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Roman Polak is the Maple Leafs nominee for the Masterton award

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The annual award season nomination period has begun.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The nominees are being announced today for the first of several awards which will be given out this summer at the 2018 NHL Awards ceremony.

The NHL gives the official purpose of the Masterton:

The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is an annual award under the trusteeship of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and is given to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.

The winner is selected in a poll of all chapters of the PHWA at the end of the regular season.

A 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.

In practice, the award is often reduced to the “best sob story” prize, which is unfair both to the ideas it’s supposed to honour and to the players who receive it. Sometimes it’s more of a longevity award. Jaromir Jagr won it the year before last and Craig Anderson last year. Dominic Moore won in 2014 after his wife died of cancer, and he returned to the Rangers the next season.

Roman Polak is the Leafs nominee this year. He played only two games in the playoffs last season after he suffered a horrific looking leg injury. He needed a long time to recover, and didn’t have an NHL contract heading into this season. He persevered, and he got a contract from the Leafs, and the inevitable injuries to other defencemen and the lack of right-shooters on the Leafs conspired to give him more time on the ice than had been expected.

He doesn’t look like a man in his thirties who spent the summer in rehab from a serious injury.

“They had a tough schedule, and I didn’t want them to see me, there,” says Polak now, five months after 13 screws were installed to repair the broken leg he suffered in Game 2 of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round series against Washington. “I’d rather stay by myself. I don’t know. I didn’t feel good after the surgery, and it was painful, and I didn’t want anybody to see me as I’m laying there in the bed, you know, struggling. I don’t like that.”

That was then. Now he’s hit his point total of last year in only 49 games played, and he makes for an effective third pair with Travis Dermott. Every aging defender needs a rookie partner, just ask Zdeno Chara.

A 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.

This year the PHWA will also be releasing the voting lists for these awards, which is a practice popularized in other sports. (No one at Pension Plan Puppets is a member of this group.)

The last time a Maple Leafs player won the award was Jason Blake in 2008. He had the same form of leukemia that Brian Boyle has. So I think we have our front-runner to win this award in Boyle. Boyle is much more than a man who has an illness, however. He’s shown all of three of the Masterton qualities in abundance throughout his career. He’s also only two points away from last year’s point total.

The full list of nominees announced so far (sourced from TSN and the tweets of various PHWA members):

2018 NHL Masterton Nominees

Team Nominee
Team Nominee
Anaheim Ducks
Arizona Coyotes Jakob Chychrun
Boston Bruins David Backes
Buffalo Sabres Kyle Okposo
Calgary Flames Matt Stajan
Carolina Hurricanes Jordan Staal
Chicago Blackhawks Jeff Glass
Colorado Avalanche Carl Soderberg
Columbus Blue Jackets Zach Werenski
Dallas Stars Mattias Janmark
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers Adam Larsson
Florida Panthers Roberto Luongo
Los Angeles Kings Dustin Brown
Minnesota Wild Matt Cullen
Montreal Canadiens Antti Niemi
Nashville Predators Austin Watson
New Jersey Devils Brian Boyle
New York Islanders Josh Bailey
New York Rangers Chris Kreider
Ottawa Senators Mark Borowiecki
Philadelphia Flyers Claude Giroux
Pittsburgh Penguins Kris Letang
San Jose Sharks Joe Thornton
St. Louis Blues Carter Hutton
Tampa Bay Lightning Steven Stamkos
Toronto Maple Leafs Roman Polak
Vancouver Canucks Derek Dorsett
Vegas Golden Knights Brad Hunt
Washington Capitals Devante Smith-Pelly
Winnipeg Jets Tyler Myers