And the Oscar goes to . . .
The Oscars may be over, but the time of year for the Flyers’ team awards has arrived. I thought I’d offer my own nominations prior to the actual awards later this week.
Bobby Clarke Trophy (Most Valuable Player)
I attempted to create one good argument as to why Mike Richards shouldn’t be the uncontested favorite for this award, and I simply found it impossible. His incredibly consistent point production [he went pointless twice in the season – once for two games and once for three] is only a statistical indicator of his vital importance to this team’s success. He’s a leader who scores goals, generates offense in every situation, kills penalties, and fights when necessary – he does it all.
Mike Brophy of the Hockey News quipped that the Flyers considered Mike Richards the closest they would ever get to “the second coming of Bobby Clarke.” Richards is certainly playing to that standard this season, and it’s appropriate that the MVP award bears his predecessor’s name.
Barry Ashbee Trophy (Most Outstanding Defenseman)
At first I thought I might choose Braydon Coburn. In addition to leading the team with a plus-15 rating, Coburn clearly is the most improved Flyers defenseman. He seemed to solidfy as a player while paired with Derian Hatcher. Next time you watch a game, note the edge with which Coburn clears the porch after the whistle; it’s obvious where he picked that up. Coburn elevated himself into a dynamic force on the blue line since moving up to a pairing with Kimmo Timonen. He’s developed quite a shot from the right circle, burning a few goalies from that piece of real estate.
All those commendable improvements tend to overshadow the quietly dependable play of Kimmo Timonen. He is the true number one defenseman on this team, playing top minutes on the powerplay and penalty kill as well as facing the most talent offensive forces in the league each and every night. He leads Flyers defenseman in points and goals, is second to Jason Smith in blocked shots, and is the blue line’s lone iron man (77 of a possible 79 games played). His style isn’t flashy; he doesn’t produce big body checks, fights, or powerful slapshots. It’s the sweep checks, the flawless defensive positioning, and smart passes that make Timonen valuable night in and night out.
Gene Hart Award (Player with the most heart who shows the best work ethic and determination)
Riley Cote may just be the most fascinating player in the Flyers current roster. The details of his journey to the NHL are intricate and complex, and you can read more on the Philadelphia Phantoms website. Suffice it to say that Cote, who was never drafted, worked his way up from the very bottom to achieve his NHL dream.
Cote is a middle-weight enforcer who will drop the gloves in the face of even the most daunting opponent. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he doesn’t. But he never quits. His value lies in his ability to be aggressive without hurting his team’s ability to win. Cote has 1 goal, 3 assists, and is a plus-2. That’s difficult to achieve for a fourth line player whose main job is to infuse energy with aggressive physical play.
Most importantly, Cote is a team guy. When he scored his first NHL goal against Montreal, the Flyers were down by two goals with mere seconds left in the game; there was no chance of winning. Cote skated off the ice without celebrating or even cracking a smile. Putting the team victories ahead of personal pride is the textbook definition of heart.
Pelle Lindbergh Memorial (Most Improved Player)
Some people would probably place Braydon Coburn since the Barry Ashbee was awarded to Kimmo Timonen. He would certainly be a good candidate. However, I think RJ Umberger deserves serious consideration.
One year ago, RJ Umberger (16G, 12A, minus-32) had the worst rating in the entire NHL. This season he has racked 12G and 37A for 49 points, has reduced his plus/minus to a minus-1, and has cut his penalty minutes in half.
The effort he exerted during summer training has been covered numerous times on the Flyer broadcasts this season, and his dedication paid off. Umberger has been the glue for several lines this season. Whether it’s complementing Richards and Lupul, Carter and Upshall, or Briere and Prospal, Umberger consistently shows himself capable of making contributions on any line. Every team needs the player who can be dependable regardless of his spot in the lineup. For the Flyers, it’s Umberger.
Yanick Dupre Memorial (Player who best illustrates character, dignity, and respect for the sport both on and off the ice)
In Philadelphia, this award is also termed the “Class Guy” trophy. Former winners include Gary Dornhoefer, Bernie Parent, Mark Howe, Mark Recchi, Ron Hextall, Keith Jones, Keith Primeau, Jeremy Roenick, and Peter Forsberg. These players aren’t always famous for congenial play on the ice, but they often garner recognition for combining talent on the ice with responsbility off the ice.
Danny Briere should be the uncontested candidate for this award. Philadelphia fans have shown frustration with his poor defensive play (he has a team low minus-23 rating) and tendency to disappear in many games this season. The early loss of Simon Gagne to a concussion definitely hampered Briere’s performance given the dividends he’s seen since the trade deadline acquisition of Vinny Prospal.
This award, though, has less to do with statistics than with character. Briere has stood before the press throughout his struggles this season. He makes charity appearances across the Delaware Valley, discussing the difficulties of becoming an NHL star in spite of his diminuitive size. Recently, he’s garnered respect from many Flyer fans for playing through a severely bruised shoulder; at times the pain is evident when he’s reaching for a puck, but Briere continues to battle in games.
Keith Primeau pointed out in his retirement speech that Philadelphia’s hockey fans enjoy winners, but they open their hearts to workers. They want to see players giving 100% of their effort and intensity every single night, completely dedicated to the team’s success. Danny Briere is that type of player.