There is a ton of awards in the NHL. From the Art Ross MVP trophy, to the Lady Bing Memorial, to the Calder, almost all aspects of the sport is awarded. Comeback player of the year is no exception, that trophy is essentially the Bill Masterson Trophy. The Bill Masterson is awarded to the NHL player that best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. This years winner was Bobby Ryan.
Bobby Ryan definitely displayed all the qualities of the Bill Masterson Trophy in this season. He admitted himself into the NHL substance abuse program for alcoholism, was able to overcome his demons, and came back to play for the Senators before the season was paused. He even scored a hat trick in his first home game, a huge accomplishment. Bobby Ryan’s story was something that was uplifting and inspirational for a lot of people. I can’t even imagine how his story of perseverance and overcoming your own internal struggles means to those struggling with addiction. It’s probably an extremely inspiring story for those individuals. I do think that Bobby Ryan is deserving of this award, the thing is, everyone that is nominated for this award is extremely deserving.
I don’t want to take anything away from Bobby Ryan’s accomplishment, but how can you choose between the three finalist that are up for the award this year, or any of the nominees for that matter. You shouldn’t choose at all. Oskar Lindbolm was diagnosed with cancer in December. He then went on to beat that cancer and ended up playing in two Stanley Cup playoff games. Talk about perseverance and dedication to ice hockey. Cancer couldn’t even stop Lindbolm. Then you have Stephen Johns. Johns didn’t play the entire 2018-2019 season initially due to post traumatic headaches. Eventually Johns told the world that he was battling severe depression and suicidal thoughts. It does not matter who you are, how successful you are, how much money you have, depression can effect anyone. To battle out of the dark hole that your own mind puts you in is a struggle that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Yet Stephen Johns was able to battle out of that to come back and play at an NHL level. Every single one of these guys is deserving of this award. How a panel of judges can sit back and say, “well his struggle with alcoholism was harder than the fight with cancer or depression so he gets the award,” is mind boggling to me. I genuinely could not pick between the three.
There is a nomination for the Bill Masterson Trophy on every team, which makes it that much harder to narrow down three finalists for the award. Connor McDavid was a finalist after he returned from a devastating knee injury that almost derailed his entire career. Jay Boewmeester was nominated by the Blues after he had a cardiac episode on the bench mid game, he had to have heart surgery to correct an improper rhythm in his heart. Guy could have died being dedicated to hockey and he wasn’t even a finalist. It just seems wild that this award goes to a single individual when so many are deserving.
I’m not saying make the Bill Masterson Trophy a participation where everyone that’s nominated wins. Or maybe I am, I just don’t like the idea of putting one persons struggles above another. Every single human being deals with adversity, some more so than others, but we are all fighting a battle of some sort. It could be addiction, it could be depression, it could be cancer, it could be anything. Yet ranking these struggles as “the best comeback” seems weird. The NHL isn’t the only league that does this. The NFL has a comeback player of the year every year. The NBA hasn’t awarded a comeback player of the year since the 80’s and the MLB has this weird ass partnership with Viagra for their comeback player of the year. What does every MLB fan have erectile disfunction or something? The first guy that won the Viagra Comeback Player of the Year probably had to do some serious “I don’t have erectile disfunction” PR with the ladies.
If every NHL team is nominating a player for the Bill Masterson Trophy then maybe the award should be just that, a team given award. Each team in the NHL has a player that is well deserving of this award, but to award it to one individual pits people, mainly fans, against one another. There is no way the players that were nominated for this award are fighting over who deserved it more, or which comeback was a bigger deal, they’re just happy to be back playing the game they love. Flyers fans were quick to say that Lindbolm was so much more deserving than Bobby Ryan.
Stop comparing the accomplishments and be happy that these guys were able to overcome their struggles to be back playing hockey. Like what a dick move to say that overcoming one thing over the other is a bigger deal. They are both huge deals. Just enjoy the fact that these guys are playing hockey again, how fucking hard is that. Who wins and loses in a comeback player of the year award isn’t important at all, what is important is the comeback, the fact that these guys are back on the ice helping their team win games.
Personally I’d do away with the award. Make it an individual team award where each team has a comeback player of the year. This is the one trophy that feels appropriate to be a “participation trophy.” No one persons struggles are harder than another’s, what is important is overcoming the struggle to get back to playing hockey. The reason I want each individual team to have a comeback player of the year award is because overcoming injuries or personal demons should still be celebrated. It’s something everyone can relate to and cheer about. Of course we want to see a guy on our favorite team beat cancer’s ass and come back and play, of course we want to see someone on our favorite team overcome alcoholism or whatever it may be. It makes fans dealing with the same, or similar, struggles feel like they can overcome those demons as well. Celebrate those victories, just don’t pit these accomplishments against one another. Just be happy that every single person that was nominated is able to play the game they love despite the hardships they’ve overcome.