Hockey Central

NHL Trophies and Awards

Although every league in professional team sports has a list of individual awards to hand out at the conclusion of each season, none has a lineup of trophies even close to the National Hockey League, both in number and esthetics.

Each June at a black-tie charity gala event televised nationally in Canada and the U.S., the winners of seven awards are announced and collect their silverware. Four other laurels announces earier or based on statistical performance are acknowledged.

Throw in several team trophies, a list headed of course by the Stanley Cup, and a very large table is required to hold the hardware.

The NHL First and Second All-Star teams are also announced to expand the list of acceptance speeches and the financial payout by the league. The individual awards and all-star selections are accompanied by fiscal rewards of $284,000, part of the NHL's $10,359,000 in prize loot comprising season, All-Star Game and playoff team booty and the individual prizes.

The NHL awards based on statistics include:

  • The Art Ross Trophy, named in honor of the long-time manager and coach (1924 to 1954) of the Boston Bruins, goes "to the player who leads the league in scoring points at the end of the regular season," was first awarded in 1947.
  • The William Jennings Trophy is awarded "to the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it." Jennings was president of the New York Rangers and when the award was donated in 1981-82, it replaced the Vezina Trophy as the award to the goalies on the best defensive team. The Vezina now is awarded to the top goalie as selected by the 26 general managers.
  • The Bud Ice Plus-Minus Award was first awarded in the 1996-97 season "to the player, having played a minimum of 60 games who leads the league in plus-minus statistics at the end of the regular schedule." Plus-minus is the difference between goals for and against the team when the player is on the ice in equal manpower situations. (An award was first given to the NHL's plus-minus leader in 1982-83.)

The winners of the majority of NHL awards are selected by a poll of the Professional Hockey Writer's Association in all NHL cities.

  • The Hart Trophy goes "to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team." The original trophy was donated in 1923 by Dr. David A. Hart, father of Cecil Hart, manager and coach of the Montreal Canadiens. The first Hart Trophy was retired to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1960 and replaced by a new trophy.
  • The Calder Trophy is "to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL." The trophy commemorates Frank Calder, NHL president from 1917 until his death in 1943.
  • The Norris Trophy is awarded "to the defense player who demonstrates throughtout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position." James Norris was the owner-president of the Detroit Red Wings.
  • The Lady Byng Trophy goes "to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability." The trophy was donated originally in 1925 by Lady Byng, the wife of Canada's Governor-General.
  • The Frank J. Selke Trophy goes "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game." Selke was an executive for four decades with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.
  • Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded "to the most valable player in the playoffs." Smythe was owner and general-manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1927 to 1961 and builder of the Maple Leaf Gardens.
  • The Jack Adams Award goes "to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success." Voted by the NHL Broadcasters' Association, the award honors Adams, longtime general manager/coach of the Detroit Red Wings.
  • The Vezina Trophy is presented to "the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position," as voted by the general managers, was named for Georges Vezina, goalie of the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL's early days.
  • The Bill Masterton Trophy is given to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of preseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. It commemorates the late Bill Masterton of the Minnesota North Stars who died of head injuries suffered in a 1968 game.
  • The King Clancy Trophy honors the man who spent 65 years in the NHL as a player, referee, coach and executive and is awarded "to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community."

Two special NHL honors are the Lester Patrick Award and the Lester Patrick Trophy.

The Pearson Award honors the late Prime Minister of Canada and Nobel Peace prize winner Lester B. Pearson and goes to "the NHL's outstanding player as selected by members of the NHL Players' Association."

Named for one of the finest players of the game's early era and, later, one of the NHL's greatest coaches and executives, the Patrick award is "for outstanding service to hockey in the United States."

In addition to trophy winners, the hockey writers' group selects the 12 players on the two All-Star teams.

The winners of the awards and All-Star berths do more than supply lists of the game's greatest names. In many ways, those honored define much of hockey's history, the frames around its notably pictures.

During the 1997-98 season, The Hockey News celebrated its 50th anniversary. As a special event to celebrate the occasion, the publication had a panel of 50 voters, writers, broadcasters, hockey executives both active and retired, select the top 50 players in NHL history.

The tabulation of the results produced a "photo finish," a close vote in which Wayne Gretzky, one of the biggest star's over the last two decades; Bobby Orr, the brilliant defenseman of the late 1960s and early 1970s; and Gordie Howe, "Mr. Hockey," who had a 26-season NHL career plus additional time in the World Hockey Association, were picked as the top three players.

In his 19 seasons through the end of the 1997-98 schedule, Gretzky had collected 40 major awards and All-Star selections. With 33 honors in his 26 NHL seasons, Howe was second in numbers but third in the "greatest-ever" poll. Orr, who gathered the third-most awards, 25, but did it in only 12 seasons, was second in the top-50 poll.

The Hart Trophy is awarded to the player most valuable to his team, not the best player or the top star or the player of the year. Often this person represents all of the above, but on a few occasions this distinction between a pure MVP and the player most valuable to his team has produced Hart results open to second guessing.

