Originally written on Puck Drunk Love  |  Last updated 3/29/12

The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded by the NHL to the player that "best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey", as stated by NHL.com. One nominee is selected from each team by the local Professional Hockey Writers Association. The association as a whole then votes collectively to decide the lone winner from the original group of 30 nominees.

With so many nominees and so many positive stories in the NHL in 2011-12, which player deserves the Masterton Trophy most? The answer isn't easy. 

 

2011-12 Masterton Nominees

Anaheim -- Jonas Hiller
Boston -- Johnny Boychuk
Buffalo -- Jason Pominville
Calgary -- Miikka Kiprusoff
Carolina -- Jay Harrison
Chicago -- Ray Emery
Colorado -- Peter Mueller
Columbus -- Curtis Sanford
Dallas -- Kari Lehtonen
Detroit -- Tomas Holmstrom
Edmonton -- Corey Potter
Florida -- Tomas Fleischmann
Los Angeles -- Colin Fraser
Minnesota -- Clayton Stoner
Montreal -- Max Pacioretty
Nashville -- Jordin Tootoo
New Jersey -- Petr Sykora
N.Y. Islanders -- Jay Pandolfo
N.Y. Rangers -- Dan Girardi
Ottawa -- Daniel Alfredsson
Philadelphia -- Jaromir Jagr
Phoenix -- Mike Smith
Pittsburgh -- Matt Cooke
San Jose -- Tommy Wingels
St. Louis -- Brian Elliott
Tampa Bay -- Martin St. Louis
Toronto -- Joffrey Lupul
Vancouver -- Manny Malhotra
Washington -- Dennis Wideman
Winnipeg -- Jim Slater

As you can see above, there are plenty of worthy candidates that fit the description of the Masterton Trophy. A few of the more interesting stories are highlighted below.

Peter Mueller - Mueller suffered two separate concussions, one late in 2009-10 and one in training camp heading into 2010-11, forcing him to miss the entire 2010-11 campaign. It was believed his career was in danger due to the severity and longevity of the symptoms he was experiencing. Mueller stuck with it and eventually returned to hockey deep into the 2011-12 season. 

Jaromir Jagr - This one is pretty obvious. Jagr left the NHL after the 2007-08 season to play hockey in Russia's KHL. At age 39 (Jagr is now 40), he returned to the NHL joining the Philadelphia Flyers. Despite his advanced age and time away from the game in the NHL, Jagr has proved that he still has the same insane work ethic and love for the game that he had prior to departing to the KHL. Now if only he would have brought the mullet back with him...

Mike Smith - Smith has one of the best goaltending stories in the NHL in 2011-12 but has mostly gone overlooked due to issues that constantly follow the Coyotes off the ice. On the ice, Smith has been a constant for the Coyotes, providing valuable reliability in net as the Coyotes have been on the fringe of playoff contention all season long. After struggling with the Tampa Bay Lightning for four seasons it's pretty impressive to see what Smith has done in his first season with Phoenix.

Brian Elliott - Arguably the best story in the NHL this season, Elliott went from barely winning the backup job for St. Louis behind Jaroslav Halak to posting some of the best statistics in the NHL all season long. People wondered if Elliott could even be a competent backup after struggling with Ottawa and Colorado but he has proved that he can be among the NHL's best in 2011-12. 

How can you possibly pick one winner from this group? In my opinion, this might be the toughest NHL award for the panel to decide on. Other NHL awards have a handful of worthy nominees while the Masterton has 30 fairly legitimate candidates. 

However, there are a couple nominees that if I was given the power to vote I would immediately scratch off the list. Tomas Holmstrom of the Detroit Red Wings was one of the most surprising nominations as he doesn't fit the typical bill of being a player overcoming an injury, a veteran under crazy circumstances or a player suddenly seeing tremendous success. 

Matt Cooke is another player that would be scratched off my list due to why he has been nominated. Cooke has cleaned up his act considerably from previous seasons and has become a solid offensive contributor on Pittsburgh's third line. However, most of the praise is centered on Cooke becoming a solid citizen in the NHL after several years of bad behavior. In my opinion, I don't think a player should be recognized for doing what he is supposed to do in the NHL after years of breaking the rules. Congratulations! You should have acted this way from Day 1. 

I think the 2011-12 award will go to a player overcoming a serious injury. Five of the six most recent Masterton Trophy winners were ones that came back after a serious injury or medical issue (Teemu Selanne, Phil Kessel, Jason Blake, Steve Sullivan, Ian Laperriere). Based on this trend, one can assume that the 2011-12 award will be awarded to a player like Peter Mueller that was able to return to NHL competition after suffering a potential career-threatening injury. 

Who is your pick for the Masterton Trophy? Which player, or players, from the above list deserves it more than the others?

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