The NHL’s award nomination period continues to chug along as the calendar flips deeper and deeper into June.
Saturday’s announcement centred around the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, awarded to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”, with Toronto’s Auston Matthews, Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin, and Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon earning recognition as the 2021 nominees.
Hockey is a naturally rough-and-tumble game. It’s also a chaotic one, what with its entire conceit being to slap a frozen piece of rubber across a sheet of ice all while wearing knives for shoes. Combine those two elements together and infractions are bound to occur.
What the Lady Byng honours, however, is essentially a player’s ability to log intense playing time while somehow managing to avoid those infractions.
And when it comes to the 2021 class, all three nominees make a compelling case.
Matthews, who was nominated for the Byng last year, is one of the NHL’s premier superstars; perhaps the best pure goal scorer on the planet who also happens to be coming off a season throughout which he averaged 21:33 in ice time per game. That’s certainly a lot of time to rack up penalties, right? And yet, Matthews finished his 2021 campaign with only 10 minutes spent in the penalty box, proving he can contribute at a high level for long periods of the game without crossing the line.
Spurgeon’s accomplishment is perhaps even more impressive than Matthews’, with the 31-year-old serving as a key member of the Wild’s top-four and averaging 22:05 in time on ice per game. Despite being tasked with shutting down top opposing players and playing for over a third of the game, though, Spurgeon took a grad total of three minor penalties all season. That’s quite the accomplishment.
But then there’s Slavin, who enters the running as the unquestioned front runner for the honour of “NHL’s cleanest player”.
Slavin led the entire Hurricanes’ roster in average ice time at nearly 23 minutes per game in 2021. Aside from Dougie Hamilton, he’s arguably his team’s best defenceman, facing the hardest quality of competition on a nightly basis. And yet, despite all of this, Slavin made it through this past season with only one minor penalty to his name. It’s hard to imagine how that’s even possible. To make matters even more eye-popping, that lone minor penalty came in the form of a delay-of-game infraction for shooting the puck over the glass. He didn’t even touch another player. For all intents and purposes, Slavin put together an entirely clean season.
Hockey fans were treated to a number of historic performances in 2021. Slavin’s nearly-flawless rap sheet should be included amongst them.