I’ve got to admit I had difficulty working up much interest in Sunday night’s Emmy Awards, and that’s not intended as any kind of insult toward Schitt’s Creek, the brilliant Canadian comedy that dominated the show. I’m just not big on awards shows. Don’t love them. Don’t hate them.
I’ve got more interest in the NHL awards that will be handed out before Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final between the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning, especially with Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl having a chance to add the Hart Memorial Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award to the Art Ross Trophy he already claimed as the league’s leading scorer. No need for a vote there.
The Hart (most valuable player), Calder Memorial Trophy (rookie of the year), James Norris Memorial Trophy (best defenseman), the Lindsay (outstanding player) and Vezina Trophy (top goaltender) will be handed out tonight. The first three awards are among those voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, while the Lindsay is voted on by the players and the Vezina is voted on by NHL general managers.
Draisaitl, as well as Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers, are the three finalists for both the Hart and Lindsay. While you can make strong cases for both Draisaitl and MacKinnon, I’d give Draisaitl the nod for the Hart if I had a vote, which I used to but don’t anymore, and for the Lindsay. That’s not to say Panarin is a slouch, but I consider Draisaitl and MacKinnon a cut above.
The thing about any award involving a vote as opposed to awards decided on by statistics and results, like the Art Ross Trophy and Stanley Cup, for example, is there’s room for the perception that bias and favoritism can play a part in who gets the silverware. I heard that a fair amount from fans during my tenure as the chair of the Edmonton chapter of the PHWA. Eastern bias, homer voting etc. Add in the reality fans will be fans — they want to see players on the team they support win awards — and there’s plenty of room for debate. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Fans around here, as one example, got really raw in 2012 when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finished as runner-up to Gabriel Landeskog of Colorado for rookie of the year. RNH had the same number of points as Landeskog, 52, but he got them in 20 fewer games as he played only 62. I thought that was a bad call by voters, but unless I’ve got my geography wrong, that’s not eastern bias.
It was my experience the vast majority of PHWA members took voting seriously. Not all, but most. These days, there are far more advanced statistics available to voters, so there is no reason not to deep dive to make the most informed choice when two players are neck-and-neck. I think the vast majority of voters are equally committed to getting it right today, even if some media types get a kick out of trolling on social media.
The PHWA took a big step forward by adding transparency to the process in 2018 — fans can see who voted for whom. There is no hiding a homer vote. And, unlike many years ago, there aren’t vast discrepancies in the number of voters in different NHL cities. While there are more than 300 PHWA members league-wide, only 155 of them have votes.
THE BOTTOM LINE
My old managing editor at the Edmonton Journal, Murdoch Davis, used to bitch and moan that sports writers shouldn’t be voting on NHL awards. He still does. Not because of bias, but he just didn’t think we should be part of the process. The question of media voting on awards came up again this morning on Dustin Nielson’s show on TSN 1260. That prompted me to run a poll over two hours on Twitter. It’s here:
NHL awards requiring a vote should be decided by polling the NHLPA membership — as is done now with the Ted Lindsay Award — not by members of the media.
— Robin Brownlee (@Robin_Brownlee) September 21, 2020
I used to disagree with Davis vehemently back when I had a ballot, but I don’t feel nearly as strongly anymore. I wonder if the NHL awards that are voted on would mean more to the players if those votes were cast by their peers, members of the NHLPA, as is the case with the Ted Lindsay Award. I hear that all the time under the voting system in place now. That, in itself, is a good enough reason to change the process. I’d be fine with that.