th career point and remains at almost a point-a-game rate in his NHL career.”
The local chapters of the PHWA submitted nominations for the Masterton Trophy and the top three vote-getters will be designated as finalists. The Masterton trophy will be awarded, along with the other NHL major awards, between Games 3 & 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
2020-21 – Zdeno Chara
2019-20 – Michal Kempny
The following are this year’s nominees:
Anaheim — Ryan Getzlaf: In his 17th and final NHL season, Ryan Getzlaf is ending it in the way that he came in – playing a hard, physical game honest in its manner and execution while resuming his status as the greatest playmaking center in franchise history. The 36-year-old Ducks star washed away the bitter taste of a joyless 2020-21 season played mostly without fans. He did that with a great start to 2021-22 that included becoming Anaheim’s all-time leading scorer and surpassing the 1,000-point milestone. A foot injury hobbled him in the second half, but it didn’t diminish his influence on young linemate Troy Terry and his breakout 36-goal season.
Arizona — Andrew Ladd: Injuries and age limited Ladd to 30 NHL games over the past three seasons (four over the past two). He spent most of that time either rehabbing, playing in the AHL, or stewing on his fate. Off-ice sessions with mental skills coach Dan Leffelaar and on-ice work with skills coach Adam Oates altered his outlook and his game. Ladd has played 49 games for the Coyotes this season, totaling seven goals and 11 points.
Boston — Jake DeBrusk: Despite a challenging last few seasons, the 25-year-old DeBrusk has persevered to play some of the best hockey of his career after an uncomfortable trade request was made public in December. He spoke to teammates on Dec. 1 and told them the honest truth, with Taylor Hall revealing DeBrusk told them his “career was at a crossroads.” DeBrusk scored the next night, went quiet through the holidays, and a trade never materialized. He busted out with eight goals in an eight-game stretch and even though he signed a two-year extension with the Bruins on trade deadline day just to take the fear of his qualifying offer off the table for interested teams, GM Don Sweeney still wasn’t able to find a taker. Through it all, DeBrusk has notched 23 goals – his best output in four seasons – and is knocking on the door of a career-high in points, and perhaps a fresh start elsewhere this summer.
Buffalo — Kyle Okposo: This 33-year-old alternate captain has had a rebirth on the ice with 19 goals in his first 70 games after scoring just two last season. He’s overcome injuries, including the severe concussion issues that landed him in a neuro ICU in April 2017. But mostly he’s become a pillar in the dressing room, leading the cadre of young Sabres and even presenting the player of the game sword to broadcaster Rick Jeanneret after his banner raising night on April 1.
Calgary — Chris Tanev: While Tanev had some tough luck with injuries during his stint in Vancouver, he hasn’t missed a single game in his two seasons with the Flames. That certainly doesn’t mean that the durable, dependable defenseman isn’t often playing through pain. The 32-year-old is a mentor to his blue-line partners, a respected leader in the locker room, and the sort of underrated player that you appreciate more and more when you see him in action every night. He is also a fearless shot-blocker, consistently sacrificing his body to help out his goaltender. Flames starter Jacob Markstrom showed his appreciation this season with a mask that includes a tribute to Tanev’s mostly toothless hockey smile.
Carolina — Antti Raanta: On his fourth team in nine NHL seasons, Raanta has returned to the form that made him a top-10 goalie in the league. Raanta’s career has at times been derailed by injuries, but the 32-year-old from Rauma, Finland, has stayed healthy in his first season in Carolina and helped the Hurricanes to the top of the Metropolitan Division with fellow goaltender Frederick Andersen. It’s the first season Raanta has played since the death of his father, Pekka, who would text Raanta before every game with advice and encouragement.
