Why Vincent Lecavalier would win comeback player of the year award, if it existed

Thumbnail image for lecavaliergoal.jpgMy knowledge of trophies in other sports isn’t cumulative, but I’d still be willing to wager that the Lady Byng is the least respected award in sports that hasn’t been made up by a snarky blog or something of that nature.

Obviously, having a trophy with the word “lady” on it doesn’t fly in the macho world of hockey, even if Byng was an important figure in hockey history. Then there’s the message of the trophy itself: it’s awarded to the most “gentlemanly” player in the sport. That’s a great concept in that it highlights a white sheep in a gang of black ones, but hockey players are expected to be crazy and courageous, not to hold the door for people.

Vincent Lecavalier’s expected bounce back year got The Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek thinking about revamping the Lady Byng … and how Lecavalier might be the unofficial comeback player of the 2010-11 season.

With all the hardware the NHL dispenses come awards time, why wouldn’t they name a comeback player of the year? The Masterton comes closest, but here’s a vote for reworking the definition of the Lady Byng trophy so that it goes to the player who rebounds after a sub-par year. The Byng doesn’t get much respect as it is currently interested defined – gentlemanly conduct just doesn’t cut it among hockey players generally – and it would create an interesting new category, which this year would feature a ton of potential candidates this year: Ales Hemsky, Johan Franzen, David Booth, Marc Savard, Dave Bolland, Milan Lucic, Paul Martin to name just a few.

Then there is Lecavalier, who actually scored 70 points last season, but was a minus-16, a fairly accurate reflection of his even-strength struggles. It is in the goal-scoring department where the decline has been especially noticeable: 52 to 40 to 29 to 24 over the past four seasons.

For Lecavalier, who was part of the 2004 Stanley Cup championship team, there is more to get excited about this year than there has been in the recent past.

lecavalierwithnewteammates.jpgThe Masterton does, indeed, seem like the closest answer to the comeback player of the year although it seems to reward coming back from much more serious adversity (a family member’s death, a horrific injury) than normal.

There are two reasons why Lecavalier might have a good chance at a big improvement this season: 1) better teammates and 2) his shooting percentage was 8.1 percent, four percent lower than his career average. That might not sound like much, but if he converted on just a bit more than 10 percent of his shots last year (295 overall), he would have produced a 30 goal season instead of a 24-goal output.

So, if you’re struggling to find a good center later in a fantasy hockey draft, consider Lecavalier a strong “steal” candidate. He might not win a Lady Byng/Comeback Player of the Year Trophy, but he might help you win whatever award you hand out among your colleagues. And isn’t your personal glory what really matters?

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    ‘Lots of try,’ but Coyotes still winless on tough road trip

    New York Rangers' Josh Jooris, right,reacts after scoring past Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue during the first period of the NHL hockey game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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    Two more games and it’s over.

    Two more games and the Arizona Coyotes can go home.

    The ‘Yotes lost their fourth straight road game Sunday in New York, falling 3-2 to the Rangers. They play at New Jersey tomorrow and at Philadelphia Thursday. Then, mercifully, the six-game trip will be done.

    “We knew this was going to be a tough trip,” head coach Dave Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “We were going to find out about our team. Every game we find out a little more. There’s some areas that are improving. There’s some areas that still need lots of work. We got lots of players that are getting good experience right now.”

    The Coyotes actually played quite well in New York. The game was tied, 2-2, until Dan Girardi scored early in the third. Arizona ended up outshooting the Rangers, 29-26.

    But a 1-4-0 record has the Coyotes in last place in the Pacific Division. It’s an early hole for this young team, with five rookies on the roster, including three teenagers. And even when they finally get home, tough games await against Colorado, San Jose, and Nashville.

    “Lots of try in our group. Lots of try,” Tippett said. “But we’re giving up three goals a game now. We gotta find a way to be better defensively.”

    Arizona’s next opponent, New Jersey, isn’t the most offensive team in the league. In fact, the Devils rank dead last in scoring, with just eight goals in five games. And the Flyers haven’t been all that great either.

    So perhaps the Coyotes can still salvage something from this trip. It’s been a tough one so far, but end it on a high and the flight home will be that much more enjoyable.

