It's a tradition unlike any other... a chance to recognize those players who, one way or another, contribute not so much to winning hockey, as losing. Sure, at this time of year we're all paying attention to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that grueling two-month war to determine the greatest team in hockey. But let's not forget about the floppers and the choppers who make the stars look so good, too!
Now in years past, the Alternative NHL Awards focused only on noting which players led the league for various kinds of penalties, but I also want to recognize a couple new unusual elements of play. So follow after the jump as we celebrate the Best of the Worst...
Lord of the Pings
They're the goalie's best friends, and a shooter's nightmare, but ringing a shot off the goalpost or crossbar is always sure to bring gasps from the crowd, which thought a goal was imminent. This year, Tampa's Steven Stamkos led the league with 17 shots ringing off the iron, followed by Vancouver's Ryan Kesler at 13.
The Designated Sitter
He may have landed in Barry Trotz's doghouse, but J.P. Dumont spent a lot of extra time in the penalty box along the way, serving 13 penalties for the sins of his teammates. On the one hand, serving somebody else's penalty (such as a bench minor for Too Many Men) might be considered a knock on one's defensive skills, but on the other, maybe the coach wants you to be the one coming out and potentially getting a breakaway attempt? Accentuate the positive...
And now, on to the more usual penalty-based awards...
Delay of Game - Puck Over Glass
Let's give it up for rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, whose 4 free pucks sent into the stands led the league in causing Delay of Game penalties. There were a host of contenders tied behind him with 3, but as a precocious, 22-year-old blueliner, the sky's the limit when it comes to how many biscuits this guy could fire into the crowd in the years ahead.
Showing that sometimes guys do follow up a playoff performance by carrying that production into the next regular season, Maxim Lapierre (who got called twice for diving in one playoff game last spring) led the NHL with three diving calls this season (two when he was with Montreal, one with Vancouver). Nobody else had more than one! This is probably the most under-utilized penalty on the books, but I don't think anyone is surprised at the winner (loser?) here.
He's a dork, a Rocket Richard Trophy winner, and is establishing his Hall of Fame-caliber credentials when it comes to running goaltenders. Anaheim's Corey Perry topped the charts with 5 calls for jostling the keepers this year. This makes Perry a two-time chump... err, champ in this category, having led the league in 2008-9 as well.
It's the oldest
profession tactic to slow down an opponent who's gotten by you, and this year, the NHL's Happy Hooker was Vancouver's Christian Ehrhoff, with 10 such fouls. Give special credit to Detroit's Ruslan Salei, who twice gave opponents penalty shots by hooking guys on a breakaway.
Can't keep your feet moving to keep those pesky forwards from blowing by you in the defensive zone? Why, just clog up the ice and create your very own traffic jam. Sure, you'll probably head to the box... but stand up and applaud Montreal's Roman Hamrlik for his league-leading 10 Interference penalties, giving him his first standalone win in this category, after tying Brent Seabrook in 2009.
Can't hold your temper? Why then, just wind up and let loose with a two-hander to your opponent. You'll never guess who led the NHL this year, with 9 such calls...
Yup, he's a multi-talented douchebag.
They love him up in Minnesota for his dynamic two-way play, but center Mikko Koivu isn't shy about the stick work (10 tripping calls to lead the NHL). This has been a long time coming for the Wild captain, as he placed 2nd in this category in 2008-9.
Too Many Men
This year the Montreal Canadiens had the greatest difficulty making clean line changes with 14 calls for Too Many Men, a new high in the four years I've been tallying these results. The Nashville Predators were right on their heels with 13 foul-ups, with the Lightning, Islanders and Kings just behind them at 12.