I’ve historically not been a fan of the NHL Awards being held after the season, rather than before the playoffs. I don’t care, by this point, who won what—the debates have long since cooled, and the regular season feels like something from the distant past— by now we’re already thinking about the draft and free agency and next year. And I truly regret the loss of the shit-talking potential inherent in handing out hardware ahead of the postseason, both on the ice and on Twitter.
I’m here to admit to you that I was wrong. If this had been done before the playoffs, awards host Kenan Thompson would not have been able to land this on the Lightning:
The room loved it! Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Jon Cooper even forced smiles and chuckles, the sort of reaction meant to show how not-mad they are but which actually shows they’re furious. Andrei Vasilevskiy, though? He’ll find Kenan later and let him know what he thinks.
The awards show as a whole was ... pretty good? I’m as shocked as you are. But Kenan was a good host and his opening monologue was great. Gary Bettman showed a sense of humor. Connor McDavid might’ve used a skate lace as a belt? Alex Trebek was there! Carey Price and this kid stole the show.
As for the awards themselves, everyone who you thought was going to win, won. It’s not about that. It’s about the free trip to Vegas.
The clear high point of the evening belonged to Islanders goalie Robin Lehner, who won the Masterton Trophy and spoke openly about his battles with mental illness. Before the start of the season, Lehner revealed that he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD, and PTSD stemming from a childhood surrounded by abuse and the same drug and alcohol addictions which would plague him into adulthood. Lehner said he initially spoke up about his struggles because it was important to him to help end the stigma, and hopefully this speech does its part too.
“I’m not ashamed to say I’m mentally ill,” Lehner said, “but that doesn’t mean mentally weak.”