Taylor Hart Hall wins MVP on emotional Awards night

This wasn’t your normal Awards show. Once again, the NHL celebrated its best in Las Vegas. In a longer than usual show, there was plenty of emotion and tears for hockey fans, players, etc.

The highlight for me was the emotional first ever presentation of the Willie O’ Ree Award, which recognizes the person most dedicated to the community.

It was over two months ago that tragedy struck the Humboldt Broncos as their bus traveling to a playoff game crashed into a tractor trailer. Sixteen didn’t survive. That included well respected coach/GM Darcy Haugan. On a night 10 of the 13 survivors reunited on stage to thunderous applause from the crowd, the Humboldt Broncos were there as their coach was announced the winner by O’ Ree. His wife Christina Haugan accepted the award in his honor, making an emotional speech about what her husband was all about. The team and fair play. It was emotional to see her up there with those players, including a couple in wheelchairs. Injuries prevented three from attending. They’re still recovering in the hospital.

I can’t imagine there were any dry eyes left after that. This wasn’t just any award. It was special and paid tribute to Haugan’s dedication as a community hero. Something O’ Ree can relate to for breaking the color barrier in hockey. He should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s such a classy and elegant man. Very soft spoken and always donning his classic hat, I hope one day he makes it in Toronto.

The awards themselves went pretty much to form. Mathew Barzal won the Calder, besting Brock Boeser and Clayton Keller. Barzal becomes the first New York Islander to win Rookie of The Year since Bryan Berard in ’96-97. The 21-year old Barzal is the fifth Islander to ever win the Calder, joining Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Berard.

Pekka Rinne took home his first ever Vezina as the league’s top goalie. He easily outdistanced runner-up Connor Hellebuyck with Andrei Vasilevskiy finishing third. The lone surprise was Vasilevskiy didn’t receive one first place vote. He won 44 games and had eight shutouts for Tampa. The best part of the presentation was having emergency winning Blackhawks goalie Scott Foster announce the winner with noted Chicago fan Jim Belushi. That was nice.

The Norris went to Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman. His first after a standout season for the Lightning. He beat out runner-up Drew Doughty with 94 first place votes. Forty-two more than the former Norris winner. P.K. Subban finished a distant third followed by future winner Seth Jones.

Anze Kopitar took home the Selke for league’s best defensive forward. He edged Sean Couturier with Patrice Bergeron coming in third. I don’t have any issue with Kopitar winning. He’s been overlooked throughout a brilliant career. I’m glad he was recognized with a nomination for the Hart. I would’ve voted for Couturier. He was awesome on a Flyers team that wasn’t expected to make the playoffs. Bergeron could win it every year. He’s one of my favorite players. Aleksander Barkov came in fourth. He could be a Hart candidate next season.

Vegas Golden Knight William Karlsson won the Lady Byng. He was a good choice as the top center who was third in goals scored, is a clean player who plays the game the right way. Ryan O’Reilly finished runner-up. He’s expected to be moved soon by the Sabres. Barkov was third followed by Kopitar.

The Jack Adams went to none other than deserving Vegas coach Gerard Gallant. He beat out Bruce Cassidy and Jared Bednar. I know Boston wasn’t expected to be that good due to a influx of rookies. But they still had arguably the best line in Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. How did Bednar finish behind Cassidy? And why was John Hynes only sixth? At least there were no votes for Alain Vigneault.

GM of The Year was none other than George McPhee. He did a masterful job building the Golden Knights. He also was largely responsible for the Stanley Cup champion Capitals, who bested the Knights in five. I liked the irony of Nicklas Backstrom presenting him.

Mark Messier presented his Leadership Award to Deryk Engelland. I really loved the choice. He was the emotional leader of Vegas following the tragedy. A Vegas resident, the rugged defenseman was a true leader on and off the ice. He was very deserving, beating out Wayne Simmonds and Blake Wheeler. He epitomized the toughness and resiliency of the Golden Knights.

Alexander Ovechkin was outside celebrating during his latest win of the Rocket Richard as the game’s top goalscorer. He would later be one of four winners to present the most talked about award. The Hart Trophy. Joined on the stage by Eric Lindros, it was cool to see them announce Taylor Hall as the winner of the league MVP. He’s the first Devil ever to win the prestigious award, and is quite deserving. The way he carried his team while hurt in the second half was amazing. The voting was a little strange. How did anyone have Hall or runner-up Nathan MacKinnon not in the top three. Fifteen writers are fools who didn’t see what MacKinnon did for the Avalanche. Seven ignored Hall. There were 30 total votes for the game’s best player and back-to-back Art Ross recipient Connor McDavid, in the top three. I don’t see how. The Oilers stunk. Anyway, here’s the voting.


To say this was perplexing would be the understatement. How do these people get to cover games when they don’t watch half the time? The vote should’ve been closer. Kopitar finished third followed by Claude Giroux, and rounded out by McDavid. Oh btw…Sidney Crosby had one total vote. How times have changed.

Well, now the moniker will stick. He truly is Taylor Hart Hall. What he said in his speech about Humboldt was truly touching. All class. He thanked the Devils and his teammates.

Lastly, Brian Boyle deservedly won the Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance, dedication and sportsmanship to hockey. His courageous battle with cancer and successful comeback was truly inspiring. He really is a great person. Someone many people can learn from. I’m so happy for him and his family. Congrats Brian. #BoyleStrong!

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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