For instance, the Hart was awarded to goalie Dominik Hasek of the Buffalo Sabres for the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons on the basis of his being the player who contributed the most to his club. As he also won the Lester Pearson Award and the Vezina in the same years, and second-guessers were silenced.

"At the end of most successful seasons, a team can look back over the games and say that goaltending was the big reason why we got a win here and a tie there, a dozen games where the points belong to the goalie," said John Muckler, the general manager of the Sabres in 1996-97.

"But its tough to imagine a game in 1996-97 where we earned a win or a tie when Hasek's goaltending was not the dominant factor of our success. That season, the Hart award for him was perfect because no player in the league was as valuable to his team. If the award was to the player of the year, there were a half dozen guys who had extraordinary seasons of the caliber to win. But none was as important to their team as Hasek was to the Sabres."

Hasek is only the fifth goalie in 75 years to whom the Hart has been awarded and the first since Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens in 1962. He is the only goalie to claim the honor twice.

An interesting twist on goalies and the Hart is that while the job is regarded as the most important position in the game, a goalie been named the most valuable player only eight percent of the time (six times in 75 seasons).

Obviously, the value of goalies increases in the Stanley Cup playoffs, where the Conn Smythe Trophy goes to the MVP in the postseason tournament. In the 34 years the Smythe has been awarded, 11 goalies accounting for 32 percent of the winners, have taken that hardware.

Of course, Gretzky, who owns a major portion of the NHL's offensive record book, has been awarded the Hart Trophy a record nine times, eight of them consecutively when he was with the Edmonton Oilers and once as a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

The mighty Howe was MVP six times and the defensemen who defined the two greatest eras of success by the Boston Bruins – Eddie Shore with four and Orr with three – follow. In fact only five other defensemen have won the Hart in 74 years.

To expand the theory that the best player in the league is not always the most valuable to his team, nine Hart Trophy winners were not named to the First All-Star Team at their position. Seven did earn Second-Team nominations while two MVPs (goalie Al Rollins of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1953-54 and center Teeder Kennedy of the Maple Leafs in 1954-55) were not on either star squad.

Rollins was one of only four Hart winners to have played on a team that did not qualify for the playoffs. The others were, Tom Anderson of the New York Americans in 1941-42, Andy Bathgate of the New York Rangers in 1958-59 and Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1987-88.

In the 75 seasons that the MVP has been selected, 13 of the Hart winners for the regular schedule played on the Stanley Cup winner;five (Orr twice, Gretzky, Lemieux and Guy Lafleur of the Montreal Canadiens) were most valuable in both the schedule and the playoffs in the 34 years the Smythe has existed. As well, 32 scoring leaders and Art Ross Trophy winners have also won the Hart.

Gretzky also collected the Lady Byng Trophy as the most gentlemanly and effective player four times, one of the selections with an interesting number. A meager penalty total usually is a big part of the winner's repertoire but when Gretzky was named Byng winner in 1991-92, he had 34 minutes in penalties. That's the second-highest total by any Byng recipient, topped only by 40 minutes 1926-27 winner Billy Burch had gathered while a New York American.

Frank Boucher, the wonderful little center of the Rangers in the early days of the NHL, later coach and general manager of that team, collected the Byng a record seven times. Boucher recorded only 119 penalty minutes in 557 career games.

Although an assortment of defensemen over the years have played effective, aggressive hockey while seldom violating the rules, the backliners have received little support over the years in Byng voting. In only four seasons have defensemen won the award, Red Kelly of the Red Wings three times and the Wings' Bill Quackenbush in the 1948-49 season when he played the 60-game schedule without a penalty minute.

Another NHL trophy with many unusual twists in its history is the Jack Adams Award, since 1974 honoring the coach of the year.

No strong definition exists on what constitutes a superior coaching effort. Is it the lifting of a team a considerable way up the standings? Is it inspiring a good team to deliver excellent performances on a consistent basis? Is it convincing a weak team to play its best, delivering a sound, smart effort most nights?

The list of Adams winners includes coaches from all categories, although those who engineered dramatic improvements received the nod most times.

Coaches often joke that they do not want to win the Adams because it seems to carry a jinx: Win the Adams and be unemployed quickly!

In the 25 years the award has been presented, one coach, Ted Nolan of the Sabres in 1996-97, was fired days after he collected the trophy. Five winners were sacked during or at the end of the season after their win and seven more were gone from the job within two years of their Adams acceptance speech.

Having been involved in the most Stanley Cup wins (13), seven with Maple Leafs and six as managing director of the Canadiens, Selke knew the type of player who rated highly on his list of assets.

"The backbone of any team is forwards who are at their best when the other team has the puck and can control the opposition's top shooters," Selke said when the NHL created the award bearing his name in 1977 for the best defensive forward.

"Of course, you need offensive stars, top defensemen and strong goaltending. But check the roster of any winning team and you will find a group of very good defensive forwards."

