Killer one-liners, a pass-the-Kleenex cameo, a three-trophy sweep, a Norris landslide, a poignant speech, and hockey’s first trophy acceptance while managing a hamburger (what up with that?) — the 2019 NHL Awards had a little bit of everything.
Here are the 12 highlights from hockey’s annual Las Vegas gala, which struck a smart balance between playful and poignant.
Carey Price delivers show-stealing surprise
Anderson Whitehead, who lost his mother to cancer and shared an emotional moment with Carey Price after a morning skate this season, was invited onstage partway through the ceremonies for a special video message from his idol.
The Montreal Canadiens goaltender abruptly cut his video short, however, and strolled onstage to surprise his young fan in-person, presenting Anderson with a crisp new Habs sweater and a personal invite to next winter’s all-star game in St. Louis.
Overcome, Anderson broke down in tears, trembling, and Price gently comforted the kid.
“Everything’s OK. Everything’s OK, Everything’s great,” the mic picked up Price telling Anderson, before turning to the crowd. “How about a round of applause for the young man here?”
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Can’t sleep…as a mom who feared that card, @CP0031 I can’t thank you enough on the impact you made tonight. One of my biggest fears was leaving my own boys too soon. Just a little thank you for taking that extra step showing your love and support. It means the world. @NHL
— Nicholle Anderson (@xonichollexo) June 20, 2019
Robin Lehner uses platform to make a point
New York Islanders goalie Robin Lehner showed the world what he can do once he sought help — posting a franchise record .930 save percentage and raking a Vezina nomination and William Jennings Trophy in the process.
Lehner, the writers’ easy choice for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, delivered the best speech of the evening.
“I’m not ashamed to say I’m mentally ill. But that doesn’t mean mentally weak,” Lehner proclaimed. “We’ve got to end the stigma.”
Kenan Thompson scorches Lightning
“And for the last time, no, I am not one of the Subbans.”
With that opening line, the Saturday Night Live star set a tone that, yes, the fun level of the NHL Awards can be enhanced with the right host.
Thompson, 41, comes by his hockey roots honestly, earning his breakthrough acting role by firing knucklepucks as Russ Tyler in the second and third installments of mid-’90s The Mighty Ducks franchise.
The league went host-free in 2018, but Thompson was a welcome addition, keeping the mood light and, mostly, cringe-free. He busted out his hilarious Steve Harvey impression, reunited with Good Burger pal Kel, and roasted the Tampa Bay Lightning with the best joke of the night:
Petterssson shouts out Botch
Accepting the Calder Trophy after routing runner-up Jordan Binnington by a first-place vote count of 151-18, Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson made sure to shoutout the late, great Canucks beat reporter Jason Botchford from the dais.
“Thanks to everyone who voted for me. I’m pretty sure that includes Jason Botchford, who recently passed away. Jason was a great supporter in the Vancouver media and a great man,” Pettersson said.
The franchise centre elaborated off-stage and was so overcome, he had to pause and wipe away tears (watch below).
“I don’t know where to start,” Pettersson said. “He was a great reporter in Vancouver. Then when I heard the news about him passing away… I’m getting sad right now… it was tough. He was a great man. He was loved by everyone, respected by everyone.”
Giordano wins in a landslide
In the gala’s most lopsided victory, Mark Giordano’s career season was acknowledged with an eye-popping 96 per cent of the first-place votes for the Norris Trophy.
“Let’s keep this going. I feel young. I feel fresh,” said the 35-year-old.
Giordano became the first Flame to ever win the award. An incredible feat for a player who was never drafted into the OHL or the NHL and had to prove himself over in Russia before getting his shot.
Barkov zings Panthers fan base
We’ll let it slide in light of the fact he won a trophy for exhibiting gentlemanly conduct, but Aleksander Barkov threw a friendly jab at his own Panthers fan base when he went up to accept the Lady Byng.
“We have more fans from Finland than from Florida here,” Barkov quipped.
A whopping 60 players received Lady Byng votes, with 17 different players earning at least one first-place vote.
The award traditionally ends up in the hands of a forward, so it’s worth noting that Toronto’s Morgan Rielly, the highest-ranking defenceman, did finish fourth overall.
The Vegas Golden Knights (Alex Tuch, Nate Schmidt, William Karlsson, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Marc-Andre Fleury) and the seldom-penalized Maple Leafs (Rielly, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Tyler Ennis) were well-represented in this category, with five players garnering votes.
Matthews, Subban give a nod to Raptors
Before NHL 19 coverboy P.K. Subban announced his successor, he made sure to congratulate his hometown Toronto Raptors on their championship.
Auston Matthews, the video game’s new face, also gave his thoughts on the Raps’ parade to The Canadian Press earlier in the day.
“I think for us as players, it’s a little extra motivation for next season just to see what could be if we end up accomplishing that ultimate goal,” Matthews said. “To see the excitement, the madness, the streets the night they won it, the parade and everything, it was just craziness.”
In other very important breaking news: NHL 20 includes the Storm Surge.
Kucherov cleans up
In addition to his Art Ross victory as the league’s highest scorer, Nikita Kucherov scooped the Ted Lindsay Award (snuffing out Connor McDavid’s bid for a threepeat) from his peers and the Hart Trophy, as voted by the writers in a rout (164 of 171 first-place votes) and presented by Alex Trebek.
Kucherov crowded his podium with three gigantic mementos of the most productive offensive season we’ve seen since 1995-96 and the most prolific single NHL season by a Russian.
McDavid is a fashion maven
Although he was named centre of the First All-Star Team, Connor McDavid missed out on the major awards for the first time in three years.
But the Edmonton Oilers superstar did take home our unofficial award for Most Unique Wardrobe Choice. McDavid’s nifty skate-lace belt edged out Brent Burns’s camouflage suit, the same one he wore when he took a gazelle to prom.
Selke results in closest race, remains a centreman’s trophy
What a week for Ryan O’Reilly, who can now add a Selke Trophy alongside his Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup ring.
Of all the votes, the one for best defensive forward was the tightest, with O’Reilly (1,001 points) edging out Golden Knights winger Mark Stone (881) by a mere six first-place votes. Perennial contender Patrice Bergeron (809) and Hart finalist Sidney Crosby (736) weren’t far behind.
GM Don Waddell receives most first-place votes, finishes third
Eleven general managers received GM of the Year votes, including one (Montreal’s Marc Bergevin) whose club failed to make the playoffs.
In an interesting twist, Carolina’s Don Waddell actually received more first-place votes than his peers (nine) but finished third to winner Don Sweeney and runner-up Doug Armstrong (eight apiece).
Whereas Sweeney and Armstrong spent years building up to 2018-19’s success, Waddell inherited a roster largely assembled by predecessor Ron Francis.
Trotz balances burger with Jack Adams
“I’m a little distracted with a burger in my hand here,” said Islanders bench boss Barry Trotz as he was handed his second Jack Adams Award while already palming a delicious ground-beef sandwich.
The burger moment reinforced Trotz’s everyman persona while honouring his ability to do what no other man probably could.
The coach essentially got fired after winning a Stanley Cup in Washington and then guided his new club, the Islanders, to a 23-point improvement over 2017-18 despite losing their best talent to free agency.
Trotz’s victory over 62-win Jon Cooper reinforces the theory that the Jack Adams goes to the coach who exceeds expectations and does the most with the least.
With the win, Trotz joins an exclusive club. Only he, Pat Burns, Pat Quinn, Scotty Bowman, Jacques Lemaire and John Tortorella have captured the Jack Adams with two different teams.