With NHL Awards set for June 24 in Las Vegas, our writers make a case for each nominee — Pavel Datsyuk, Anze Kopitar, Jiri Hudler — winning the Lady Byng Trophy. Which player is most deserving of the hardware?
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles Kings centre Anze Kopitar is a first-time Lady Byng nominee following a season in which he led his club in scoring for the eighth consecutive year and accumulated just 10 penalty minutes.
Kopitar, a 2013-14 Selke Trophy finalist, finished the 2014-15 campaign with 16 goals and 64 points in 79 games. It was the eighth time the 27-year-old cracked the 60-point mark, with the lockout-shortened 2012-13 being the only year he didn’t achieve that feat.
Kopitar was called for just five minor penalties this past season. The two-time Stanley Cup champion just doesn’t have time for infractions as he’s too busy pushing the puck in the right direction, as evidenced by his impressive 59.22 Corsi for percentage from 2014-15.
In what was an otherwise disappointing season for the Kings, Kopitar was his usual dominant self at both ends of the ice. He posted his highest assist total (48) since setting his career-high mark of 51 in 2011-12, and finished the season with the lowest PIM total of his career.
It’s time for Kopitar to take home some personal hardware. – Scott Lewis
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
If you’ve got one of those fancy smart phones all the kids are raving about, just ask your pal Siri: “Who is the magic man?”
The answer you’ll get is Pavel Datsyuk, the most dynamic centre of his generation and the player deserving of the 2015 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.
Sure, the Russian’s point totals were lower than they were during in the four-year span from 2006-2009 when he previously ruled this award category, but he still averaged more than a point per game.
He plays the game one step ahead of everyone else and he thinks the game three steps ahead. One of his best attributes is the fact he’s so disciplined. He only had eight penalty minutes in 63 games this season – unlike those goons Kopitar (10) and Hudler (14) – but just because he avoids taking many trips to the sin bin doesn’t mean he isn’t physical. The 36-year-old Datsyuk can still body opponents off the puck better than most.
If he snaps his five-year drought it will tie him with Wayne Gretzky for second all-time with five Lady Byng Trophies.
Hot take: One day the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy should be renamed after Datsyuk the same way the James Norris Memorial Trophy should be called the Bobby Orr Award. – Mike Johnston
Jiri Hudler, Calgary Flames
With the awareness that aggressively arguing the Lady Byng winner carries some inherent irony (“Screw you! My guy is nicer!”), the most gentlemanly player who exhibited an elite level of play this season was hands-down Jiri Hudler. (Full disclosure: I’ve been in Hudler’s corner ever since he crashed the L.A. Lakers practice last winter.)
All the Flames veteran did was help lead a young, rebuilding group into the Stanley Cup playoffs while getting very few headlines and even fewer penalties. Calgary’s remarkable, shot-blocking D core reaps credit, but consider what Hudler did in 2014-15, at age 31.
The guy knocked out career highs in goals (31), assists (45), points (76) and plus/minus (+17) while reining in his PIMs to a career-low 14.
Of the NHL’s top eight point-getters this season, Hudler had the fewest penalties, the best plus/minus, and his stats were padded by the fewest power play points. In short: the most underrated forward in the league.
“In front of the media [Hudler] is a man of very few words, but in the locker room, he’s an unbelievable leader,” Flames coach Bob Hartley told Sportsnet’s Mark Spector. “A funny guy who takes care of all of the kids. He always finds the right words for our young players.”
Now we’ve found the right trophy for him.
– Luke Fox