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NHL Awards has a new attitude on display

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The cringe-inducing crass comedian has been shown the door.

NHL Trophies Displayed At The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Ahead Of The 2018 NHL Awards Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The perennial question with awards shows is are they about the show or are they about the awards?

The NHL sandwiches their awards night in right after the Stanley Cup and Calder Cup Finals, and before the draft. Only the die-hard draft-obsessed fans are still tuned in to hockey. Everyone else has been lured out into the sun or off on vacation or to the ballpark. All of the players are golfing. No one much cares about the awards or the show unless they’re paid to.

Last year, the timing of the expansion draft turned the annual festival of D-list celebrities with a tenuous connection to hockey (Canadian seemed to be the main criteria, unfunny seemed to ride along as a given) into something people wanted to watch.

As a television show, the format was partly successful. The suspense of who would go next in the bunches of expansion draft announcements was real, but the awards interrupting that were an irritation. As an awards ceremony, it failed because no one really cared who won what. There was more attention paid to Sidney Crosby’s reaction to his old, old friend Marc-Andre Fleury on stage in a Vegas Golden Knights jersey than there was to what trophies he won.

Maybe that’s inevitable. Hockey fans like arguing about who should win, who deserves an award, who will take a scoring title, but by the time the actual awards come around, no one cares much anymore.

Last year, the awards show, was all about the Golden Knights, and this year, it seems like the awards show is all about the lessons learned from a season of shows put on in Vegas by those Golden Knights. Vegas, you see, isn’t afraid to be sincere.

Vegas made a mark at their very first game with a truly touching community-focused ceremony that was sombre and also sincere as they honoured the first responders who had been called to act in the mass shooting in Las Vegas that had just occurred. It turned the team and the sport of hockey in Vegas into part of the community — the one behind the strip, not that superficial playground for adults, where I’m sure you can find all the crass, unfunny comedians your heart desires.

The 2018 NHL Awards will take that sincere and sombre theme and thread it through the entire show:

[The program] will feature special commemorations of three tragedies that touched the hockey world and garnered immense support from the entire NHL community. Survivors and first responders from last October’s Las Vegas shooting; members of the hockey team from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.; and surviving members of the Humboldt Broncos junior team will be recognized and honored at the event. In the aftermath of each tragedy, NHL teams, current and former NHL players, coaches and fans rallied to provide emotional and monetary support to survivors and first responders.

It’s impossible to imagine a show that references two acts of horrific murder and a terrible accident turning to some crass comedian as host. Instead, the hosting is being done by the awards recipients themselves with the finalists for the unspecified “top awards” acting as co-hosts.

On hand to present awards are a few of the usual tenuously connected celebrities, but the list is heavy with hockey players and a clutch of professional broadcasters with very few people who will try too hard to be funny.

Also presenting this year will be NHL legends Eric Lindros, Mark Messier and Willie O’Ree; 2018 U.S. Women’s Hockey Olympic Gold Medalists Meghan Duggan and Amanda Kessel; 2018 Canadian Women’s Hockey Olympic Silver Medalists Marie-Philip Poulin and Brianne Jenner; actors Jim Belushi, Lynda Carter, Colin Hanks, Andrew Herr, Dylan Playfair, Jacob Tremblay; entertainer Terry Fator; illusionist Darcy Oake; Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson and his wife Nicholle; NHL broadcasters Anson Carter, Elliotte Friedman, Jamie Hersch, Scott Oake, Kathryn Tappen and Kevin Weekes; and On the Bench hosts Jacob Ardown and Olly Postanin.

It’s interesting that in the press release for this show, not a single mention is made of who the award recipients might be. It’s almost like the NHL itself has figured out that the show is the only thing that’s going to make people watch. It will be very interesting to see if this kind of presentation wins out over the more usual flavour of NHL event. But also, can they manage to hit the right note of “life goes on” and “joie de vivre” that hockey represents to the fans in Vegas as well as sincere community connection?

The show is in danger of tipping over too far into sincerity and ending up smarmy and crass in a different way. Vegas also brought us that spectacularly silly castle, knights with swords and a pre-game show that was all candy floss and fun in the playoffs. They seem to understand when to be serious and when to have fun.

These are strange days we live in. And it’s surreal to me to see mass murder on stage at a hockey awards show, even contextualized as honouring first responders, a class of people only a few degrees separated from “the troops”, but easier to feel kindly towards unconditionally. But then, it’s surreal to be thinking about the joie de vivre of hockey at all during these very strangest of days, with the parade of news of depravity, vice and crimes against humanity a constant accompaniment.

Maybe the tone of this night is all wrong. The vice of Vegas seems charming and tame now, a cuddly sort of sin, that perhaps we should embrace instead of tucking away out of sight behind the sincerity. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow ... who knows what the news may bring.

Or maybe if we practice institutional respect for the people who clean up after the depravity and crime, we’ll shame some of the institutions who create it into action. What else can we do?

At some point though, we have to grapple with how every cause célèbre comes with a body count and personal fame is dependant on how many dead friends you suddenly have. If we don’t, we’re simply helping to make these strange days seem normal.