Canes, Oilers, Pens and Wild win 2021 Dillman Award

The Professional Hockey Writers Association is pleased to announce the Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins are 2021 winners of the Dick Dillman Award, presented annually to honor the work of outstanding NHL public relations staffs.

Traditionally, the award recognizes the excellence of one winner in each the Eastern and Western conferences. This year, the selection committee took note of the unusual circumstances presented by the global pandemic and with the NHL’s division-based schedule, opted to present four winners in 2021.

Both the Carolina Hurricanes (Eastern Conference) and Minnesota Wild (Western Conference) repeated as winners. This year marks the first Edmonton Oilers win since 1999 – and the first ever win for the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise.

“Without any doubt, this was the single most difficult season in our organization’s 54-year history for our members to do what they do best, which is build relationships, tell stories and effectively report on the teams they cover,” said PHWA president Frank Seravalli. “But these four staffs stood out among their peers, going the extra mile in this Zoom-only environment to facilitate one-on-one interviews, to bring out the extra player in an availability, to lug and setup all of the Zoom gear on a travel day, all to allow our members’ coverage at least a fighting chance to appear seamless to the reader.

“On behalf of all 291 PHWA members, we commend and thank you for a job well done.”

In Pittsburgh, the communications department is led by Jennifer Bullano Ridgley, vice president of communications; Evan Schall, director of communication; and Emma Kilmer, communications coordinator.

“The past year has been a challenge for all of us. We are especially honored to receive the recognition this season on behalf of the Penguins‘ organization,” said Bullano Ridgley. “We appreciate the patience and flexibility of the media, as well as our players and coaches.”

The Edmonton Oilers’ PR staff is headed by first-year director of hockey communications Jamie Cartmell; Shawn May, manager of hockey communications; and Kaite Doyle, manager of hockey communications and team services.

Oilers PR staff (L-R): Jamie Cartmell, Shawn May, Kaite Doyle.

“We are honored and delighted to be recognized as the North Division’s Dick Dillman Award winner by the PHWA,” said Cartmell. “Acknowledgement of this kind by this prestigious association is a direct reflection of our entire organization’s desire to work in partnership with those who cover the great sport of hockey. This past season presented significant challenges and we’re tremendously grateful for the cooperation and professionalism of our players, coaches, management and media partners.”

In Carolina, the communications department continues to be led by Mike Sundheim, vice president of communications and team services; and includes Mike Brown, manager of communications; and David Piper, communications coordinator.

Hurricanes PR staff (L-R): Mike Brown, Mike Sundheim, David Piper.

“This was obviously a unique season that presented major challenges to media covering our league. Thankfully, our management, players and especially our head coach, Rod Brind’Amour, remained open-minded and flexible in making themselves available for the local and national media throughout the season,” Sundheim said. “We are truly grateful to the PHWA for this recognition of the Hurricanes organization and honored to again be associated with Mr. Dillman’s legacy.”

Minnesota’s staff is led once again by Aaron Sickman, director of media relations, as well as media relations specialist Megan Kogut.

Wild PR staff (L-R): Aaron Sickman, Megan Kogut.

“On behalf of the Minnesota Wild organization we are humbled and honored to be named a recipient of the Dick Dillman Award,” Sickman said. “We deeply value the relationships we have with PHWA members and greatly appreciate the willingness Dean Evason, Bill Guerin and our players demonstrated in connecting with media this season. We especially want to recognize and thank the writers that cover the great sport of hockey for sharing their stories with fans throughout another challenging season.”

The Dillman Award is presented in honor of the late, great Minnesota North Stars public relations guru Dick Dillman. The Dillman committee is chaired by Dillman’s daughter, Lisa Dillman, and features a voting panel of senior PHWA members.