Chicago — Dylan Strome: It would have been hard to blame Dylan Strome if he pouted. If he stewed. If he became a problem in the locker room. If he demanded a trade. The No. 3 overall pick in 2015 — behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel — had fallen out of Jeremy Colliton’s lineup completely. And new coach Derek King didn’t exactly warm up to him right away, making him a healthy scratch even after games in which he produced. Already labeled a bust once in Arizona, Strome was flirting with the title again. But he persevered, worked on his defensive game, and patiently waited for his chance to get back in the lineup, all while remaining, by all accounts, a model teammate. And despite being scratched 13 times in the first half of the season, Strome put up 18 goals and 21 assists in a 40-game span after Jan. 4, re-establishing himself as a top-six player in the NHL.
Colorado — Jack Johnson: Going into the season, Johnson said that retirement isn’t always a choice: Sometimes no one is willing to give you a shot. But the Avalanche signed Johnson to a professional tryout agreement, and the veteran defenseman clawed his way into a roster spot. The 35-year-old, who Pittsburgh bought out in 2020 and who missed most of last season with the Rangers due to injury, has played in more than 90 percent of the league-best Avalanche’s games, reaching the career 1,000-game mark in March.
Columbus — Justin Danforth: Undersized and overlooked his entire career, Danforth, an Oshawa, Ont., native, finally reached the NHL with the Blue Jackets this season at 28 years old. He turned 29 in March. His was a truly unique path to the world’s top league. Snubbed by the major U.S. college programs, Danforth attended tiny Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., just as the school was beginning Division I competition. After four years at Sacred Heart (2013-17), Danforth spent two years bouncing around the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres organizations on minor-league deals, playing more games in the ECHL (47) than the AHL (21). Then it was off to Europe, which is where Danforth’s pro career bloomed and the thought of playing in the NHL — a pipedream since his youth — started to become more realistic. The Blue Jackets signed him to a two-way contract last spring. He was recalled from AHL Cleveland and made his NHL debut on Nov. 15 vs. Detroit, quickly becoming a lineup regular. On the night he debuted, his coaches from Sacred Heart traveled to Columbus to bear witness. He’s the only from that program to play in the NHL.
Dallas – Tyler Seguin: Seguin, 30, is playing in his first full season after undergoing both hip and knee surgeries following the Stars’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020. Seguin played on a torn labrum in his hip during the playoff run, an injury that required surgery in the offseason. What was supposed to be a five-month recovery turned into much more for Seguin, who also had to undergo a procedure on his knee afterward. Seguin played three games for the Stars during the 2020-21 season and has missed just one game this season. As of April 15, Seguin has 32 points in his last 39 games.
Detroit — Marc Staal: At 35 years old, Staal remains a stalwart presence on the back end, where his size and calm demeanor provides stability. Staal plays smart and effectively (he’s the only Wing who has played more than 60 games and retained a plus rating). He appeared in his 1,000th game on March 12, and is on pace to play 73 games this season, embodying perseverance and consistency in the twilight of his career.
Edmonton — Kris Russell: Nobody in the history of the National Hockey League has blocked more shots than Edmonton Oilers defenceman Kris Russell,. He blocked career shot No. 1,999 earlier this season to take over the all-time lead in that category, and at the time of this writing remains the only NHL player ever to exceed 2,000 shots blocked. The 34-year-old Caroline, Alberta native entered the NHL as an offensive threat, coming off a 69-point season in his final year of junior hockey. But he quickly realized that, if he was going to have a lengthy career, the 5-10, 170-pounder was going to have to channel his farming roots and make his living in the dirty areas of the game. Russell passed the 900-game mark this season and continues to block shots with reckless abandon.
Florida — Anthony Duclair: Duclair bounced around the NHL — playing for five teams by the age of 25 — before finding a home with the Florida Panthers. Duclair signed a “prove-it” one-year deal with the Panthers and was one of the team leaders in helping Florida turn its fortunes around in 2021. The Panthers then signed him to a three-year extension where he has had a career season in a record-breaking year for the Panthers. Duclair goes into Friday as a first-time 30-goal scorer with 54 points in 65 games. Off the ice, Duclair is one of the founding members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance and has headed up the Panthers’ team initiatives including wrapping their sticks in special tape which reads ‘Racism Has No Place in Hockey’ as well as wearing anti-racism t-shirts to games.
