The Chicago Blackhawks might have recently raised hockey’s ultimate prize, but that does not discount a number of other accolades worthy of distribution for players representing the other 29 NHL teams. Even with the 2009-10 NHL season but a recent memory, the accomplishments of those players will be honored Wednesday night in Las Vegas at the annual NHL Awards Show (7:30 p.m., VERSUS).
The numerous trophies representing various on-ice accomplishments are as varied as the backgrounds of NHL players who receive them. Even more so, the awards themselves are indicative of the specific role each player attributes to himself on the ice, and thus the contributions he makes to help his team succeed.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will certainly be represented well in the desert on Wednesday, as a pure scorer, a natural leader and a persevering defenseman anticipate taking the stage to accept the humbling rewards.
Coming off a spectacular 51-goal campaign in just his second NHL season, Lightning star center Steven Stamkos will officially be anointed with his first piece of hardware when he is handed the Rocket Richard Trophy, joining past winners and current NHL stars such as Alex Ovechkin, Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash. Stamkos will split honors with Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who battled the 20-year-old Markham, Ontario native down to the final day of the regular season, with both players scoring goals to each claim their share of the prize.
Although the destination of standing on the stage in acceptance of the honor is rewarding, Stamkos’ journey to arrive there is equally, if not more, impressive. En route to 51 goals, Stamkos became just the third-youngest player in NHL history to score at least 50 goals in a season, a list that does not include Crosby. Stamkos also netted 17 of those goals during his 18-game point streak, the league’s second-longest in 2009-10, and recorded a league-leading 24 more on the power play.
Stamkos’ teammates weren’t too bad either.
Nominated for four consecutive Lady Byng Trophies, an award given to the NHL player who most exemplifies good sportsmanship, Martin St. Louis is optimistic that this year he will finish much like his line-mate and friend did in the goal-scoring race - on top. St. Louis, who has placed second in polling each of the least three seasons, is being contested by former Lightning teammate and previous winner Brad Richards, as well as the four-time reigning recipient Pavel Datsyuk.
En route to his best offensive season since 2006-07, the Quebec-born right wing placed sixth in the league in scoring with 94 points and only 12 penalty minutes, matching his full-season low in 82 games played. This past season also marked the fourth consecutive season in which St. Louis did not miss a contest, closing the 2009-10 season with the NHL’s fourth-longest active consecutive games played streak at 390.
St. Louis led the Lightning and finished fifth in the NHL with a career-high 65 assists, was tied for third in the league with seven game-winning goals and ranked first in the NHL in power-play assists with 30. In addition, he recorded his seventh-straight campaign with at least 25 goals, placed third among all NHL forwards with 21:48 of ice time per game, and was first on Tampa Bay with 62 takeaways.
The Lightning winger also posted two 11-game point streaks in 2009-10, the first of which was marked by 15 total points through the first eleven games of the season, breaking the franchise record of seven games to start a season.
Joining Stamkos and St. Louis this season was defenseman Kurtis Foster, who was honored to be a finalist for the Bill Masterton Trophy, representing perseverance and dedication to hockey after overcoming hardship.
Two years after the Lightning defenseman underwent surgery on March 20, 2008 to repair a shattered femur, the result of an incident in which he was pushed into the end boards by San Jose’s Torrey Mitchell as each chased down an iced puck, Foster returned to the ice in 2009-10 to complete a career year in his first full season back in action.
Foster not only recorded a career-best 34 assists and 42 points to lead all Tampa Bay defensemen, but he also and played an essential role on the Lightning’s power play unit. Coming off such a devastating injury and entering this past season with a lot of uncertainty, Foster exceeded expectations, playing in a career-high 71 games with the Lightning. If named the winner of the award, Foster would be just the second player in Lightning franchise history, joining John Cullen who won the trophy in 1998-99 after overcoming non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Other finalists joining Foster are Jed Ortmeyer of the San Jose Sharks and Jose Theodore of the Washington Capitals.