Hockey has always been the greatest sport.
And the NHL has almost always been the strangest professional league run by some of the strangest people in the strangest of ways.
Which brings us to Friday’s announcements and the award winners.
Much-deserved and long overdue, the Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews won the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward. Toews could have easily won it the last two years, and this time he edged Boston’s Patrice Bergeron in a very close vote.
Patrick Kane was a finalist for the Lady Byng — sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with excellence — but he finished second to Tampa’s Marty St. Louis in a tight election.
Yet another Hawks finalist was head coach Joel Quenneville, but he also finished second for the Jack Adams Award to Ottawa’s Paul MacLean.
All deserving nominees who represented the Presidents’ Trophy winners in fine fashion after the Hawks ran away with the regular-season title.
So what’s wrong with this picture? Stan Bowman was not even a finalist for the GM of the Year Award.
See, the Selke and Byng awards are voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, and the Coach of the Year is elected by the by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association.
The GM of the Year? Well, that award is voted on by the league’s 30 general managers plus five NHL execs and five members of the media. Most of those GMs and press members are buddies with — and in a couple of cases, former teammates of — Dale Tallon, and many will never vote for Bowman based on that alone.
Some hold it against the Hawks for firing Tallon, and some just don’t like the Bowman name because it reminds them that Scotty Bowman has been NHL royalty for a very long time, and his track record for winning titles sticks in their craw.
The NHL has these kinds of clubs, and Stan Bowman just isn’t going to be included in them.
As it turns out, Bowman finished a distant fourth, getting about a third of the points of winner Ray Shero (Pittsburgh) and second-place finisher Bob Murray (Anaheim), and not even half the points of former Bowman assistant Marc Bergevin (Montreal), who wound up third.
This is hardly a knock on any of them. Bergevin did a fabulous job and Murray had every right to win it, rebuilding on the fly and getting his club near the top of the league, when many expected Murray to tear apart the Ducks.
There’s no one in the game better at finding role players and spare parts than Murray, who was the man behind the Ducks’ Cup-winning team in 2007.
But Bowman, whose team took apart the league in 2013, deserved to at least be in that fight and he was never allowed in the ring, which is a joke and a message to Gary Bettman that this election needs a new voting body.
By now you know the story well. Tallon did a great job scouting and finding much of the talent that won the Cup, but he left in place a massive budget deficit that Bowman had to clean up without destroying the future.
Bowman was forced to flush half a Stanley Cup winner in the months after the 2010 parade. Even with teams knowing he had to deal some crucial pieces of the puzzle, Bowman managed to trade for some serviceable players who developed into vital contributors.
Now, three years later, the Hawks are in the Final again with a chance to win another Cup.
Among his moves, Bowman traded Cam Barker — a former No. 3 pick once billed as the next Denis Potvin — for Nick Leddy, and he traded Jack Skille — a former No. 7 pick once billed as the next Cam Neely — for Michael Frolik.
He traded second- and third-round picks for Johnny Oduya, moved Kris Versteeg for Viktor Stalberg and got Michal Handzus for a fourth-round pick.
He drafted Brandon Saad (second round) and Andrew Shaw (fifth round) in 2011, and signed free agents Michal Rozsival, Brandon Bollig and Ray Emery to cap-friendly deals.
He chose keeping Niklas Hjalmarsson over Antti Niemi, believed in Corey Crawford and got his young core locked up while planning for a reduced cap number next season.
Bowman has not been perfect, naturally, but he has rebuilt around the big names without mortgaging the future, and he has never asked for any credit — while getting almost none.
“It really is a team effort,” Bowman said a couple of days ago. “It’s not just one man. It wasn’t one man back then (building the 2010 team), and it’s not one man now.”
In particular, Bowman praised the amateur and pro scouting staffs for locating Leddy, Shaw and Saad.
“Once we get the players, we turn them over to the coaches and they have to find a way to utilize them and make them better players. They’ve done that,” Bowman said. “It’s certainly not one person that got us to this point. It’s not going to be one person that continues it.
“For that reason, it’s rewarding to see that the whole organization contributed to the success that we’ve had here.”
That’s all true, but someone gets the GM of the Year Award.
Maybe someday if there’s a legitimate voting process, Stan Bowman will get a legitimate shot at it.
ŸListen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.