Awards season is upon us, and the runner-up to the Canadian male athlete of the year and a finalist for the Lou Marsh Trophy was making his way through Western Canada this week, pondering what it all means.
Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty had a year to remember in 2014. In February, he was part of the national men's hockey team that defended its Olympic championship in Sochi, Russia, the first Canadian men's team to win a gold medal in an overseas Games on international-sized ice since 1952. He led the team in scoring, and if you were to rank the Canadian players in order of importance, it would probably go Doughty first, Shea Weber and Carey Price tied for second, and then Jonathan Toews.
Two months later, his Kings – down three games to none in their opening-round series to the San Jose Sharks – engineered a comeback for the ages (only the fourth time in NHL history that had happened). After two more seven-game series, the Kings won the Stanley Cup in five games over the New York Rangers.
In the playoffs, Doughty averaged a team-high 28:45 per night of playing time, and contributed 18 points in 26 games. Justin Williams, who scored many pivotal goals along the Kings' playoff path, won the Conn Smythe Trophy, but Doughty was – as Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber put it – the thinking man's choice for playoff MVP.
So here's the question: Should Doughty have received greater consideration for the top athlete award? This is a country where hockey matters a lot, yet since Wayne Gretzky won his fourth Lou Marsh back in 1989, only two hockey players have won the award – Mario Lemieux in 1993 and Sidney Crosby twice, in 2007 and 2009.
"Sometimes a guy like Doughty, who achieves things like he did, should get recognized maybe a little outside of our sport," said Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano. "I don't know if it's because we're in the hockey circle and get to see him all the time, but what he did … I thought he was the best player in the Olympics and then came back and was the best player in the Stanley Cup final. After a long, gruelling season, to be able to pull that off, that's pretty impressive."
Doughty makes no secret of the fact that he would like to win individual awards, too, but concedes: "Defencemen kind of get overlooked for those types of things. It's just part of the game."
Canada's growing strength as a multisport nation means there are top candidates in many of the key summer and winter Olympic sports to consider. Moreover, there may be a temptation to skip past team-sport athletes because they are so reliant on the contributions of others.
Still, when you think about what the base of the pyramid looks like in hockey – millions starting at the bottom, so few able to get to the top – what more can an athlete accomplish than what Doughty did last year?
"Drew's a winner – the bottom line is he wins championships and shows up every night," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who noted that Doughty already has two Olympic gold medals and two Stanley Cups on his résumé, but he only just turned 25 two weeks ago.
"At his age, the best is yet to come – and hopefully he has a lot more of those championships in him, on the international and the NHL stage."
It wasn't a completely lost year on the award front for Doughty. At the beginning of December, for the first time since he joined the Kings seven years ago, he received the team's in-house player-of-the-month award, sponsored by McDonald's. I double-checked.
Sadly, it didn't even come with a free Big Mac.