The Lady Byng Trophy's nominees tend to have a familiar ring every year. For a trophy awarded to the "player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability," it shouldn't be surprising the Lady Byng has a penchant for repeat winners, given players tend not to alter their playing style. Wayne Gretzky has taken home the award five times and Pavel Datsyuk won it four consecutive seasons until Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis took the honors a year ago.
As a result of those trends, it should shock no one that St. Louis is getting a chance to defend his title as a finalist this year -- but the two other nominees joining him present a potentially historic victor as well as some fresh blood in the race. Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom could be the first blueliner in 57 years to take home the prize, while Dallas winger Loui Eriksson is up for the award for the first time in his career.
In the case of the current title holder, St. Louis' nomination is a no-brainer. Not only has he continued to be a dynamic producer -- his 99 points are second most in the League -- but few players can so impressively mesh scoring ability with team play. In addition to his 31 goals in the regular season, St. Louis' 68 assists were the second most in the League. This season St. Louis helped young sniper Steven Stamkos continue to mature, while also helping the Lightning earn their first playoff spot in four years.
But what makes St. Louis an obvious finalist and the odds-on favorite to take the Byng home again is his knack for avoiding the sin bin. In a full 82 games this season, St. Louis picked up just 12 penalty minutes.
St. Louis could face some competition for the award from Lidstrom, who has already overcome the considerable handicap of plying his trade on the back end. Lidstrom's Lady Byng victory, should it happen, would make him the first defenseman since Detroit's Red Kelly in 1954 to take home the trophy. His credentials as a great defenseman are well established, and his six Norris trophies are just one reason that he'll wind up in the Hall of Fame, but with the primary task of shutting down opponents' top offensive players, it's almost a given that most defensemen will have to spend some quality time in the penalty box.
Lidstrom turned that given on its head this season, picking up just 10 minor penalties in 82 games. Those low penalty totals don't hinder his contributions either. Lidstrom's 62 points were the second most among d-men this season, an even more remarkable feat considering Lidstrom will turn 41 next week.
Eriksson is the newcomer to this group, but if his numbers this season are any indication, it won't be the last time he gets consideration. The Swede set career highs in assists (46) and points (73), helping Dallas challenge for a playoff spot until the season's final day. While the Stars lost in Minnesota to cede the West's final berth to Chicago, it was through no fault of Eriksson, who had 3 assists that game. Considering how helpful he can be when he's on the ice, it's a boon for the Stars to know their young forward stays on the ice. Eriksson spent less time in the box than just about everyone else, putting together a resume that has more power-play goals (10) than PIMs (8). In fact, 652 players wracked up more penalty minutes than Eriksson this season, setting a tone that would seem to imply his name will be among Lady Byng finalists for years to come.
The Lady Byng Trophy will be awarded at the 2011 NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 22.