Skip to main content

Montreal Canadiens' hockey great Jean Beliveau, is shown during an interview about his career with the Canadiens at his home in St. Lambert, Quebec, Wednesday, Nov., 25, 2009.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Here's a thought for the NHL regarding its massive trophy case: Why not rename the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in honour of Jean Béliveau, the long-time, highly respected Montreal Canadiens captain who passed away last year?

The Byng has always suffered from a bit of an identity crisis. It should be a coveted award – going annually to the player deemed to have exhibited "the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."

The reality is, it's a bit of an afterthought – and frankly, some NHL players have historically wanted no part of it, because "gentlemanly conduct" has a negative connotation. Usually, it goes to a top-30 scorer with few penalty minutes. Last year's winner, Ryan O'Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche, won in a landslide, largely because he earned just a single minor in 82 games, making him only the second player in history (after Butch Goring of the 1977-78 Los Angeles Kings) to play 80 games and receive two or fewer penalty minutes.

The award dates back to the 1924-25 season when Lady Byng, wife of the then governor-general, presented the award for the first time. After her death in 1949, the league changed the name to the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. Béliveau, who never actually won the trophy, was known throughout his career for all the qualities the award embodies – combining a high standard of play with true sportsmanship. But he always picked up too many penalty minutes to warrant consideration – the closest he might have come was in 1970, when he had just 10 penalty minutes.

This season, O'Reilly is up to eight penalty minutes already (shocking), but Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau, a candidate for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year, has none. That could put him in the running for the Byng. But you can be sure that the winner would appreciate it more if the name on the trophy said "Béliveau."