Previous Dillman Award winners

2019-20: Carolina Hurricanes, Minnesota Wild

2018-19: Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames
2017-18: Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars
2016-17: Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild
2015-16: Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames
2014-15: Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars
2013-14: Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks
2012-13: Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks
2011-12: Philadelphia Flyers, Nashville Predators
2010-11: Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks
2009-10: Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks
2008-09: Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks
2007-08: Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks
2006-07: Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks

PHWA’s 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy ballots: Vasilevskiy’s resounding win

TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was selected as the 55th winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup playoff MVP by a panel of Professional Hockey Writers Association members.

Collecting his league record fifth consecutive shutout in a series-clinching game, dating back to last year’s Stanley Cup Final in the Edmonton bubble, Vasilevskiy garnered 15 first-place votes among 18 available ballots. He edged teammate Nikita Kucherov, who led the postseason in scoring with 32 points, by an 82-60 voting point margin.

Lightning forward Brayden Point finished third, while defenseman Ryan McDonagh and Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price also received votes.

Vasilevskiy became the first goaltender to win the Conn Smythe since Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick in 2012. He is just the first European-trained goaltender to capture the award, as all 14 previous winners were born and trained in the United States or Canada.

Vasilevskiy, 26, was between the pipes for every second of the Lightning’s playoff run for the second year in a row. He started all 23 games, posting a 1.90 goals against-average and a .937 save percentage, becoming the first goaltender since Ken Dryden (1976-1978) to win the Stanley Cup in consecutive years while allowing an average of under 2.00 goals per game.

In the interest of full transparency, the PHWA has once again revealed each individual ballot for all 18 Conn Smythe voters.

Voting point totals:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay: 82 points (15 first place)
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay: 60 points (3 first place)
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay: 16 points
Ryan McDonagh, Tampa Bay: 3 points
Carey Price, Montreal: 1 point

Points were awarded on a 5-3-1 basis and the deadline to submit ballots occurred with 10 minutes remaining in Game 5.

PHWA reveals 2021 NHL Awards ballots

TAMPA, Fla. — Since 1967, the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) has been counted on to independently vote on six major NHL Awards, as well as end-of-season All-Star and All-Rookie teams.

For the fourth consecutive year, the PHWA has revealed the ballot of each individual voter in the interest of full transparency.

“This was an incredibly unique season to evaluate Awards winners,” said PHWA President Frank Seravalli. “When the NHL was forced to pivot to intradivision play by the COVID-19 virus, our organization also pivoted to ensure the fairest possible selection process.

“We’re so proud of the countless hours our voters put into their ballots – researching, watching at the rink and at home, and gathering opinions from trusted sources to make sure we got it right.”

Faced with the challenge of comparing individual season’s across four silos of intradivision-only play, the PHWA’s Executive Board made a significant change to the voting process. The voting bloc was pared down to 100 voters, well short of the typical 175 voters, to include 94 members plus an invited panel of six international broadcasters.

The PHWA selected 20 members based in each of the four divisions (East, Central, North and West), in addition to 20 at-large international members/broadcasters.

The goal was to create geographical balance, removing the unprecedented disparity in divisional representation among voters created by intradivision play. The Executive Board felt this better balanced approach would also offset the fact that many of members only regularly viewed the seven or eight teams in their own division for the first time in modern voting history.

This season, all 100 ballots distributed were returned on-time and without error.

Each individual vote can be viewed at the links below:

Hart Memorial Trophy

James Norris Memorial Trophy

Calder Memorial Trophy

Frank J. Selke Trophy

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

All-Star Team: Center

All-Star Team: Left Wing

All-Star Team: Right Wing

All-Star Team: Defense

All-Star Team: Goaltender

All-Rookie Team: Forward

All-Rookie Team: Defense

All-Rookie Team: Goaltender

The PHWA wishes to congratulate all 2021 NHL Award winners and finalists on their well-deserved honors.​​

PHWA mourns the passing of Toronto Star titan Frank Orr

A legend to most, a mentor to all young journalists, the Professional Hockey Writers Association mourns the passing of legendary member William “Frank” Orr on Feb. 13, 2021.

Orr, a titan at the Toronto Star for more than four decades, was the 1989 recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Award as a media honouree in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was 84.