Los Angeles — Blake Lizotte: Lizotte arrived in Los Angeles as an unheralded college free agent from St. Cloud State University. Despite the depth of the Kings’ forward prospects pool, Lizotte has established himself as the mainstay of the “energy” line by coupling his high hockey IQ with a tenacious style. Blake established career-highs in goals, faceoff-win percentage, and hits this season to earn a two-year contract extension.
Minnesota — Jared Spurgeon: Originally drafted by the New York Islanders with the No. 156 pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, they opted not to sign the undersized blue liner. From there, the Wild invited Spurgeon to their training camp in 2010, and well, the rest is history. He turned heads at that tryout, earned an entry-level contract with the Wild, and after a brief stint in the minors, made his NHL debut a couple of months later on his 21st birthday. He’s slowly emerged as the face of the franchise since then, playing more than 750 games with the Wild, and succeeding Mikko Koivu as the second permanent captain in franchise history. In his new role, Spurgeon has helped usher in a new era for the Wild, making everyone feel welcome with his inclusive demeanor.
Montreal — Carey Price: The Canadiens announced last July 23 that Carey Price had knee surgery and would require 10-12 weeks to recover. On Sept. 23, then-coach Dominique Ducharme said Price should be ready for the first game of the season. Except that recovery took much longer than anticipated. At age 34, with a long history of injuries, playing a position that is tough on the knees, Price suffered numerous setbacks, to the point where he even admitted in late January that his ability to continue his playing career was in question. Price also showed courage in October by seeking the help of the NHLPA/NHL player assistance program to help battle a problem with substance use. This obviously delayed his recovery from knee surgery. On April 15, with the Canadiens near the bottom of the NHL standings, Price played his first game of the season.
Le 23 juillet dernier, le Canadien annonçait que Carey Price avait subi une opération à un genou et qu’il en aurait pour 10 à 12 semaines de rééducation. Le 23 septembre Dominique Ducharme annonçait que Price devrait être prêt pour le premier match de la saison. Sauf que la rééducation a été plus longue que prévu. À 34 ans, avec de lourds antécédents médicaux, à une position dure pour les genoux, Price a subi de nombreux reculs, au point où il a lui-même admis que la suite de sa carrière était incertaine. Price a aussi fait preuve de courage en s’inscrivant, en octobre, au programme d’aide de la LNH et de l’AJLNH afin de combattre un problème de consommation. La démarche l’a évidemment forcé à prendre une pause dans sa rééducation. C’est finalement le 15 avril que Price a disputé son premier match de la saison.
Nashville — Mark Borowiecki: Borowiecki suffered a panic attack during an early-season game in 2020-21, his first season with the Predators. The 32-year-old veteran defenseman has used his platform to promote the importance of mental health. “I just think it’s important for guys to know that you can still be this tough guy in the NHL and this archetypal masculine athlete, but you can stay on top of this stuff. It’s only going to benefit you,” Borowiecki said.
New Jersey — Nico Hischier: Hischier had a trying 2020-21 season, from a broken leg during pre-training camp preparations to a COVID-19 diagnosis to taking a deflected puck in the face that resulted in a sinus fracture. Hischier, one of the youngest captains in the NHL, rebounded this season with not only a career-high in goals and points but also by continuing to play an honest, fearless style of hockey that has made him a natural leader in New Jersey.
