Europeans dominate NHL awards

There are still many good Canadian NHL players. It’s just that the outstanding ones almost all seem to hail from offshore.

You wonder if Hockey Canada gets the message, or cares about its import.

The NHL gave out awards to its top players this week and a Canadian won – just one Canadian in the top tier – for being a good checker of the top players, all of whom are European raised and trained.

Even with that, there will be many hockey fans who wonder why Pavyl Datsuk of the Red Wings did not win the Selke Award (for Europeans, the one that got away), given to Canadian Patrice Bergeron this year, for the fourth straight time.

As for the trophies awarded to the best at positions that provide excitement and entertainment – all headed for trophy shelves in European households. Runners-up at most positions were also non-Canadians.

There are still many good Canadian NHL players. It’s just that the outstanding ones almost all seem to hail from offshore.

Canada will enter the next Olympic tournament as the fifth seed, an unthinkably low position just a decade ago, and won’t be favoured to medal, never mind win.

It isn’t just the flair positions that are dominated by, “outsiders,” either.

The top goalie was a Swede, as was  the top defenceman. The Conn Smythe trophy for this year’s playoff round went to an American, playing on a team captained by an American that defeated another team captained by an American (albeit one with Canadian bloodlines).

The Lady Bing award for clean play went to a Canadian who had a minus-15 season.

There were two Canadians, James Neal and Shea Weber, on the first all-star team, and I suppose we can take some comfort in three on the second unit, but all-in-all it paints a woeful picture of the route Canadian Hockey has taken – toughness or grit or whatever and systems play is the end-all of our coaching. Fun doesn’t matter and individual skill is left to some creator or other.

There is still a very good living to be made by defensive-minded Canadian players, witness local Barrett Jackman’s recent renewal as a core player in the very defensive-minded St. Louis franchise, but top-tier (first line, power play) spots, from whence the entertainment value in pro hockey (and the fun in amateur play) proceeds, are mostly reserved for players who have learned to turn quickly and handle the puck.

Players like that more often than not hail from non-Canadian training and coaching systems these days.

Canada is still the pre-eminent producer of players in North American pro leagues, so this issue is important to everybody.

Will Canadian executives and coaches get the message here, or will the game become even more dreary as time wears on?

Stay tuned – for at least as long as you can stay awake, anyway.