>Voting on Flyers’ awards could make for some tough decisions
FISH NHL SUNDAY COLUMN – 4/10
Some years the choices are obvious, others not so much.
Voting for the best of the best in terms of Flyers performances in this disappointing season probably falls into the latter.
How do you reward excellence when the team is suffering through one of its worst outcomes in franchise history?
After all, MVP or most valuable player means an individual has contributed mightily to a team’s success, right?
When a team like the Flyers is out of contention by March, there’s sort of a feeling of “what’s the point?”
But it says here someone has to win, so this is how we see things shaping up when the ballots are cast in a couple weeks.
>*Bobby Clarke Trophy* (“awarded annually to the Flyers most valuable player by a selected panel of sportswriters and sportscasters”):
Last year, Sean Couturier became just the third Flyer to complete a Clarke “hat trick’’ by winning the trophy a third straight season. The only other Philadelphia players to earn that accomplishment were Ron Hextall (1986-89) and Eric Lindros (1993-96).
Obviously this year Couturier is out of the running due to season-ending back surgery. So the field looks a bit more wide open.
Five-time winner Claude Giroux might have been in contention for a sixth but he was traded to Florida last month.
That leaves us with several qualified candidates, with perhaps the two favorites being forward Cam Atkinson and goaltender Carter Hart.
Both have enjoyed excellent seasons.
Entering weekend action, Atkinson led the Flyers in goals (23), points (50), shorthanded goals (3) and has a remarkable plus-minus rating of minus-1 on a team which is a collective Metropolitan Division-worst minus-66.
In addition, Atkinson is one of only two Flyers (James van Riemsdyk the other) to have played in all 71 games – again rather incredible given the COVID situation and possible injuries from things like blocked shots. Also, Atkinson has accrued just 10 penalty minutes which should give him consideration for the NHL’s Lady Byng Trophy (most sportsmanlike player).
Hart’s numbers have been equally impressive, given the Flyers’ porous defense. After struggling through the 2020-21 season in which he posted a 3.67 goals-against average and .877 save percentage, Hart has bounced back to lower his GAA to 3.11 and SP to .906.
There have been nights when the Flyers flat-out mailed it in and yet Hart has stood on his head to keep his team in it and, on occasion, even win.
The big thing here is this: Last summer there was more than a little skepticism regarding Hart’s future as the Flyers’ franchise goaltender. Now, a lot of that doubt has been erased. He’s looked more poised, confident and technically sharper.
Keep in mind, only three goalies have won the award since its inception in 1984: The late Pelle Lindbergh, Hextall and Roman Cechmanek. So, like pitchers winning baseball’s MVP, it doesn’t happen too happen.
>*Barry Ashbee Trophy* (“awarded annually to the most outstanding Flyers defenseman as selected by a panel of sportswriters and sportscasters”):
Ivan Provorov has captured this honor three of the past four seasons and, after a rather average campaign through the first 55 games or so, has come on strong the past month to get back into the mix for the Ashbee, named after the late Flyer defenseman who tragically passed away from an illness back in the ‘70s.
The favorite for this year’s award should be Travis Sanheim. The 25-year-old has found a home playing on a pairing with the imposing Rasmus Ristolainen. Sanheim has been playing with a lot of confidence this season, frequently joining the rush, getting some chances on the power play and performing better in the defensive zone.
After going minus-22 last season (including an embarrassing minus-6 game against the Rangers), Sanheim has bounced back with a team-best plus-8.
>*Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy* (“awarded annually to the Flyer who has most improved from the previous season, as voted by his teammates”):
Should come down to either Hart or Oskar Lindblom.
Lindblom was given a clean bill of health last season after recovering from life-threatening Ewing’s sarcoma (a rare form of bone cancer) in 2020 but he wasn’t quite himself.
This year began slowly but after Mike Yeo replaced Alain Vigneault in early December, Lindblom’s numbers have taken off. He’s scored 10 goals and erased a minus-10 for the month of November by getting that number down to a very respectable minus-5.
The Swede is quite versatile. He can play on all four lines and helps out on both sides of special teams when asked. He would be a very popular winner.
His chief competition is probably Hart, again for the aforementioned reasons.