With that all over with, the least they were hoping for was one of their players coming away with some NHLhardware for the first time since Eric Lindros won the Hart Trophy in 1995.
But those hopes were dashed on Thursday night when deserving Selke Trophy nominee Mike Richards lost out to the new repeat winner of the award, Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk also came away with the Lady Byng Trophy (i.e. high scorer who racks up the fewest penalty minutes) for the fourth straight year.
Datsyuk’s all-around prowess cannot be doubted, but the argument can be made that he is not even the most defensively solid forward on his team. With Richards, however, there is no debate.
During the regular season, Richards clocked in at an average time on ice of 21:44 per game, placing him fifth among forwards and easily first on the Flyers. Datsyuk played an average of just 19:12, 46th among forwards. Clearly, Richards was counted on more heavily by the Flyers than Datsyuk was by the Red Wings.
The disparity between the ice times of Richards and Datsyuk can be largely explained by the amount they played while their team was shorthanded, something you would think would go a long way towards determining the winner of an award for best defensive forward.
Richards played an average of 3:12 every game in shorthanded situations, dwarfing Datsyuk’s average of 1:36, a number that placed outside of the top 150 forwards and trailed four of his own Red Wing teammates.
Shorthanded minutes are hard minutes. And by playing a minute and a half longer in these situations every game than Datsyuk did, Richards ended up accumulating two more full games’ worth of important ice time by the end of the season than Datsyuk.
The end result was a Flyers penalty kill that ranked sixth in efficiency and also easily led the league with 16 shorthanded goals. The Red Wings ranked a lousy 25th by year’s end, even with the supposedly award-worthy defensive ability of Datsyuk.
Of those 16 shorthanded goals scored by the Flyers, Richards netted a league-leading seven of them. Even in defensive situations he could make his presence felt and prove that he was an all-around threat. Datsyuk, meanwhile, had one shorthanded goal on the year.
Richards also blocked 90 shots, tying Chris Drury for the league lead among forwards. You have to scroll out of the top 100 to find Datsyuk.
Datsyuk did manage to finish second among forwards with 89 takeaways. But there was Richards right behind him, in third place with 83.
Datsyuk does hold an edge in faceoff ability, the one area where Richards needs to improve. But Richards did take 500 more draws than Datsyuk this year, so perhaps he can become better if the workload is cut down.
Yes, you cannot base the presentation of an award on statistics alone. But I find it hard to believe that Pavel Datsyuk had as much of an all-around impact on every game he played as Mike Richards did this past season.
Sadly, this seems like yet another case of reputation winning out over merit. This year’s mistake cannot be corrected, but Richards’ day is coming. The league is now aware of him. And maybe someday he will be where Datsyuk is now.