At the time the award was first presented, the Canadiens had a modest-scoring winger who was among the most valuable players in a roster of stars that was to win the Cup in four consecutive seasons. Bob Gainey was a splendid penalty-killer and the production of the NHL's strongest right wingers sagged against the Canadiens because of Gainey superior checking skills.

A high compliment for Gainey came from Viktor Tikhonov, the long-time coach of the Soviet Union national team and Central Red Army.

"Bob Gainey is the best technical hockey player in the world," Tikhonov said.

Gainey won the Selke Trophy in its first four seasons and an assortment of defensive specialists collected it in subsequent years. In recent seasons, however, the type of players winning the Selke has changed.

Because of NHL expansion and the dilution of talent, plus the budget constraints on some teams due to salary increases, many clubs cannot afford high-quality specialist players. Thus, the top stars must not only score goals, they must fill a large hole in preventing scores. Many big shooters work on penalty-killing units and in situations when strong defense is required. Such big attack guns as Sergei Fedorov, Ron Francis and Doug Gilmour have won the Selke awards in the 1990s and certainly not unjustly. Their heavy workload includes both even-strength and power-play duties plus penalty-killing time. Their skill makes them excellent in any role.

Suggestions have been made that the NHL needs two awards for defensemen, one for defensive backliners, another for "offensemen." While the Norris Trophy mandate dictates that all-round ability at the position must be considered, the chances of a defensive collecting the award are very slim.

To be rated a top defenseman these days a player must have strong offensive skills and the point total to match. Blame some of that on Bobby Orr.

The NHL had excellent rushing defensmen throughout history from King Clancy to Babe Pratt to Doug Harvey, Red Kelly and Pierre Pilote. But Orr arrived and in his fourth season (1969-70) he won the NHL scoring title, a feat that up to that time was seen to be as strong a possibility as a pitcher leading the major leagues in home runs.

Orr's eight consecutive Norris wins started the trend of high-scoring defensemen. In the past 20 years, only one rearguard who could be classified as a defensive defenseman, Rod Langway of the Washington Capitals in 1982-83 (32 points) and 1983-84 (33), has won the Norris.

In the 14 seasons since Langway's 1984 Norris win, those collecting the best defenseman award (Ray Bourgue, Five; Paul Coffey and Chris Chelios, three each; Brian Leetch, two; and Rob Blake, one) have averaged more than 80 points in their Norris-winning seasons.

Since NHL All-Star Teams first were named in 1930-31, the selections have provoked as much discussion – yes, arguments – as any honor. Of course, the list of all-stars provides a guide rather than a definitive rating on the best at each position.

Perhaps the longest-running argument in NHL history was the debate on the greatest right winger, both in their era and total NHL history, Howe or Maurice Richard of the Canadiens.

During the 10-season stretch from 1948-49 to 1957-58 when the two players were in their peak form – from the time Howe arrived as a frontline player to the time age caught up with the Rocket – the outcome of the right wing All-Star vote was anticipated eagerly. In that time, Howe earned six first team and three second team selections while Richard had four and five.

But did that signify that Howe was the better player in that era? Although the playoff statistics do not figure in All-Star selections, which are based on performance during the schedule, the numbers for the postseasons in those 10 years add fuel to the "greatest RW" fire.

Each ace missed a playoff, Howe with an injury, Richard due to a suspension. But in the nine active springs, Richard played 87 games, scored 50 goals and had 25 assists for 75 points. Five of those goals were overtime winners as the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup four times in that stretch.

The Red Wings won the Cup four times, too, in those 10 seasons and in his nine playoffs, Howe had 36 goals and 46 assists for 72 points in 74 games.

Career longevity – Howe played 26 NHL seasons to 18 for Richard – allowed Howe to lead all NHL All-Stars with 21 selections, 12 to the first and nine to the second, while Richard had 14, eight and six.

Second in All-Star nominations, and the leader among active players, is defenseman Raymond Bourque of the Colorado Avalanche. When he was not named to either 1996-97 All-Star Team, Bourque's streak was snapped at 17 (12 first, five second) selections.

While no NHL team has swept the six spots on the NHL First All-Star Team in one season, two clubs earned five of the nominations and placed a player on the second team.

In the 1944-45 season, the Canadiens had five first teamers, goalie Bill Durnan, defenseman Butch Bouchard and the Punch Line of Elmer Lach, Toe Blake and Rocket Richard, Defenseman Flash Hollett of the Red Wings spoiled the sweep, although defenseman Glen Harmon of the Canadiens was on the second team.

The Blackhawks placed five men on the first team in 1965-66: goalie Hall, defenseman Pilote, forwards Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Ken Wharram. Hawk defenseman Elmer Vasko was on the second team, losing the first-team selection to Tim Horton of the Maple Leafs.

The NHL All-Star Team from those with the most selections to the official first and second teams is not a bad little squad: Terry Sawchuk in goal, Raymond Bourque and Doug Harvey on defence and Wayne Gretzky at centre between Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe.