No need for repeat Lady Byng winners

By: Tim Kolupanowich @TimKolupan_

The Lady Byng Trophy is an undervalued award won by some of the most respected players in history. (Arnold C/Wikimedia Commons)

The Lady Byng Trophy is an undervalued award won by some of the most respected players in history. (Arnold C/Wikimedia Commons)

As it was announced Friday, Martin St. Louis won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for the third time in the past four seasons. One of the least anticipated of the NHL’s major awards, the Lady Byng “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability” and since the lockout has been property of just three players, either St. Louis, Pavel Datsyuk who won it four consecutive years or Brian Campbell, last year’s winner.

The Lady Byng Trophy is, despite what Alex Mogilny may believe, definitely a worthwhile award as The Hockey News’ Adam Proteau wrote last year, but perhaps would be more prestigious if it was an award players only won once. If it were more of a career achievement award similar to the Bill Masterton Trophy it would be held with more esteem. As Proteau points out, many of its winners have been among the most widely respected players in the game:

Yet, somehow, the Byng has become a target for derision and for the life of me, I can’t understand why. If a soft touch such as Alexandre Daigle won it repeatedly, that would be one thing. But scan a list of Byng Trophy winners since its inception in 1925 – including Toe Blake, Dave Keon, Stan Mikita, Gilbert Perreault, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Kariya, Brett Hull, Pavel Datsyuk and Martin St-Louis – and tell me you’d turn a single one of those legends away from playing on your team. You’d be a fool if you said yes.

Every winner of this award played hard throughout his career, but always respected the game and his opponents and there aren’t many who have anything bad to say about a single winner.

The official definition of the trophy doesn’t even have to change. Most gentlemanly, most respected, you can use either definition you want, they’re pretty interchangeable. We discussed who the most respected player in hockey is last year right after Nicklas Lidstrom, who held that unofficial title at the time, retired. There aren’t too many people upset over the fact he didn’t win the Lady Byng at some point, but the truth is he really should have.

The fact of the matter is that, as the Red Wings have demonstrated, you succeed by playing between the whistles, not after they’ve been blown. Detroit legend Nicklas Lidstrom – who, incredibly, has yet to win the Byng despite being a constant target and taking only 512 penalty minutes in 1,562 career regular season games  – epitomizes the spirit of the honor.

If you tell me he’s soft, I would tell you (a) he isn’t; and (b) your head is.

He handled the best forwards in the NHL for two decades and only recorded 30 PIM or more five times; six times he took fewer than ten minor penalties in a season. Good luck finding someone else who played with that much sportsmanship at that high of a level for that long and yet he never won an award that would probably take his namesake if it were ever to be renamed.

There are many others who deserve to have won the award. Teemu Selanne, Adam Oates and Guy Lafleur played their entire careers without spending much time in the box despite garnering constant attention and opposition hellbent on throwing the best players off their game. They’d fit right in with the players Proteau mentioned and he didn’t even have time to get to Joe Sakic, Ron Francis, Jean Ratelle and Marcel Dionne. If the Lady Byng Trophy were a once-in-a-career award the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association handed to the player that carried himself with a great deal of sportsmanship and class throughout his career, the list of winners would likely make up the greatest collection of players in history.

Patrice Bergeron didn’t win the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded to “the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community,” because he just started Patrice’s Pals this year. He’s been a leader on the Bruins and has given back to Boston since he joined the team in 2003-04; he always has been and always will be. Similarly, St. Louis has always played at an elite level without taking many penalties so we don’t need to be reminded every year he is still one of the most gentlemanly and respectful players in the game.

It would be great of the Lady Byng Trophy was recognized and appreciated a little more. There are many greats who have held the unofficial title of most respected/most gentlemanly/classiest without being formally recognized in any such way and this would be the perfect trophy to do just that.

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