Erik Karlsson aside, there was only one big surprise at Wednesday night’s NHL awards show in Las Vegas.
That was the selection of Florida Panthers’ Brian Campbell as the Lady Byng Trophy winner. He is just the third defenceman and the first in 58 years to win the award for being the league’s most gentlemanly player as voted by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
Karlsson, by the way, was a bit of a surprise winner of the James Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman but not a complete shock even if your agent did vote for him third behind Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara. It was a close race but Karlsson’s offensive genius gave him the edge with the voters.
Granted, the Lady Byng is not the most prominent trophy when it comes to discussion of such matters but permit me a personal interest here. I voted for Campbell because I thought he clearly deserved the award, although conversations with my fellow voters showed it would be a close race with forwards Jordan Eberle and Matt Moulson, who finished second and third, respectively.
Too often, it seems, the Lady Byng is a consolation prize for a forward who had a pretty good season but wasn’t quite in the hunt for the big prize, the Hart Trophy for the MVP. So, as long as the fellow didn’t rack up a lot of penalty minutes, he gets the nod for the Lady Byng. Think Martin St. Louis last year, for example.
This year, it seemed to me, the winner was clear. Campbell had a terrific season with the Panthers, putting up 53 points, second only to Karlsson among defencemen, while logging an average of 26 minutes, 53 seconds of ice time per game, tied for the most in the NHL with defenceman Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks.
But the most astounding thing about this is that Campbell had just three penalties the entire season. That would be impressive for a forward but it’s mind-boggling for a defenceman, especially one who is on the ice for nearly 27 minutes a game.
It may have seemed different in the playoffs, but the NHL hasn’t quite reverted to the bad old obstruction days. There is a lot of leeway still granted forwards and crashing the net is still the way to go, so for a defenceman to have to defend that and avoid more than a handful of penalties is quite an achievement.