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Pucks and PR

Because hockey is more than just a game

Source: Getty Images via The Hockey News

The NHL Awards serve as an interesting annual opportunity to dissect the league and what style of hockey it represents.

The players nominated for some awards give excellent insight into the direction of the game and how it compares to years past. As a result, the nominees and winners of these awards serve a major purpose in forming the NHL’s public image.

For 2011, the Hart Memorial Trophy served as  the most interesting point of analysis. To start, the nominees represent an interesting diversity in the league.

Daniel Sedin is a pure offensive threat. He is an elite player and an NHL star. Like many other past Hart winners, Sedin drives his team offensively, but doesn’t dominate to nearly the same level defensively or physically.

Martin St. Louis is a modern day Theo Fleury without the ‘pest’ label. Although small is statue, St. Louis is anything but outmatched in the NHL. Speed, natural skill and determination drive his game. Despite being a veteran of more than 10 NHL seasons, St. Louis represents the outcome of removing much of the stick work that defined the pre-lockout NHL. With more freedom, smaller players like St. Louis are becoming a common component of the NHL, rather than an exception.

Corey Perry, on the other hand, represents a return to the old NHL. For me, Perry is a reincarnated Gordie Howe. A gifted offensive player who won’t be type-cast. Perry scored 50 goals last season, came third in NHL points, but also had 104 PIM. Sedin and St. Louis combined had 44 PIM.

And Perry earned the Hart. Nothing can be taken away from Sedin or St. Louis. No one could complain if either of them won. But Perry did everything for his team last season.

But what does his win represent for the NHL?

In the post-lockout NHL, much of the talk was about how the league was moving away from the rough and tumble ‘old’ NHL. Although speed and strength continued to increase, the use of those skills is changing. And the Hart reflects this change.

In the immediate post-lockout NHL, players were more easily placed into categories. The offensive stars became even more obvious. They broke out of the constricted system of hooking and obstruction and wreaked havoc on slower defensive players who hadn’t adapted.

Perry represents how many younger NHL players have adapted their game. NHL players, and therefore the NHL itself, are diversifying. Perry is an offensive player, defensive player and an enforcer rolled into one.

The NHL, with the CBA and adapted rules, was looking for parity. With his Hart win, Perry exemplifies this.

The league benefits greatly from his win. Young players look to these award winners as examples.

With future NHL players modeling themselves after Perry, the league can only become more competitive, exciting to watch and easy to sell in non traditional markets.

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