NY Islanders — Zdeno Chara: This 6-9, 250 defenseman has shown both perseverance and dedication to ice hockey by playing into his 24th NHL season at age 45, returning to the team that drafted him in 1996 and where he spent his first four seasons. Devoted to his physical fitness routine, Chara broke Chris Chelios’ previous NHL record for defensemen by playing in his 1,652nd regular-season game on Feb. 24 and has dressed for 68 of the Islanders’ first 77 games while averaging 18:40 of ice time. Coaches and teammates rave about Chara’s pure love of the sport as a reason he keeps going and they also rave about his leadership and mentorship, particularly of third-year defenseman Noah Dobson, who has set career highs in goals, assists, and games this season. Chara can constantly be seen talking to Dobson on the bench, instructing him on the finer points of the game. Chara has always played a physical game but constantly shows sportsmanship, particularly after fights, patting his opponent to check to see if he’s all right or simply telling him he did a good job.
NY Rangers — Chris Kreider: Kreider has strung together a career season at age 30 and in his 10th year in the NHL, leading the Rangers by a significant margin in goals (50 and counting). Having been a streaky scorer his entire NHL career, Kreider transformed into a consistent producer this season who is just as noticeable without the puck as he is with it. Kreider has been viewed as the Rangers captain without the ‘C.’ Instead, the Massachusetts native has been at the heart of the six-alternate-captain group. After overcoming a blood clot that led to a rib resection in 2017, Kreider has seemingly never taken another game for granted and plays as such.
Ottawa — Anton Forsberg: Over the past 12 months, Forsberg has been the epitome of resilience and dedication. The netminder was placed on waivers by three different clubs last season — Edmonton, Carolina, and Winnipeg. With his NHL future on precarious footing, he landed in Ottawa in March of 2021 and has since firmly established himself as a consistent and dependable presence in the crease for Ottawa. For his efforts, he recently signed a three-year contract extension with the Senators, a testament to his ability to overcome a period of uncertainty to establish himself as a full-time NHL goaltender.
Philadelphia — Kevin Hayes: This 29-year-old center had two abdominal surgeries before the season. In January, he had another procedure to drain fluid from the adductor region. That procedure was for an infection in his groin area. Because of the medical issues, Hayes has been in and out of the lineup all season, and he has18 points in 20 games since returning to the lineup on March 5. He has dedicated the season to his brother, Jimmy, a former NHL player who died suddenly on Aug. 23. He has also increased his leadership duties since long-time captain Claude Giroux was traded to Florida on March 19. In short, he has become a leader on and off the ice despite a year filled with heartbreak.
Pittsburgh — Brian Boyle: Boyle, 37, continues to display the attributes that made him a deserving Masterton winner while with the Devils. A Cancer survivor, Boyle did not play in the NHL during the shortened 2020-21 season, and many presumed his career at the top level was over. But he parlayed a tryout camp contract with the Penguins into a regular role in Pittsburgh’s bottom six, serving coach Mike Sullivan — very much a Boyle advocate dating to their days with the Rangers — as a trusted defensive specialist, leading one of the NHL’s best penalty kills a season after the Penguins were among the poorer clubs at denying opposing power-play goals. Boyle quickly won over the Penguins’ locker room and has filled a valuable leadership role.
St. Louis —Vladimir Tarasenko: Tarasenko underwent three separate surgeries on his left shoulder in a span of 28 months. Many thought he’d never be the same player again. He requested a trade and Blues GM Doug Armstrong found no takers. The Seattle Kraken took a pass on him in the expansion draft. Tarasenko is still a member of the Blues and the club couldn’t be happier. After playing just 34 games in 2019-20 and ‘20-21, the 30-year-old is the team leader in goals and points, and he’s set a new career-high in assists.
San Jose — Brent Burns: “He’s one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever dealt with.” That’s what Bob Boughner said recently of Burns, and that’s why Burns, in his age-36 season, is on pace to play over 2,120 minutes. That would put him in the top-five of most-played 36-plus skaters since the NHL started officially tracking ice time in 1998-99. Burns is also on pace to be the only NHL player to top over 2,100 minutes played this year.
Seattle — Jaden Schwartz: Jaden Schwartz was coming off a difficult year in which he struggled through injury and the unexpected death of his father. He emerged as a leader of an expansion Kraken squad, sitting second in total points with 20 in 29 games before suffering a Dec. 29 hand injury against Philadelphia. Schwartz underwent surgery on the hand and wound up missing more than two months. But he returned in March against Washington and played in eight more games before an upper-body injury effectively finished his season.
