There were disparate reasons neither Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey nor Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist had the NHL season they anticipated.
The former suffered through injuries and the death of his older brother to brain cancer while spending most of the season in the AHL. The latter had his longstanding place as king of the nets taken by a younger player. Both might be forced to continue their NHL careers with new teams next season.
But both were honored on Tuesday as their team’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance and dedication as voted upon by the respective chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
It is still unclear when the winner will be announced. The NHL is trying to resume its season placed on pause on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the annual awards show in Las Vegas, scheduled for June 24, has been postponed.
Former Islanders goalie Robin Lehner, now with the Vegas Golden Knights, was last season’s Masterton winner after detailing his struggles with addiction and mental illness.
Hickey, 31, selected fourth overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2007, had been a mainstay among the Islanders’ top six defensemen since he was claimed off waivers in 2013. But he lost that spot in the rotation to Devon Toews after suffering a concussion on Dec. 17, 2018. This season, he lost his roster spot to rookie Noah Dobson in training camp and injuries limited him to just 14 games with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.
Hickey, in the second season of a four-year, $10 million deal, was recalled on March 5 but did not get a chance to dress for the Islanders. Five days later, Dan Hickey, 33, succumbed to glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor that had been diagnosed in September and was his brother’s second battle with a brain tumor in under two years.
“I have one job, and that’s to be there for my family,” Thomas Hickey told Newsday shortly before his brother passed away. “In saying that, hockey is such an important outlet to me. It keeps me healthy.”
Lundqvist, 38, in the sixth season of a seven-year, $59.5 million deal, has forged a Hall of Fame career as the face of the Rangers’ franchise. He supplanted Kevin Weekes as the team’s No. 1 goalie as a rookie early in the 2005-06 season, won the Vezina Trophy in 2012 as the league’s top netminder and led the Rangers to conference finals in 2012, 2014 and 2015. The Rangers lost in five games to the Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
He was 10-12-3 with a 3.16 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage this season. But Igor Shesterkin, 24, established himself as the No. 1 goalie after being recalled from the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford in January. Lundqvist started just one of the last 19 games as the Rangers carried three goalies.
In addition to Lehner, Ed Westfall (1977) and Mark Fitzpatrick (1992) also won the award as Islanders. The Rangers’ past winners are Jean Ratelle (1971), Rod Gilbert (1976), Anders Hedberg (1985), Adam Graves (2001) and Dominic Moore (2014).