On Wednesday morning, the National Hockey League announced its finalists for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor is atop the list of three finalists, which will come down to a vote within the membership of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Connor, 25, had a career year for the Jets, posting single-season bests in goals, assists and points, to which he produced 47, 46 and 93, respectively. He broke Winnipeg’s franchise record of 91 points (a mark hit twice by captain Blake Wheeler) while outscoring former teammate Patrik Laine‘s record of 44 goals in a single season as the most by one player since relocating to Winnipeg from Atlanta.
#NHLJets’ Kyle Connor has been named a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship and gentlemanly play.
He had four total penalty minutes all season, while leading all Winnipeg players with a career-high 47 goals and 93 points.
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) May 18, 2022
“There are personal bests, there is no question that the players competing, and guys like K.C.,” Jets’ general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said at his year-end media availability. “Obviously, it is just an exciting time for him. He is someone whom I hope truly gets awarded with the Lady Byng for the type of way he plays and what he exemplifies on and off the ice. There are positives, and those are the things from an organization that you take note of. There is growth. Some of these guys that did achieve their personal bests, well, it’s been growth year over year over year.”
As his GM alluded to, Connor found himself in the penalty box just two times, earning a measly four total penalty minutes on the season.
“I don’t think anybody wants to take a penalty or put their team down on a penalty kill with all the power plays, talented top-end guys,” Connor said of his skillset and style of play. “There are some good power plays out there. For me, from that standpoint it’s not like I’m looking to change the way I play, it’s just how I play. It’s always been in my game to play that way. Not looking to take any penalties is just how I play.”
In terms of the two penalties he did take, well, he took a two-minute slashing minor on Connor McDavid back on November 18 against the Edmonton Oilers, and a hooking penalty on Mathew Barzal on March 11 against the New York Islanders. Neither were egregious plays.
“I don’t remember the McDavid one,” Connor laughed. “But I do remember the Barzal one. That was recent. Yeah, I think so, I mean he had a breakaway if I didn’t take that penalty. I think I got my stick in there and the refs decided it was a call. Not much to say.”
Now, up against Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin – the reining Lady Byng Award winner – and Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon, Connor will need to prove that his talented offence, paired with his ability to stay out of harm’s way, means more to the writers than a couple of defensemen who managed to dodge the physical side of the game while in shut-down roles.
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Connor’s four penalty minutes are the fewest among NHL players with 80+ points on the year and are the fewest among all players appearing in 76+ games this season. Averaging 21:47 spent on ice each game, Connor finished the year ranked third among all active forwards. He ended the year fifth in goals scored. Clearly he is on the ice a lot.
“I would think that would make him worthy of winning the Lady Byng trophy,” Connor’s head coach Dave Lowry said. “A guy that has an impact every night on the outcome of a hockey game, leading the team in scoring, is one of the elite goal scorers in the National Hockey League, and he takes two minor penalties – that tells me right there he doesn’t get enough recognition. They don’t talk about him enough, nationally, for his accomplishments in the game.”
For Connor, it’s the perfect combination of offensive success and strict defensive play that has earned him the right to be selected as a Lady Byng finalist.
“It’s intelligence and quickness,” coach Lowry added. “When you have the puck, you’re not taking penalties. I think those are key contributing factors. This is a guy here that is extremely quick. I don’t think he gets enough recognition for that as well. He has a very good stick, he’s a very intelligent player. His quickness makes him evasive and it makes him able to get in and out, and he can recover, so he’s not using his stick.”
Despite putting up more total penalties than Connor, both Slavin and Spurgeon’s numbers are increased due to the fact they operate as defensemen for their respective clubs, which means they are typically more prone to taking penalties than a forward would be.
Slavin had 10 penalty minutes in 79 games, while putting up four goals and 42 points on the season. Spurgeon also had 10 penalty minutes in 65 games for Minnesota, while racking up 10 goals and 40 total points on the season.
Official voting results will be announced at the NHL Awards in June.
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