Pierre-Marc Bouchard's Masterton snub

104 games. That’s how many NHL games Minnesota’s Pierre-Marc Bouchard was forced to watch from the outside as he dealt with issues related to a concussion. Bouchard suffered a concussion in the first game of the 2009-10 season and did not return to NHL action until December 1st, 2010. Under the definition of the NHL’s Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey”, Bouchard would seem like a logical – if not obvious – finalist. That will not be the case, though.

The NHL announced the finalists for the Masterton Trophy on Tuesday, via official press release:

Ray Emery, Anaheim Ducks

Ray Emery battled back from a career-threatening injury to reach the NHL and played a major part in the Ducks’ successful push for a playoff spot. Emery underwent a complicated bone-graft surgery last April to repair a deteriorated ball joint in his right hip, the result of a disease called avascular necrosis which interrupts blood flow to the area and causes cells to die. After months of rehabilitation he signed with Anaheim as a free agent on Feb. 7 and went 7-2-0 with a 2.28 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 10 NHL regular-season appearances.

Daymond Langkow, Calgary Flames

On more then one occasion, it appeared Daymond Langkow’s NHL career was over. After suffering a serious neck injury on March 21, 2010 against Minnesota, Langkow was twice forced to stop working out in the hopes of return. He made a third attempt and finally the recurring problems subsided. More than a year after being hit on the spine by a puck and suffering a fractured vertebra, Langkow made the comeback complete on April 1 when he laced up for his 1,014th NHL game and recorded an assist and +2 rating in the Flames’ 3-2 win at St. Louis.

Ian Laperriere, Philadelphia Flyers

Ian Laperriere sustained a severe injury during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he blocked a shot with his face against New Jersey and suffered a concussion and fractured orbital bone. He returned a little more than a month later to finish the Flyers’ playoff run that ended two games short of a championship. Laperriere attempted to return in training camp, but could not overcome his concussion-related symptoms and has been on the long-term injury list all season. Nevertheless, he has served the Flyers in several capacities, particularly as a mentor for young players in the organization.

Not to diminish the dedication to the game of hockey, or personal struggles that any of Emery, Langkow, or Laperriere endured over the past year or more – but the exclusion of Bouchard as a finalist for this award is a complete failure on the part of voters.

Laperriere is the only finalist that I would make an argument against for his inclusion, and it’d be a cautious one at that. Laperriere suffered a serious injury and his quick return to the playoffs last spring was of the special brand of heroic dedication that’s unique to the NHL, if not incredibly shortsighted and stupid.

Emery is the sexy pick here (both figuratively and literally) to take home the award. His recovery from avascular necrosis, and subsequent late season contribution to the Anaheim Ducks is nothing short of astounding. Langkow’s long road back from a freak neck injury culminated with a surprise return to NHL action, and effectively sealed his fate as a prime candidate for Masterton consideration. Unlike Emery and Langkow, Laperriere did not return to the NHL this season. The status of his career is in doubt, but he has not ruled either way on retirement at this point.

In all likelihood, Laperriere’s career as a player is over – but what if it isn’t? What if Laperriere miraculously overcomes his concussion-related symptoms and gets another taste of NHL action next season, or catches on with a club in another more defined capacity? Wouldn’t that be an achievement far more worthy of Masterton consideration than the makeshift role he’s served in the Flyers organization this season? I guess what we’re getting at here is Laperriere’s inclusion may just be a tad premature. At least in comparison to the trials and tribulations of Bouchard during his effort to return to hockey after a 16-month layoff.

Again, this isn’t meant to be an attack on Laperriere or any of the finalists, but it’s disheartening to sit and watch the best candidate for an award get overlooked.