Tampa Bay — Alex Killorn: Killorn, 32, broke his fibula in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, but planned on returning for a Game 6 or Game 7 if needed following surgery to insert a rod in his leg. The veteran wing bounced back with one of the best seasons of his career, entering Saturday with a career-high 54 points and just his second 20-plus goal season. Killorn has been a consistent part of the leadership group for several years and certainly displays the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. As former teammate Blake Coleman once put it, “He’s got his fingerprints all over this team. There’s not many things he doesn’t do for us.” Killorn has been active in the community over the years, with his “Dock Talk” Instagram jetski show raising more than $50,000, which all went to the Hillsborough Education Fund. He also co-hosted with Ryan McDonagh a “Jam Kancer in the Kan” KanJam tournament a couple of years ago, and that event raised $102,000 for the Adolescent and Young Adult program at Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center. Killorn was also the Tampa chapter’s Masterton nominee in 2020.
Toronto — Ondrej Kase: Kase will not give up his NHL dream despite a series of head injuries. When misfortune is not sidelining the 26-year-old Czech winger, he has kept up a seven-year battle to stay in the lineup, that began as a seventh-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks (205th overall) in 2014. When active, he’s recognized as one of the league’s top two-way forwards, averaging .48 points a game in his time with the Ducks, Boston Bruins, and this past season as a free agent with the Maple Leafs. Yet to play a full season in the league and held to just three games in the 2020-21 campaign with Boston because of concussions, this year began with great promise. Kase earned a spot on a competitive Toronto team and praise for both his defensive work, shot-blocking, and cashing in scoring chances. Before his latest concussion on March 19 in a game against Nashville, in which he had to be helped off the ice and had to be talked out of trying to return by medical staff, he had goals in three of the past four games. Kase hopes to return before or during the playoffs.
Vancouver — Luke Schenn: This veteran defenceman has proven to be a calming presence this season on the Vancouver blueline. He’s spent much of the season alongside Quinn Hughes and hasn’t looked out of place, a strong statement of how hard he’s worked in recent seasons to reinvent his game. He’s still got a hard edge, but his defensive positioning and his first pass make him a player who, at 32, remains essential to this lineup.
Vegas — Jack Eichel: Eichel has shown perseverance and dedication to the sport, returning to play at a high level following an 11-month absence due to a neck surgery never before performed on an NHL player. Eichel helped pave the way for others, such as Tyler Johnson, to consider the artificial disc replacement surgery as an option, and set an example for players around the league in standing his ground on players’ medical rights.
Winnipeg — Josh Morrissey: Morrissey overcame the off-season death of his father Tom to cancer to put together one of the best seasons of his NHL career. Morrissey raised more than $3,700 for Cancer Care by auctioning off a “game worn” purple velvet blazer as a tribute to his dad, who loved fashion. Morrissey is active in the community, serving as an ambassador for The Dream Factory and hosting The Josh Morrissey Classic, an event that raised nearly $300,000 for Manitoba children battling life-threatening diseases during the first three years. Morrissey also started his own foundation called Glass Half Full Foundation, which helps raise funds for various Mental Health programs in Winnipeg and Calgary. Not only has Morrissey exuded the qualities of perseverance and dedication, but he’s also set career highs for goals (12) and points (34) while serving as an alternate captain.
Washington — Nicklas Backstrom: Nicklas Backstrom last offseason noticed problems with his left hip, which was surgically repaired in 2015. It was enough to keep him off the ice for training camp and the start of the season. While turning 34, Backstrom went through a grueling rehab process off the ice before he could even start skating again in the hopes of returning to the Washington Capitals. Backstrom missed Washington’s first 28 games before making his season debut in mid-December. The veteran Swede in March recorded his 1,000th career point and remains at almost a point-a-game rate in his NHL career.