Each year, the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominates a Caps player for the NHL’s Masterton Trophy, awarded to the player who best demonstrates “qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” Since almost every team’s writers nominate a player, the field is full of deserving nominees. Though he was not ultimately selected as a finalist, this year our local chapter nominated Matt Hendricks.
The finalists for this year’s Masterton are a reflection of what the trophy has become — an award for players who overcome traumatic injuries or personal tragedies. Anaheim’s Ray Emery returned from bone-graft surgery, Calgary’s Daymond Langkow returned after missing an entire year due to spinal cord damage, and Philadelphia’s Ian Laperriere did not play this season at all after being diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.
Caps fans will remember that last year the award went to our own Jose Theodore, whose son Chase died of complications related to premature birth before the season began. Theodore went on not only to have a strong season on the ice, but also to create a charity benefiting the neonatal intensive care unit where his son was treated.
By comparison (though I believe this is one of the hardest awards for which to draw comparisons), Hendricks may seem like a weak candidate. He is a true journeyman player, drafted in 2000, and arriving in Washington last year for nothing more than a professional tryout. It wasn’t until this past February, 11 years after being drafted, that Hendricks signed his first one-way contract. Anyone who remembers his unsightly injuries during HBO’s 24/7 knows that he’s a guy who stands up for his teammates and works hard to inject energy where it’s needed.
In the history of the Masterton, Hendricks’ brand of perseverance has been rewarded, though not recently. The trophy has been awarded nine times in the last 10 years: seven times for a player who overcame an injury, once for a player who faced a tragic loss (Jose Theodore), and only once for a player for “all-around dedication to hockey” (Adam Graves in 2001). By comparison, of the first 20 years in which the trophy was awarded, 16 were for dedication or perseverance unrelated to health or personal challenges.
There are plenty of things one can extrapolate from that. Perhaps we need a new award for players whose dedication and perseverance is not specific to one major obstacle. Some might see it as a proof point for the argument that injuries in the NHL are too numerous or too serious, or both. Or perhaps we just do more to recognize players who face injuries, and that’s ok. All else aside, it is safe to say that Hendricks was an unlikely finalist for the Masterton, but an admirable player, and a solid choice on the part of the D.C. writers.