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Foligno, Lehner, Thornton are 2019 Masterton Trophy finalists

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On Friday, the NHL and the Professional Hockey Writers Association announced the three finalists for the 2019 Masterton Trophy, which is awarded “to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

Nick Foligno of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders, and Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks have been voted the three finalists after the PHWA’s local chapters submitted nominations at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters getting the trip to Las Vegas in June..

The trophy was presented by the NHL Writers’ Association in 1968 to commemorate the late Bill Masterton, a player with the Minnesota North Stars who exhibited to a high degree the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey and who died on Jan. 15, 1968.

The winner will be announced on June 19 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Nick Foligno’s story: Foligno helped Columbus earn a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third consecutive year by scoring 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 73 games, while simultaneously attending to health issues affecting two of his three young children. The Blue Jackets captain, 31, is skating in his seventh season with Columbus and ranks third on the club’s all-time goals (125) and assists (162) lists.

“I feel like we’ve become a stronger family and that’s how I’m always going to look at it. I think it’s made me a better person, a better player and a better leader, hopefully, for this team,” Foligno told the Columbus Dispatch. “I’m going to take it all in stride, but my family is my most important thing in my life and (the Blue Jackets are) my second family.”

Robin Lehner’s story: Lehner (25-13-5 record, 2.13 goals against average, .930 save percentage, six shutouts) and teammate Thomas Greiss won the 2018-19 William M. Jennings Trophy as the goaltenders on the team allowing the fewest regular-season goals, helping the Islanders post their highest regular-season points total (103) since 1983-84. His best NHL season on the ice came on the heels of revealing addiction and mental health issues in a self-penned article for The Athletic during training camp.

“I am not sharing this story to make people think differently of Robin Lehner as a professional goalie,” Lehner wrote. “I want to help make a difference and help others the way I have been helped. I want people to know that there is hope in desperation, there is healing in facing an ugly past and there is no shame in involving others in your battle.”

Joe Thornton’s story: Thornton, 39, overcame major injuries from the prior two seasons, suffering a torn ACL and MCL in both his left knee (2017) and right knee (2018). His rehabilitation work, detailed in the San Jose Mercury News, served as an inspiration to his teammates and coaches. The leader among active NHL players in career assists and points (413 goals, 1,065 assists, 1,478 points in 1,566 games), Thornton concluded his 21st NHL campaign with 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in 73 games, helping the Sharks qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 14th time in the past 15 seasons.

Thornton scored his 400th career goal on Nov. 13 and passed a pair of NHL legends on April 4, leapfrogging Nicklas Lidstrom (1,564) into 12th place on the all-time games list and Steve Yzerman (1,063) into eighth place on the all-time assists list.

A $2,500 grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.

MORE 2019 NHL AWARD FINALISTS:
Selke Trophy
Lady Byng Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Nick Foligno gives stick to kids 30 years after dad received one from Mike Foligno

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It’s not a rare sight to see fans along the glass during warmups holding signs asking players for a puck or stick, with sometimes that being the difference between getting a date to prom or going alone.

On Tuesday, as Columbus forward Nick Foligno was on the ice before a game against the Buffalo Sabres, two kids in the crowd had a very unique sign — one that had a message the Blue Jackets captain couldn’t ignore.

The sign held by Declan and Maren Flynn read “Hey Nick, your dad gave my dad his stick in 1987. Can we have yours?” and also included a photo of the kids holding a Mike Foligno stick. Nick Foligno helped them out with their request.

Declan and Maren’s father, Sean, told NHL.com his kids are getting into hockey now and figured they’d make a sign and see what happened.

Sean Flynn grew up near Buffalo and got his stick after a Sabres practice over 30 years ago from the elder Foligno, who played parts of 10 NHL seasons with the Sabres.

“I’ve had it for over 30 years,” Flynn said. “I brought the stick out a little while ago, and the kids just kind of came up with ‘hey, what if we made a sign and tried to get Nick’s.'”

Foligno would score in the second period during the 5-4 Blue Jackets defeat, but that didn’t damper the kids’ enthusiasm on the evening.

“They’re Nick Foligno fans for life,” Flynn said.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Tuukka Time isn’t running out

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang

Players of the Night:

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: Remember when people thought Tuukka Time was running out? Rask stopped 28-of-29 against the Flames in a 2-1 overtime win for the Bruins on Monday. Rask, according to Sportsnet Stats, is now 20-2-2 with a 1.83 goals-against average, a .933 save percentage and two shutouts in his last 25 games, 24 of which has been starts.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: Rinne stopped 36-of-38 to help the Predators back into a tie first place in the Central Division. Rinne, who has won three of his past four starts, picked up his 30th win of the season, the seventh time he’s done so in his career, and fourth season in a row.

