Mile High Sports

Frei: Avalanche at NHL Awards? There’s always next year

Nathan MacKinnon after practice Friday

If you watched the NHL Awards from Las Vegas on the NBC Sports Network Wednesday night and were unaffected emotionally, your heart is coated with ice and your tear ducts have been surgically removed.

Tributes involved the October 1 shootings in Las Vegas, which left 58 dead; the Feb. 4 killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, which claimed 17 lives; and the horrific April 6 Humboldt Broncos bus crash in Saskatchewan, which killed 16.

Among those brought on stage were Las Vegas first responders, in-uniform members of the Stoneman Douglas hockey team, and surviving members of the Broncos.

To say it was touching was an understatement.

The NHL Awards themselves lived up to the tradition of the Oscars and Tonys and ran over the allotted two-hour time slot.

The Avalanche, with center Nathan MacKinnon (Hart Trophy) and coach Jared Bednar (Jack Adams Award) as finalists who didn’t win, had a “disappointing” night. It wasn’t noted during the telecast, but Bednar — Saskatchewan-born and -raised — played for the Humboldt Broncos before moving up to major junior.

He got it.

Then as the final credits were rolling, MacKinnon was on the stage, mingling with, among others, the surviving members of the Broncos.

He got it.

There will be no hometown outrage here. No ranting from the perspective that tweeting lines from the morning skate is more important in the big picture than the North Korean nuclear capability.

But MacKinnon should have won.

The Devils’ Taylor Hall did win the Hart, based on a 39-goal, 93-point season that helped New Jersey reach the playoffs.

MacKinnon had 39 goals and 97 points in a season that didn’t just help the Avalanche make the playoffs, but was instrumental in the revitalization of a moribund franchise.

The voting was conducted before the playoffs, so anything that happened during the Avalanche’s six-game loss to the Predators and the Devils’ five-game loss to the Lightning didn’t matter.

If I’d had a vote — and I had one for many, many years, including as a vice president of the Professional Hockey Writer Association — I would have voted for MacKinnon.

That doesn’t mean Hall wasn’t deserving.

He was.

One of the most bizarre part of the evening was that the opening award of the ceremony, the Ted Lindsay Award, was the NHLPA’s equivalent of the Hart, and that went to the Oilers’ Connor McDavid.

McDavid, while deserving for consideration and also for the nod as the best player in the league, wasn’t even a finalist for the Hart, which he won in 2017.

Go figure. The Hart was voted on by the writers; the Lindsay by the players. As dynamic as McDavid was, continuing to stake out his ground as a “generational” superstar, he didn’t take the Oilers to the playoffs.

Is he a great player? Even the best in the league?

Absolutely. Hands down.

Butt that’s not the same as single-season Hart credentials.

MacKinnon did do that for the Avalanche, as it improved from 48 to 95 points and moved on to lose in six games to the Nashville Predators in the first round.

Yes, the delay in MacKinnon’s ascension to the NHL’s elite after he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 has been a bit glaring and frustrating.

I admit I’ve written many columns breaking down MacKinnon’s status and progression. Most often, it involved noting he was suffering in comparison to McDavid and Toronto’s Auston Matthews, No. 1 overall picks who immediately flourished.

He was up to that challenge this season

He should have won.

Terry Frei of the Greeley Tribune writes two commentaries a week for Mile High Sports. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times, four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. He’s the author of seven books, including “Third Down and a War to Go” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” His web site is terryfrei.com. His Mile High Sports commentary archive and additional “On the Colorado Scene” commentaries are here. His major Greeley Tribune pieces, including the latest on Shoes Without Borders, can be accessed here.