Every year, the NHL Awards serve as a celebration of the best the National Hockey League has to offer. Whether or not your team won the Stanley Cup, came up short in the playoffs, or missed the postseason altogether, it’s a time to come together as hockey fans. It’s a time to celebrate the cream of the crop of the just-concluded season and debate over which trophy finalists we think will bring home hardware.
If you’re a Tampa Bay Lightning fan, this year’s ceremony in Las Vegas probably provided a bittersweet taste. On one hand, the Lightning brought plenty of representation. Head coach Jon Cooper sought his first Jack Adams Award. Nikita Kucherov was nominated for the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award for the first time. Meanwhile, Victor Hedman was up for the Norris Trophy for the third straight season. Andrei Vasilevskiy earned his second consecutive nod as a Vezina finalist.
By the end of the night, Kucherov brought home both the Hart and Lindsay, becoming the first player in Lightning history to win each award since Marty St. Louis did in 2004. On top of that, he brought home the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer with a Lightning-record 128 points. Vasilevskiy beat out New York Islanders goalie Robin Lehner and Stars netminder (and former Bolt) Ben Bishop for his first Vezina win. Cooper and Hedman failed to walk away with hardware, but overall, it was a successful night for the Lightning. A night that was a culmination of the team’s 62-win regular season, tying the NHL record.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “What’s the problem? Why use the word ‘bittersweet?'”
Here’s where I felt conflicted throughout the night. It was great seeing the individual accomplishments of the Bolts being honored by both players from across the league, general managers, and national media. However, there was just one thing missing from the evening if you’re a Lightning fan:
Being able to see Kucherov, Hedman, Vasilevskiy, and Cooper win awards as Stanley Cup Champions.
Let’s be real. The individual awards are nice. The team records that got smashed are something we’ll probably look back on more fondly down the road. Winning 62 games is a fantastic accomplishment. But having that four-game first round sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets hanging over them still stings.
To win that many games, lead the league in goals, be the first team in 23 years to boast three 40-goal scorers, take home four trophies, yet know this team meekly bowed out in the opening round made this night a bittersweet one. Those four trophies are nice, but the Lightning’s representatives in Vegas on Wednesday night would probably trade them all in for that big silver chalice the St. Louis Blues got to carry on stage near the end of the evening.
It might sound like I’m trying to downgrade the evening and what it meant for the Lightning. Far from it.
The rest of the hockey world knows what this team accomplished in the regular season and how talented this team is. But the unfortunate reality is that while those individual accomplishments are nice, they served as a bit of a reminder that nothing is guaranteed in this league. Just because you’re a prohibitive favorite to win the Stanley Cup doesn’t mean that it’s a lock you’re going to win.
Hockey simply has too many variables and lots of things need to go right in order to bring home a championship. You have to be peaking at the right time. There needs to be a complete buy-in from everyone on the roster. Your goaltending has to be dialed in. You have to avoid major injuries. Not to mention, you need a certain amount of puck luck as well.
Watching Kucherov and Vasilevskiy bring home hardware to add to their trophy case was a joy to watch on Wednesday night. The only thing that could’ve made it better? Watching this historically good regular season team being the ones to carry the Stanley Cup on that stage in Las Vegas.
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