Gentleman's Game: How the NHL Is Becoming the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Eric Steitz@esteitz16Analyst IIIJune 25, 2012

Brian Campbell accepts the Lady Byng Memorial Award at the 2012 NHL Awards.
Brian Campbell accepts the Lady Byng Memorial Award at the 2012 NHL Awards.Isaac Brekken/Getty Images

The sports world is made up of dishonesty, lawsuits, trials, arrests and the occasional "feel good" story about an athlete doing the right thing for a change. Some of the most trending topics in sports currently, according to Yahoo: Jerry Sandusky, Lance Armstrong, Tony Parker and Manny Pacquiao.

Sandusky is in the middle of his sentencing. Armstrong is accused of cheating. Parker got into a fight at a night club and Pacquiao's bout is being reviewed due to a controversial decision.

The top trending "feel good" story currently is the Miami Heat's road to winning the NBA Championship. The issue with that is many people believe the NBA fixed the games through officiating. I won't comment on that situation.

However, one league seems to be doing things the right way. It's certainly not the MLB, NBA or NFL, but the sport that has quite the reputation of being overly violent. 

With claims like, "many of them are only on the ice because they can fight" and "they're bullies with skates and sticks," the NHL has the reputation of being the physical bad boy.

This last week, the NHL has showcased the best in the league, individually and team with the NHL Awards, Stanley Cup Finals, and the NHL Entry Draft.

What did the NHL do so well? Here are a few examples.

The NHL Awards brought together the league's best and biggest names to Sin City. The irony of the location is great.

The Mark Messier Award is awarded for leadership on and off the ice.
The Mark Messier Award is awarded for leadership on and off the ice.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

During the show, the NHL put the superstars and top producers on the same stage as the people who exemplify all that is good with professional sports.

For every statistical and on-ice award, the NHL has a similar trophy and award for off-ice actions. The best part about it? Almost everyone in the NHL community embraces the off-ice awards as much as the on-ice production.

Every league has a most valuable player, a comeback player of the year, a leading scorer, and all the other statistical and production awards you can think of, but the NHL goes above other leagues.

The NHL rewards the stuff that most people don't see when they turn on sports media. The NHL embraces, encourages and rewards character.

Here's a list of the awards the NHL gives out to honor character (via NHL.com):

Lady Byng: "player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."

Bill Masterton Memorial: "player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."

Bridgestone Mark Messier: "to the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season."

NHL Foundation: "to the player who applies the core values of hockey—commitment, perseverance and teamwork—to enrich the lives of people in his community."

The NFL has a comeback player of the year. The NBA has a most improved player award. The MLB has the Clemente Award which combines on-field skill with community involvement. Well done baseball, but you're still well short of the NHL.

Money, money, money, mon-ay!

In an era of athletics driven entirely by the dollar, consider NFL holdouts, league lockouts, labor disputes, contract extensions, etc. Top performing athletes know they can get a hefty sum of money and control where they go and how long they are there.

Think about the LeBron James Decision—a lot of that was about money. His loyalty to his team, city, state, fans, didn't keep him in Cleveland. What reason did he have for leaving Cleveland? Not much other than money and now his one title.

During the heat of all the pressure that is the NHL draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins looked to lock up one of the premier forwards in the game, Jordan Staal.

Staal had 50 points in 62 games last season for the Pens and was offered a 10-year deal to keep him in Pittsburgh for a long time.

Staal turned the offer down. For what reason? Wait, it's not money? No, Staal turned down the Pens offer and was traded to Carolina. So Carolina offered more money? No, Carolina offered Staal's brother, Erik.

The Staal Brothers now join forces in Carolina after Jordan turns down an extension in Pittsburgh.
The Staal Brothers now join forces in Carolina after Jordan turns down an extension in Pittsburgh.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Eric Staal is the captain of the 'Canes. Jordan is now joining him in North Carolina.

Jordan leaves the Pens in the most gracious of ways. He told his teammates, in person, at his own wedding. 

Jordan Staal exemplifies all that is right in professional sports. Thank you, sir.

The 2012 NHL Draft

Let it be a notice to all the newcomers to the National Hockey League, your on-ice actions are just as important as your off-ice actions and your off-ice actions are just as important as your on-ice actions.

Friday and Saturday's presentation of the next generation of stars in the league showed a young group of talented kids, many of which are barely shaving yet, experiencing the day of their lives.

Many shared the moment with their mothers, an all too fitting environment for a league that rewards the gentlemanly.

If you think the team's front offices don't embrace this notion, think again. Of the Top 10 picks, four of them were captains and one was named an Academic Player of the Month.

Conduct is stressed from the beginning for these kids. The league promotes it. The league rewards it.

Some of the best to ever play the game personify it—names like Mark Messier, Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan, Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque and Martin St. Louis to name a few in recent memory.

The NHL is growing out of their thug reputation while still providing an entertaining product for everyone involved. The league continues to travel in the right direction and with this new wave of stars now assigned to their teams, the next generation of gentlemen is among us.


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