I've read many great articles here on Bleacher Report discussing who should win the various year-end awards. As I looked through the NHL's award list myself, I came across one that made me shake my head in dismay.
Right there, among the awards named for such hockey icons as Rocket Richard and Bill Masterton, was the Mark Messier Leadership Award. The “Mark Messier” Leadership Award? Why don't we rename the Lady Byng the Matt Cooke Trophy while we're at it?
Instead of talking about who should win the award, I would like to talk about who the award should be named after instead.
How about the "Raymond Bourque Leadership Award?"
Bourque, the long-time Bruins captain, sacrificed his No. 7 so that it could be retired in honour of the great Phil Esposito. In one of the classiest and most memorable moments in my hockey lifetime, Bourque took off No. 7 at centre ice and wore No. 77 from then on.
How did Messier, widely considered the best leader in the history of team sports, handle a similar situation? We all know that Messier wore No. 11. When the Vancouver Canucks signed Messier in 1997 that number was retired in honour of defenceman Wayne Maki, who died in an automobile accident years ago.
Instead of just wearing a different number out of respect for Maki, the so-called "best leader in the history of team sports” got the Canucks to un-retire No. 11. Messier didn't even have the decency to contact the Maki family before the media pressure hit.
How about calling it the "Joe Nieuwendyk Leadership Award?"
After establishing himself as an elite player and team captain in Calgary, Nieuwendyk was traded to Dallas in 1995. At that time, the Stars had just named Derian Hatcher as their new captain.
He could have lobbied to become the team captain, but instead Nieuwendyk respected Hatcher's captaincy and became part of a Stars team that was among the league’s elite for many years. He even won a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts.
How did “the greatest leader in team sports” handle a similar situation? When Messier came to Vancouver, Trevor Linden was not only a highly respected team captain but the most popular player in franchise history.
However, it wasn’t enough for Messier to have No. 11 on the back of his jersey—he had to have the “C” on the front. After making Linden’s life miserable for 42 games, Messier and Mike Keenan unceremoniously shipped him off to the Islanders.
In three injury-riddled years wearing a jersey he was finally happy with, “the greatest leader in the history of team sports” took a team with such players as Pavel Bure, Alexander Mogilny, Kirk McLean, Markus Naslund and Mattias Ohlund to a grand total of zero playoff appearances.
The only things Messier led the Canucks to was turmoil, high draft picks and a fear of overpriced free agents that would take years to overcome.
I will admit that some of my problem with Messier stems from jealousy and bitterness. He caused a lot of heartbreak for Vancouver fans as a member of the Oilers and Rangers.
It can be argued, however, that he did the most damage to the Canucks franchise while he played for them.
I believe that Mark Messier was a great hockey player. He had a glorious, unparalleled career and his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame is well deserved.
When it comes to the "Mark Messier Leadership Award," however, I hope you can forgive this Vancouver Canucks fan a bit of a laugh at the prospect.