With the regular season ending on Sunday and the playoffs starting a week from Wednesday, we’re now just days away from that special time of year when the pressure ramps up, every decision becomes crucial, and the very best of the best find a way to defy the odds and come through when they’re needed most.
I’m referring, of course, to the media handing in our awards ballots.
This year is a particularly tricky one for members of the PHWA, the writers’ association that votes on most of the awards. You’ve got the ongoing Drew Doughty vs. Erik Karlsson debate over the Norris Trophy, one that’s been waging for weeks and by this point would probably need to be settled by pistols at dawn if sportswriters ever woke up that early. There’s an especially deep field of rookies for the Calder. And even the Hart, which once looked like a lock for Patrick Kane, is facing a late charge by Sidney Crosby that could earn him some last-minute ballots.
We don’t know how the voting will turn out, but we do know this: Somebody somewhere is going to hate it, and they’re going to let us know that we’re all idiots. Whether it’s the poor soul who has Doughty third, or leaves Dylan Larkin off a ballot, or wastes a Selke vote on a player who you once saw commit a turnover, we know we’ll hear about it. Worst vote ever, you idiot.
But in the calm before that storm, let’s take a moment to remember that there’s a long history of truly weird awards ballots being cast. We’re not talking about having a guy a spot higher or lower than consensus or honoring a player whose great season ended up being a one-hit wonder – we’re talking truly outside-the-box picks, the kind of votes that cause a record scratch sound effect to play in the background when they’re first read.
So before you go off on some poor, hard-working, slightly overweight, balding, ill-mannered, unwashed [Editor’s note: That’s enough.] sportswriter for a vote you disagree with, remember – the bar has been set pretty high.
Here are five of the stranger votes cast for major NHL awards over the years, and the logic that was likely behind them at the time.
Sean Burke, 1988
There’s been plenty of debate this year about Connor McDavid’s case for the Calder Trophy. Do you give him your vote, even though he’ll only finish with 45 games played? He’s been great, sure, but doesn’t a major award require a full season’s work? It’s a tough call.
But what if we were talking about the Hart instead of the Calder? And what if the we had a candidate who’d only appeared in a quarter of McDavid’s games, because he didn’t even arrive in the NHL until March?
That’s the situation voters found themselves in when assessing Sean Burke’s 1987-88 season, in which he appeared in just 13 games for the Devils. And at least one voter figured that was enough, as Burke received a third place vote for both the Calder and Hart.
It’s not actually all that crazy when you remember that Devils’ 87-88 season. That was the year the team went on a late-season tear to earn the first playoff berth in franchise history with a dramatic overtime win on the season’s final day. Burke was a big part of that, making his NHL debut on March 2 and going 10-1 during the Devils’ frantic push. If you’re going to lean heavily on the “value” part of “most valuable”, you could make the case for tossing him a vote.
For what it’s worth, 27 years later, Andrew Hammond would get some voter love of his own based on 24 games. What can you say, some guys are just workaholics.