Leave it to the Stanley Cup champions to make themselves the story on a night the NHL wanted the spotlight focused on its top star players. There is a reason the Chicago Blackhawks have earned a reputation for being cocky, and it goes beyond Patrick Kane mocking cab drivers or swigging champagne during the championship parade.
It’s an attitude, not necessarily a bad one since it helped end a 49-year Cup drought, and the organization managed to reinforce it by upstaging the league’s glitzy annual awards show in Las Vegas with a blockbuster trade. The deal, awaiting sign-off by the NHL, strips playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien along with Brent Sopel and Ben Eager from the Blackhawks championship roster, sending them and a prospect to Atlanta in return for veteran Marty Reasoner, a prospect and a couple of draft picks, including a first rounder this Friday.
It’s a great start for the retooling effort of new Thrashers GM Rick Dudley, who was the director of player personal in Chicago for the first three seasons after the lockout. And it is a salary dump that had to be made by the Blackhawks, and likely not the last for a team that is severely cap challenged. Chicago isn’t alone in that regard either, and as the draft gets closer, several other teams are likely to get start redefining their payroll philosophies and getting in on what has already been an active trade mart around the league.
That’s good for buzz of course. But not on on a stand-alone night that saw Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin beat out Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
Sedin’s win was the only surprise, and a minor one at that, on an evening that saw the presumed favorites come away with the trophy in each major category. Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was a shoo-in for Vezina while his teammate Tyler Myers played too big on the blue line to be ignored in the rookie race. Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith was the frontrunner for the Norris all season and coach Dave Tippett oversaw the feel good story of the year behind the bench in Phoenix.
They were all effectively slam dunk winners, the same which could be said of perennial Selke winner Pavel Datsyuk as top defensive forward. Datysuk though, whose halting English appears to have improved somewhat since last season, delivered one of the night’s best lines during his acknowledgements when he thanked “management for paying me. I wish it never stops.”
The light-hearted comment drew one of the biggest laughs during an event that seemed hokey at times, but on the whole was easier to handle than an Oscar night. Comedian Jay Mohr struggled as the MC and he even acknowledged the weak material when one routine drew little response from the game’s A-listers.
“How many hockey jokes did you have to write today?” Mohr asked the audience.
What he should have done though was get some help from the writers of a film skit that featured Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan and was the entertainment highlight of the night. The premise was Getzlaf, an Olympic gold medal winner with Canada, constantly ragging on Ryan, who took home silver Team USA. The short film put together nicely, demonstrating some pretty good comedic talent by both players and ending with a funny cameo appearance from Scott Niedermayer.
Tippett showed some wit as well when he said he wanted to thank team owners, “but I don’t know all 29 of them,” while Jose Theodore provided the most emotional moment during the Masterton presentation which he won in large part for persevering after the infant death of his child almost exactly a year ago.
The show was not without glitches though, one of the coming early when Mark Wahlberg announced the Calder Trophy winner as Tie Domi instead of Tyler Myers. Ovechkin overstayed his welcome after winning the NHL players association outstanding player award, continuing his thank-yous after the cutoff music sounded and presenters Ron MacLean and Ted Lindsay had walked off the stage. Later, the cameras cut away from Keith as he was running on while accepting the Norris.
But that didn’t stop Keith from doing what he had to on a night his team did the same.