Johnston: NHL award winners deserved better

Alex Ovechkin won the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. (AP)

CHICAGO – Alex Ovechkin deserved better.

So did Sidney Crosby, Sergei Bobrovsky, P.K. Subban and Jonathan Huberdeau.

While this was admittedly a tough spot for the National Hockey League — with a crammed calendar at the end of a lockout-shortened season — it just didn’t feel right learning that Ovechkin had won an historic third Hart Trophy less than an hour before the puck dropped on Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final.

How did he get to commemorate the achievement?

We’ll never know.

Ovechkin chose not to make the trip to Chicago for the event and he can’t really be blamed given how little pageantry and attention it received.

It would have been an awfully long flight back from Europe to make a quick TV appearance and pick up the hardware, although that didn’t stop Bobrovsky from doing it. Subban and Huberdeau were in attendance at the United Center as well.

However, the guys still battling for the best trophy of them all — the Stanley Cup — upstaged the event on this night.

It’s a shame, too, given how interesting this particular class of winners was:

– You had Ovechkin and Crosby, the NHL’s most-hyped rivals, splitting the MVP awards (the writers liked the Great 8; the players went for Crosby). Ovechkin also became just the eighth man in history to win the Hart Trophy three times.

– There was the 24-year-old Bobrovsky taking the Vezina Trophy one year after getting out of the goalie graveyard in Philadelphia. He also played coy about his contract situation, saying “we’ll see” when asked if he would consider signing in the KHL for next season.

– Even though this year began with a brief contract holdout by Subban, it didn’t stop him from taking his game to a new level when he eventually returned to the Montreal Canadiens and putting together a season worthy of his first Norris Trophy.

– And how about Huberdeau becoming the first QMJHL product to win the Calder Trophy since Martin Brodeur in 1994?

Good stories, one and all, and not enough of them will be written because of the circumstances surrounding the awards presentation.

The players were also robbed of the surprise a winner would normally experience when his name is announced at the awards show in Las Vegas. Instead, they were each told about a week ago by team representatives — Huberdeau got a call from Panthers general manager Dale Tallon while Subban heard from Habs director of public relations Dominick Saillant.

That helps explain why the identity of each winner made its way into leaked media reports, which is something rarely seen in the NHL.

Subban’s trophy win was reported by Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos before the Stanley Cup final even started. The defenceman admitted that it was tough to have to wait a week before receiving his award.

“Obviously, I shared it with my parents,” said Subban. “It was a tough thing to have to keep that to yourself and not tell anybody. It was really tough to do that, but at the end of the day I was extremely excited.

“I didn’t believe it — the whole time I’m thinking `is this like a trick that’s being played on me?”‘

The NHL should be commended for the decision four years ago to start taking the awards show to Las Vegas each June. Players and sponsors seem to love it and the winner of each trophy gets to cap off a special night by taking a turn in the media spotlight.

A number of those interviews have been full of emotion and excitement in recent years.

With only a handful of reporters standing around Huberdeau, Subban and Bobrovsky during the first intermission of Saturday night’s game, it was tough to ignore the difference between their experience and that of someone in their shoes in a normal year.

At least one of them enjoyed getting the chance to attend a Stanley Cup final game.

“It’s still special, I’m still young and I still like to come and watch even if it isn’t Florida,” said Huberdeau. “It’s nice to come and watch the game. It’s great hockey — two great teams.”

It was a little tougher on a more experienced player like Subban, who has played in the Eastern Conference final before and saw his season end in the first round this spring.

“It is a little weird because I’ve never been to the Stanley Cup final before,” said Subban. “I’d much rather be playing on the ice right now.”

At least everything will return to normal next year.

If any of these players can put together another award-winning campaign, they’ll get the chance see what they missed out on this time around.

A look at Saturday’s award winners:

Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) – Jonathan Huberdeau

Ted Lindsay Award (MVP as voted by NHL players) – Sidney Crosby

Vezina Trophy (top goaltender) – Sergei Bobrovsky

Norris Trophy (top all-around defenceman) – P.K. Subban

Hart Trophy (MVP as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association) – Alex Ovechkin

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