Nick Foligno of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders and Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks were named finalists for the Masterton Trophy on Friday. The award is presented annually to the NHL player voted to best exemplify the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
The winner will be announced at the 2019 NHL Awards presented by Bridgestone at the Mandalay Bay Events Center sports and entertainment complex in Las Vegas on June 19.
Foligno, a 31-year-old forward, was forced to deal with health issues affecting two of his three young children yet returned to the lineup and played a significant role in helping the Blue Jackets qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He missed five games when his 5-year-old daughter, Milana, born with a congenital heart defect, needed a second heart surgery Dec. 31. Milana had surgery to replace a heart valve a few weeks after her birth in October 2013, a procedure that worked but presented some complications. He missed four games when his 23-month-old son, Hudson, was hospitalized March 11 after contracting pneumonia so severe that his right lung collapsed four days later. The Blue Jackets captain managed 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 73 games, and was second on Columbus in hits (175) and eighth in takeaways (37). No Columbus player has won the Masterton since the Blue Jackets entered the NHL in 2000-01.
"It's because of your teammates," Foligno said Friday. "You're proud to come and work with these guys every day. I'm on a special team and care a lot about this group.
"Those accolades are always weird to talk about because you don't ever play to get them, but it's a nice honor."
Lehner, a 27-year-old goalie who signed with the Islanders as a free agent July 3, 2018, was 25-13-5 with a .930 save percentage and 2.13 goals-against average in 46 games. That came after he revealed during training camp issues with addiction and a previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Lehner would be the third player in Islanders history to win the Masterton Trophy, joining forward Ed Westfall in 1977 for his leadership and goalie Mark Fitzpatrick in 1992 for overcoming Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome.
"It's a huge honor obviously, but it wouldn't be possible without all the pieces around me, starting from my family and friends," Lehner said. "But throughout this whole team, the relationship me and [goalie Thomas Greiss] has had all year, pushing each other, supporting each other, everyone from (general manager) Lou (Lamoriello), down on up, the whole organization has been great."
Thornton, a 39-year-old forward, has made comebacks from major injuries in each of the past two seasons; he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in 2017 and tore the MCL in his right knee in 2018. Thornton had 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) and was plus-8 this season, averaging 15:33 of ice time in 73 games. From Dec. 1 through the end of the regular season, Thornton was second on the Sharks in assists (30), third in face-off wins (280) and fourth in takeaways (39). Forward Tony Granato (1997) is the only Sharks player to win the Masterton since San Jose entered the NHL in 1991-92.