    Related: The Coyotes are in a tough spot

    Isles bring back Steve Bernier on two-way deal

    NEWARK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25:  Steve Bernier #16 of the New York Islanders skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on September 25, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    After attending training camp on a PTO, Steve Bernier has signed with the Isles.

    On Monday, the club announced Bernier had agreed to a one-year, two-way deal, which gives him a second go-round with the club. Last year the veteran forward caught on with the club and proceeded to score six points in 24 regular-season games, and appear in six playoff contests.

    A former first-round pick, Bernier’s deal comes with the Isles dealing with a few injuries up front — Shane Prince is currently week-to-week with a lower-body injury, and Mikhail Grabovski is out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms.

    The Bernier deal could also give the Isles flexibility with their two 19-year-old rookies, Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal, as both are eligible to be returned to junior (and the Isles would prevent “burning” a year on their entry-level deals if they do it before the nine-game threshold.)

    That said, Beauvillier is off to a terrific start, with five points through five games. Barzal has been less effective, dressing just once.



    With three straight wins, the Oilers have ‘responded well’ to the Buffalo debacle

    WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23: Oscar Klefbom #77 of the Edmonton Oilers congratules Cam Talbot #33 on his shutout against the Winnipeg Jets during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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    The Edmonton Oilers improved to 5-1-0 with Sunday’s outdoor shutout of the Jets. They’ve now won three straight since getting embarrassed, 6-2, at home by the Sabres, leaving head coach Todd McLellan quite satisfied with the response he’s seen from his group.

    “I thought we started the season sloppily and (still) won games,” said McLellan. “We gave up a lot of opportunities and chances. We were very sleepy and casual against Buffalo, and we went after the group pretty hard. But after that, we responded well, and we played three pretty good teams over the last little bit and played the game a lot better.”

    Since the debacle versus Buffalo, the Oilers have beaten the Hurricanes, Blues and Jets, all in regulation. Goalie Cam Talbot has been excellent, improving his save percentage on the season to .919. Over the past three games, it’s been .970.

    “I think it started after that Buffalo game that none of us were happy with obviously, so we knew we had to address some things after that,” said Talbot. “We came out Tuesday hard against a tough Carolina team, got a 3-0 lead and kind of let them back in the game there. We talked about it again after that game that we’re going to have to tighten up when we do have these leads, and Thursday was a big win against St. Louis going 1-1 into the third, getting a lead and then holding onto it. And then tonight we took it to another level (with a 3-0 win).”

    There are still concerns, to be sure. At five-on-five, the Oilers rank 23rd in Corsi, per Natural Stat Trick, and that’s often a better predictor of success than a team’s record. Overall this season, the Oilers have surrendered more shots (199) than they’ve registered themselves (173).

    So while happy, McLellan was careful not to spread the praise too lavishly.

    “Do we make mistakes? Of course we do, and when we do, we seem to have a goaltender that makes some pretty good saves, which is nice to have,” he said. “But we’re a growth team. I wouldn’t consider us a championship team or anything like that right now. We’re still a growth team. We’re learning how to do things.”

    Devils send ‘impact’ rookie Speers back to junior

    SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 27:  Blake Speers reacts after being selected 67th by the New Jersey Devils during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Blake Speers, one of two 19-year-olds to make the Devils out of training camp earlier this month, has been returned to his junior team in OHL Sault Ste. Marie, the club announced on Monday.

    Speers was the club’s third round pick, 67th overall, at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and wasn’t expected to make his impact at the NHL level for a while. But a solid training camp and exhibition campaign impressed both Devils head coach John Hynes and GM Ray Shero, who proceeded to give Speers a three-game look before shipping him back to junior.

    “When you see him, he’s an impact player every day,” Hynes said, per the Sault Star. “His hockey smarts and instincts are excellent.

    “He has speed, he has compete and he has strong puck skills.”

    Speers’s three games came against the Panthers, Lightning and Wild, which included a season-high 12:50 TOI against the Bolts. By returning him to Sault Ste. Marie now rather than beyond his ninth game of the year, the Devils avoid “burning” the first year of Speers’ entry-level contract.

    With Speers gone, the Devils have recalled Steve Santini from AHL Albany. Santini could make his season debut tonight when Blackhawks visit Prudential.