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker notched two tallies in the game, his second and third goals in his past two games, to help the Wild to a much-needed win after dropping their previous two contests.

John Gibson and Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson left after the second period with a lower-body injury. He made 13 saves. Miller came in for a relief stint and stopped 20 third-period shots for the rare combined shutout, just the second occurrence in team history.

Highlights of the Night:

Poor Erik Karlsson:

Brad Marchand uses his head for some good:

The Chronicles of Rittich:

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Wild 5, Islanders 3

Capitals 3, Sabres 2

Bruins 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Predators 5, Senators 2

Kings 3, Blackhawks 1

Ducks 2, Golden Knights 0


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Poll: Will Columbus win its first playoff series?

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Since the Columbus Blue Jackets’ debut in 2000, they have made the playoffs twice and won just two postseason games. So it would be fair to label their 2015-16 campaign as successful if they make the playoffs, but is it unreasonable to put expectations higher than that?

Columbus had a 42-35-5 record last season and while that might not be great, it is actually impressive when you consider all the injuries that team had to endure. The Blue Jackets suffered 508 man games lost last season, which surpassed the old franchise record by over 100 games, per the Columbus Dispatch. At the other end of the spectrum, Man Games Lost put the Canadiens’ figure at just 88. The Stanley Cup finalists — Tampa Bay and Chicago — had 168 and 158 respectively.

In fact, Columbus was so unlucky that if you added up all the man games lost from the Canadiens, Rangers, Kings, and Blues, you would still arrive at a number lower than the Blue Jackets alone.

Which begs the question: How much better could Columbus have done if the team stayed healthy? We’ll never get the answer to that because the Blue Jackets made a big splash this summer by acquiring Brandon Saad. He’ll bring with a wealth of experience despite the fact that he’s just 22 years old and provide the team with another significant offensive weapon along with Ryan Johansen, Nick Foligno, and Scott Hartnell.

Then there’s also the question of if Sergei Bobrovsky will bounce back after struggled at times during the 2014-15 season. As already touched on, the Blue Jackets need him to play like an elite goaltender. If he does manage to return to his Vezina Trophy-winning form though, then that combined with their improved offense could make Columbus a headache for a lot of teams.

Of course, this is all painting the Blue Jackets in a preferable light. Team president of hockey operations John Davidson described the Blue Jackets’ injury problems last season as “just flat-out bad luck,” but perhaps enough of it was more than that to cause history to repeat itself. Maybe Bobrovsky won’t bounce back. Maybe Foligno, who shattered his career-highs last season at the age of 27, will fall back to Earth.

What do you think is the more likely scenario?

Blue Jackets’ biggest question: Will Bobrovsky play like an elite goaltender?

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While the Columbus Blue Jackets have become a stronger team offensively thanks to the rise of Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen as well as the recent acquisition of Brandon Saad, there’s no question that they still need a dominant season out of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The problem is that might not happen.

Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy in 2013 by posting a 2.00 GAA and .932 save percentage in the lockout shortened campaign. In the process, he nearly propelled Columbus into the playoffs. He wasn’t quite as strong in his follow up campaign, but his 2.38 GAA and .923 save percentage were nevertheless impressive as well as good enough to push the improved Blue Jackets into the postseason for just the second time in franchise history.

It seemed like Columbus had found a goaltender that it could rely upon not just to be solid, but play at an elite level. The Blue Jackets’ belief in that was highlighted in January when they signed him to a four-year, $29.7 million deal that will begin this season.

Bobrovsky didn’t play at that level last season though. He suffered a groin injury that cost him part of the season, but even when he was healthy he was inconsistent. Although a late surge partially salvaged his numbers, he did still finish with a 2.69 GAA and .918 to make it the second straight season he declined from a statistical perspective.

There were certainly still positives to be found, but Columbus needs Bobrovsky to be more than a mixed bag. After all, he’ll enter this season with the second highest cap hit in the league among goaltenders, behind only Henrik Lundqvist, so it seems reasonable to describe anything other than a top-tier season as a disappointment. More to the point, anything short of that might not be enough to get Columbus back into the playoffs.

To that end though, the Blue Jackets believe they’ve dealt with the issue by modifying his summer conditioning program and have a strategy in place for how they will continue to handle his conditioning during the season.

“We all know how hard a worker he is,” Blue Jackets goaltending coach Ian Clark told NHL.com. “Some of that was he was working so hard he was exhausted.”

So we’ll see if that’s the magic bullet needed for a comeback performance.