Is a fourth Lady Byng in the offing for Datsyuk?
That's the NHL's theme for the 2008-09 season and it's an apt question when it comes to the nominees for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy as the League's most gentlemanly player.
Is this the year that Tampa Bay Lightning right winger Martin St. Louis reverses the outcome of the Lady Byng voting the past two seasons and unseats Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk, who is seeking his fourth straight Lady Byng?
Both players are among the finalists this year, along with New Jersey Devils left winger Zach Parise. They will be on hand for the 2009 NHL Awards, which will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on June 18 on VERSUS in the United States and CBC in Canada.
Character counts and the three nominees for the 2009 Lady Byng have it in spades.
Perhaps the most misunderstood trophy in sports, the Lady Byng rewards "the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability." In other words, it rewards production done with class. It's not a "consolation" trophy as some have called it and it doesn't identify gutless players as some have insisted. Need proof? Check out this list of past Byng winners: Wayne Gretzky, Ron Francis, Joe Sakic, Joe Mullen, Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri, Marcel Dionne and Syl Apps Jr.
You couldn't push around Apps, Alex Delvecchio, Sakic, Johnny Bucyk, Toe Blake, Frank Boucher or Bobby Bauer, and they all won the Lady Byng.
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings: Datsyuk is bidding to become the first player since Boucher in 1931 to win the Lady Byng four straight times. Boucher won a total of seven, the all-time leader. Gretzky won it five times.
Datsyuk led the Red Wings with 65 assists, fifth in the NHL, and 97 points, fourth in the NHL, and his 32 goals were third on the team and 23rd in the NHL. He led the Red Wings with a plus-34 rating, third in the NHL. Datsyuk had 11 power-play goals, second on the Red Wings to Henrik Zetterberg's 12.
Datsyuk led the League with 25 power-play assists and 36 power-play points. He also had a goal and an assist while playing shorthanded. He finished second on the Red Wings, behind Kris Draper, and ninth in the NHL by winning 56 percent of his faceoffs. He was 17th in the NHL with 17 road goals. He was rough on Central Division rivals, scoring 11 of his goals, tied for 16th in the NHL.
Datsyuk doubled up last season by also winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy that goes to the NHL's best defensive forward. Datsyuk's defensive skills are the key to his line's success. He led the Red Wings with 89 takeaways. The next nearest teammate was Zetterberg, who had 42. Only Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had more, 94, and he led the NHL in scoring this season, a good indicator that this is an important category.
An award for gutless players? Think again. Datsyuk was second among Red Wings' forwards with 33 blocked shots. Datsyuk, at 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds, is a mid-sized, fast and shifty skater who adds great stickhandling and passing skills that make him the offensive leader of the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils: Parise emerged as one of the NHL's top stars in his fourth season. He played in his 300th game, got his 100th goal and 200th point this season.
Parise's determination is evident in every shift and he is the primary reason for the great improvement in the Devils' offensive attack.
Some players are described as "strong on their skates" and Parise is a prime example. He is average-sized at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, but strong as a bull and well-balanced. That allows him to play effectively against players 20 or more pounds heavier. If he was a graduate of your power-skating school, you'd have video of him on your home page.
The son of former NHL player J.P. Parise and a product of Shattuck-St. Mary's Prep and the University of North Dakota, Parise's hockey education is second-to-none and he's a sponge for hockey knowledge. He has an awareness of the game's history and former players that is rare in young players. His postgame analyses are detailed and informative. He treats everyone with respect and is widely admired for his honesty and directness.
Parise had a big season. He played every game and finished third in the League with 45 goals and fifth with 95 points, up 29 points from a year ago, his previous career-best. Parise finished eighth in the NHL and second on the Devils with a plus-30 rating.
Parise is adept at finding time and space to shoot as evidenced by his 364 shots, third-highest in the NHL. His eight game-winning goals were seventh-best in the NHL and a testament to his determination to make a difference. He had 14 power-play goals, eighth-highest in the League. He led all Devils forwards with an average of 18:45 minutes of ice time and had only 24 penalty minutes all season.
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning: In a sense, St. Louis ought to win this award because he has to work harder for it, checking a fiery personality for the team good. St. Louis is intense, driven to win and plays with a snarl but, somehow, doesn't take penalties.
That's thinking team-first.
St. Louis' competitiveness, combativeness if you will, stems from being told he'd never make it to the NHL because he is only 5-foot-9 and 177 pounds. He flies into scrums along the boards and comes out with the puck. He carries the puck at blazing speed into heavily defended areas and gets his shot. He checks the puck carrier and turns the play up ice with precision.
He has been marketed by the NHL to demonstrate the great things about the game and its players, a champion who gives everything he has, gracious in triumph, or heartbroken and exhausted in defeat.
In 10 NHL seasons, St. Louis has never taken more than 38 minutes in penalties and had only 14 minutes this year.
Playing on a team that was in last place for part of the season, St. Louis is one of the cornerstones in the rebuilding process. He led the Lightning with 30 goals, 50 assists and 80 points. St. Louis had seven power-play goals and three game-winners and led all Lightning forwards with an average of 21:45 minutes of ice time.
St. Louis is five years removed from one of the greatest years any NHL player ever had. St. Louis won the Art Ross and Hart Trophies and the Lester B. Pearson Award in 2004, when he led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup. That's running the table.
To help you judge the most worthy recipient, NHL.com provides its points-per-penalty minute ratio. St. Louis produced 5.71 points per penalty minute; Datsyuk, 4.4 and Parise, 3.96.