The Bill Masterton Memorial trophy is given out annually to the NHL player that best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and a dedication to hockey. Each year, all teams nominate one player who best fits these qualities and the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association poll their different chapters to decide on a winner. Often times, the award is given to a player who has overcome some major injury or tragic event to continue their hockey career. This year, Dominic Moore and Manny Malhotra headline a very worthy list of Masterton nominees.
Dominic Moore’s story began in the spring of 2012. Playing with the San Jose Sharks at the time, Moore took a leave of absence from the team after learning that his wife, Katie, contracted a rare form of liver cancer. He spent the following nine months caring for and supporting his wife, until her tragic passing in January 7, 2013. Moore took a year off from the NHL, missing the shortened 48-game lockout season, to deal with the grief and set up the Katie Moore Foundation, dedicated to helping patients and families dealing with rare cancers.
This season, he returned to the game he loved, signing a one-year deal with the New York Rangers. He has become a key part of a Rangers team that finds itself easily in the playoff picture. Moore has fit into the 4th line energy role, banging bodies and generally making life a little more difficult for opposing player. He brings that same energy to the penalty kill as well, a big reason why the Rangers are near the top of the league in that regard. Though Moore has adjusted and continued to play the sport at a high level, it was not always that easy.
“It was definitely a struggle, at least with my game, as positive as I was trying to be, for the first 25, 30 games I played,” said Moore. “I got hurt, and then it was definitely a battle, and that emotionally was part of the whole process, too. But I’m grateful for all the teammates and the support through that, and I feel much better now on all those fronts.”
Moore went on to say that he appreciates everything a lot more this time around. He said he appreciates the Rangers organization, his teammates and their fans for the support they have shown him, and appreciates being nominated for the Masterton – an award [he] has a lot of respect for.
Manny Malhotra also knows a lot about receiving support from an organization and their fanbase and how quickly it can change. Malhotra was struck in the eye with a puck near the end of the 2010-2011 NHL season, forcing him to undergo two eye surgeries in a span of a week. The Vancouver Canucks, his team at the time, announced that Malhotra would not be returning for the regular season or the playoffs, erring on the side of caution. Despite these claims, Malhotra would return for the Canucks playoff run, playing in a limited role during the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins.
The following season would be Malhotra’s first full season since the eye injury and it would not go well for the center. He would eventually lose his third line role to rookie Cody Hodgson and then-coach of the Vancouver Canucks Alain Vigneault would say at the time that Malhotra was a shadow of his former self. Malhotra would be Vancouver’s nominee for the Masterton trophy that year, but the award would be given to fellow Canadian Max Pacioretty, who returned to have his most productive season after suffering a fractured vertebrae.
Malhotra’s career appeared to be finished in the 2012-2013 season, as the Vancouver Canucks put the veteran on Injured Reserve (IR) a month into the season. General manager Mike Gillis called the decision the “hardest thing I have done in this job”, but said that it was far too risky for Malhotra’s long-term health to continue to play. Malhotra said the decision was taken out of his hands as he wanted to help the Canucks reach his long-term goal – to win the Stanley Cup. After being put on long term IR, the veteran struggled to find a team willing to sign him when he hit free agency at the end of the year.
Eventually, the Carolina Hurricanes offered Malhotra the chance to play again. Signing a tryout contract for their minor league affiliate at the beginning of this season, Malhotra proved many of the doubters wrong when a combination of his play in the minors and Carolina’s desperation to fix a major deficit in the faceoff circle earned him a 1-year deal with the Hurricanes. Since signing the deal, Malhotra has ranked among the league leaders in faceoff winning percentage and has been named an alternate captain for the Hurricanes. He has become a leader in the locker room, never afraid to speak his mind during the Hurricanes’ tumultuous times.
“That just comes along with being a veteran player,” said Malhotra. “When I was younger I sort of watched and learned. As you get older it’s your responsibility to kind of bestow what you’ve learned and what you see out there.”
Malhotra and Moore are the two most likely candidates to win the prestigious award, but there are many other worthy players that are sure to be nominated in the weeks to come. The Dallas Stars organization announced that Rich Peverley, who went through a cardiac event while on the bench during a recent Stars game, will be their nomination this year, and it is expected that Kris Letang, who suffered a stroke earlier in the season due to a hole in wall of his heart, will be the Pittsburgh Penguins nominee. If either player returns for this season, expect them to receive some votes and possibly unseat Manny Malhotra or Dominic Moore as the headline favorites to win the Masterton trophy.
This article is one in a daily series, providing coverage, analysis and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
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