About the only way the 2007-08 NHL season could have ended better for Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin would have been with the Stanley Cup. But with that goal temporarily out of reach, Ovechkin seemed more than pleased to add the Hart and Lester Pearson Trophies to a collection that already included this year's version of the Art Ross and the Richard as well as the 2006 Calder as the league's Rookie of the Year.
But as much as the night belonged to Ovechkin -- the rest of the day in Washington, D.C. will belong to him too with plenty of public celebrations and a dinner-hour party and press event at one of the town's swankiest eateries -- there was plenty of other star power in the audience last night in Toronto for the NHL Awards. One who admitted plenty of surprise at being in the room was Ovechkin's head coach, Bruce Boudreau, who took top honors as winner of the Jack Adams as coach of the year. As it would turn out, the Caps would miss a clean sweep for their nominees when Chicago's Patrick Kane edged out Nicklas Backstrom for the Calder.
So who else won last night? There weren't many surprises at all, truth be told.
Nicklas Lidstrom collected the Norris as the league's best defenseman, the sixth of his Hall of Fame career.
Martin Brodeur took home the Vezina as the league's top goalie, and it's hard to argue, as Brodeur has managed to perform at the same level of excellence year after year, even as the stalwarts of the New Jersey blue line like Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Bryan Rafalski have all come and gone.
The other double winner of the night was Pavel Datsyuk, who took home both the Lady Byng for gentlemanly play, and the Selke for the top defensive forward. Datsyuk beat out his teammate, Conn Smythe winner Henrik Zetterberg, in both categories.
The night had more than a few emotional moments: Red Kelly coming to the stage to present the Selke was amazing to see, and the reception for Gordie Howe, who was given the league's first lifetime achievement award, threated to step on a reel of video congratulations the league had arranged to air on the program. It was tough not to get a little choked up watching Jason Blake, who fought cancer all season long, accept the Masterton, and it was hard not to feel as if you were doing enough when you saw Vincent Lecavalier accept the King Clancy.
I know not everybody can give $3 million to a children's hospital ... but wow.
If there was a loser last night, and they were hard to find (even NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was a winner, of a sort, as he showed up someplace in public and didn't get booed), it had to be Versus. Last year, Versus couldn't pick up the feed from the awards in the U.S. thanks to a fire in a production truck, pushing the program to tape delay late in the evening. And last night there was trouble again. When I tuned in at 7:00 p.m. expecting to see the awards, what I was confronted with was taped coverage from Canada's TSN on the 2008 Draft Lottery -- something that had happened months ago with the Lightning gaining the right to select Steve Stamkos with the #1 pick in next week's draft.
Whatever happened, I took that cue to change the channel, not getting back until after Ovechkin had accepted the Pearson. Then, for the rest of the night, the Versus feed I was watching on DirecTV kept cutting out for a few seconds at a time. It was a poor performance, and one that the sports cable network shouldn't be excused for.