So, the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association has a very difficult annual task in determining the player "who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey."
Once again, three deserving finalists are in the running in 2009, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios, Florida Panthers right winger Richard Zednik and Nashville Predators left winger Steve Sullivan.
They will be on hand for the 2009 NHL Awards, which will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on June 18 on VERSUS in the United States and CBC in Canada. Tickets to the 2009 NHL Awards are on sale at ticketmaster.com/nhlawards and at the Pearl Concert Theater Box Office.
The Masterton Trophy honors the three-time NCAA champion, American national team star and Minnesota North Stars rookie, Bill Masterton, who died Jan. 15, 1968, after sustaining a head injury when he was checked while trying to skate between two Oakland Seals defensemen.
There is no one standard. Over the years, winners have been honored for leadership, career years, accumulated Stanley Cups, returning to the NHL after fighting serious injury or disease, or in Gord Kluzak's case, not returning to play after injury, despite a dedicated attempt.
This year's nominees all overcame serious injuries to return to the NHL.
Chris Chelios, Detroit Red Wings -- Chelios was extremely excited to return for this season, which made him only the third player, in addition to Gordie Howe and Mark Messier, to play 25 NHL seasons. But he suffered a fractured tibia when he blocked a shot in a Sept. 30 preseason game against his old team, the Montreal Canadiens, and missed the first 28 games of the season.
He played only 28 games after returning Dec. 13 and did not register a point. But Chelios was available for injury replacements and played an important leadership role behind the scenes.
Chelios, 47, is being honored as much for his durability and high level of play over 25 seasons as for his return from injury. His teams have made the playoffs in 24 of his 25 seasons. He is the oldest player in the NHL.
Chelios won three Stanley Cups, with Montreal in 1986 and with Detroit in 2002 and 2008. He played in 11 NHL All-Star Games and won the Norris Trophy in 1989, 1993 and 1996. He was twice runner-up for the Norris. That means he was the NHL's best or second-best defenseman in 20 percent of his seasons.
Chelios has 185 goals and 763 assists in 1,644 NHL games. He is plus-352 in his career and had only three negative seasons. Afraid of no one, he has logged 2,891 penalty minutes. He has scored 69 power-play goals, 13 short-handed goals and 31 game-winners.
Chelios has been a superior Stanley Cup Playoffs performer with 31 goals and 113 assists in 260 games.
Chelios ranks fourth all-time in games played and is the leader among defensemen, Americans and active players. He is the only player in NHL history to play more than 400 games with three different teams, Montreal, Chicago and Detroit. He set the NHL record by playing in his 880th victory on Jan. 6 and extended that mark to 894 wins.
Steve Sullivan, Nashville Predators -- Sullivan played his first game this past season on Jan. 10, 687 days after he fragmented a spinal disc in a game against the Canadiens. He missed 142 games while he underwent two back surgeries and extensive rehabilitation. Sullivan's ability to resume his career was in serious doubt.
But he made it back and played in every game the rest of the season, except the game after his first game back. Sullivan had 11 goals and 21 assists in 41 games, a 0.78 points-per-game that was just slightly lower than his 0.8 points-per-game career average.
He was plus-2, had two game-winning goals and three power-play goals. Sullivan either scored or assisted on 11 goals that gave his team the lead and three goals that tied games. He beat the Los Angeles Kings with an overtime goal on March 28.
Sullivan was the 233rd pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. He struggled to escape the minors during three seasons as a New Jersey Devils' prospect, was traded to Toronto, played three seasons there and was dealt to Chicago. He was in his fifth season with the Blackhawks when they traded him to Nashville.
Sullivan has 239 goals and 370 assists in 764 games over 12 NHL seasons. He is plus-102 for his career.
Undersized, except in his heart and brain, at 5-foot-9 and 173 pounds, Sullivan was already a role model for perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.
Richard Zednik, Florida Panthers -- There have been few more frightening sights in NHL history than Zednik having his carotid artery nearly severed by teammate Olli Jokinen's skate on Feb. 28, 2008 in a game against the Sabres in Buffalo. Jokinen tripped over a rival player and his foot went high in the air, catching the unsuspecting Zednik in the throat.
Zednik kept his wits about him and quickly skated to his bench, where assistant trainer David Zenobi clamped a towel on his throat and teammate Jassen Cullimore helped carry him to the dressing room. Buffalo team doctor Les Bisson attended Zednik there and he was taken to Buffalo General Hospital where vascular surgeon Richard Curl and attending surgeon Sonya Noor repaired the wound.
By the time surgery started, Zednik had lost about five pints of blood and had gone into shock, with a high pulse and low-blood pressure. Doctors weren't far from losing him and said after surgery that it was a miracle that Jokinen's sharp skate blade hadn't also cut his jugular vein.
The team response was great. Assistant General Manager Randy Sexton accompanied Zednik to the hospital and Karen Cohen, wife of Alan Cohen, the Panthers' general partner, chairman of the board and CEO, flew from Florida to Buffalo with Zednik's wife, Jessica, on a chartered flight.
The hockey community went to bed that night not knowing Zednik's fate and breathed a sigh of relief the following morning when reports said Zednik was resting in stable condition and able to talk. He remembered the incident clearly.
Zednik had been badly injured earlier in the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he caught an elbow in the face from an off-balance Kyle McLaren and suffered a concussion, broken nose, bruised throat and cut eyelid. He was carried unconscious from the ice and spent the night in intensive care. He came back to have a career year the next season, scoring 31 goals and adding 19 assists.
He came back this season to score 17 goals and add 16 assists while going plus-2. Zednik has 200 goals and 179 assists for 379 points in 745 games.