Orr was the PHWA’s No. 3 card holder at the time of his passing, the organization’s second-longest living lifetime member. In 2003, he received a lifetime achievement award from Sports Media Canada and was inducted into the Etobicoke (Ont.) Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

Tributes poured in from around the hockey world on Saturday as news of Orr’s passing spread.

Past PHWA president Mark Spector recalled his time as a young Oilers beat writer, once phoning Orr for information the day before a game.

“He was somebody. I was nobody,” Spector tweeted. “Graciously, he emptied his notebook​. He taught us all about decency and enjoying the job. And restaurants.”

Orr was famous for his encyclopedic knowledge of the finest restaurants in any city on any continent. He was equally remembered for his brilliantly funny one-liners.

“I didn’t know we broke any windows,” was often Orr’s response when big bill arrived at the table. Then he’d wrestle the cheque away from his dining companions.

A few other Orr favourites: “I’m not saying the Leafs are bad, but is f***-up hyphenated?” Or: “I’ve bet on horses smaller than that [Eric] Lindros kid.”

During a particularly conservative Ducks-Red Wings game, Elliott Teaford recalled Orr quipping: “It’s the dump without the chase.”

Orr’s legend spanned the ocean. Longtime PHWA member Lance Hornby shared a story of over-served Finnish writers spotting Orr at a bar during the 1989 World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden.

“Oooor! Ooooor! They kept yelling at our table, then came over to pepper him with a million questions,” Hornby tweeted. “It was like traveling with a rock star.”

Orr’s career began as a radio announcer in Chatham and Sault Ste Marie, Ont. He then served as sports editor with the Guelph Mercury and Cornwall Standard-Freeholder before joining the Toronto Star in 1961. At the Star, Orr covered everything from college football to horse racing, while his major beat was hockey – from junior to the National Hockey League and world championships.

Orr wrote more than 30 sports books and contributed to more than 60 additional titles. He also covered the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, as well as auto racing and figure skating – including 12 World and Olympic championships.

“As an American hockey writer in the 1970s, before social media, when I walked into a Canadian rink and saw a Frank Orr, a Red Fisher, I felt real awe: ‘Whoa. These guys write hockey IN CANADA!’,” tweeted fellow Elmer Ferguson winner Frank Brown. “They were the iconic print voices of hockey where it is the official winter sport.”

Scores of kids across Canada read the Star wanting to emulate Orr. Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons tweeted: “Growing up, everyone on my street wanted to be Bobby Orr. I wanted to be Frank Orr.”

Fellow Elmer Ferguson Award winner and TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie tweeted: “During the 1967 Stanley Cup playoffs, 11-year-old me kept a scrapbook of all the articles written in The Star and The Telegram about the Leafs run to the Cup. I was as enamoured with the bylines of the reporters as the players they wrote about.”

When McKenzie, Simmons and others finally made it to the press box and rubbed elbows with Orr, they were treated like equals.

Former PHWA member Mike Zeisberger tweeted: “Sometimes your heroes disappoint. Not Frank.”

That’s why beyond his enormous accomplishments as a journalist, he was immediately remembered for his generosity and compassion toward young aspiring writers.

“The Man. Generous to young writers, great dinner companion, king of one-liners, with a soft spot for the everyday producers of prose on the hockey beat,” the Hall of Famer Cam Cole wrote. “Frank had a weak heart but a very big one. All his old media buddies can quote a few of his one-liners.”

Simmons tweeted that “one of the most important influences of my life has passed. … Thanks for all the laughs, the stories, the advice, the restaurant touts, the recipes, the emails.”

Cole also remembered being sick with food poisoning in Detroit, delirious while covering an Edmonton Oilers playoff game. Orr would wake his media colleague long enough to describe goals – “Kurri, one-timer, great setup by Gretz” – and Cole would write them down before passing out again.

“Every great man is unique, and there is no question that Frank Orr was one of a kind,” PHWA president Frank Seravalli said. “Reading all of the tributes come in from every corner of the hockey universe not only cemented his legend as a giant in hockey journalism, but showed that he meant so much to so many.”

Orr was preceded in death by Shirley, his wife of 57 years. The Professional Hockey Writers Association sends its sincere condolences to the Orr family.

Kevin Allen

PHWA: Fighting for fair media access since 1967

When sportswriters formed the National Hockey League Writers Association in 1967, it’s doubtful they anticipated that members would someday need to know how to storm a castle.

On Feb. 4, 1987, the organization’s president Scott Morrison (Toronto Sun) and a platoon of writers pushed past security and into the Toronto Maple Leafs post-game dressing room in violation of owner Harold Ballard’s edict that no media was allowed.

“Scotty was like King Arthur leading the charge,” recalled Toronto Sun writer Lance Hornby.

Ballard has closed the dressing room when the NHL had decreed that he had to grant the equal access to female reporters. Opposed to women in the dressing room, Ballard concentrated on “equal” being interchangeable with “the same” He ordered that no one, male or female, could interview players in the dressing room.

Even players were miffed that they had to do interviews in the hallways.

“It was brutal,” Morrison said. “There would be a lot of nights on the road where you would be in a barn like St. Louis Arena and [Maple Leafs public relations director] Bob Stellick would have to drag guys out of the room wrapped in a towel and nothing else. They were in filthy hallways in the bowels of arenas. The wind would blow through. Players were tired of it. None of us were getting any one-on-ones. We weren’t getting any traction complaining to the league.”

At the Cyrano bar in Toronto, Morrison met with the sports editors of all of the Toronto newspapers, plus the Hamilton Spectator. The battle plan was drawn up.

Not sure how anyone was going to react, writers steeled themselves like they were preparing for a street brawl.

“I remember saying to the late Tony Fitz-gerald before we went in, ” Hornby said, “I’ll see you on the other side.”

They pushed through the door in two waves: Morrison led the writers and then the radio and television people, not knowing exactly what was happening, formed the second attack force.

As everyone fanned out to conduct interviews, players began to laugh. “They thought it was a hoot,” Morrison recalled.

According to Hornby, Salming asked: “Is this Christmas?”

Not everyone thought it was funny. Ballard had his assistant wheel him down to meet the invaders. He was cursing and waving his cane. “He swung it at a Toronto Globe and Mail photographer,” Hornby said.

Now 33 years later, veterans of that skirmish say the most amazing aspect of the charge of the writer’s brigade, is that people kept the plan secret. “That’s really hard to do in Toronto,” Hornby said.

Later, Morrison said he “semi-apologized” to Stellick “for putting him in a bad position.”

Stellick had always been sympathetic to the writers’ position, but couldn’t do anything about it. But Morrison felt strongly that the writers had to do something bold.

Stellick had wondered why this Los Angeles-Toronto game on a Wednesday had drawn so many writers. Each paper had three or four people at the game. The press box was full.

“Stellick told me, “I couldn’t figure it out,” Morrison recalled.

The daring raid on the Maple Leafs’ dressing room didn’t immediately fix the problem. It was back to interviews outside the dressing room, with more security, at the next Toronto home game. “But it got the league’s attention,” Hornby said.

Morrison said NHL public relations director Gary Meagher, who was sympathetic to the writer’s cause, helped facilitate a meeting with NHL president John Ziegler at the draft. It was agreed that the league would change the bylaws to prevent Ballard, or any other owner, from using them to deny access.

The NHLWA, later renamed the Professional Hockey Writers Association, was formed with the idea that unity would give writers more strength in dealing with the NHL on problems. That turned out to be true, particularly in the early years of the organization.

Nashville Predators senior vice president Gerry Helper started as a public relations person with the Buffalo Sabres in 1979 and recalls the “PHWA had a fair amount of influence at that stage.”

In 1979, the NHL had grown from 17 to 21 teams by annexing World Hockey Association teams.

“If you think back about how fans got their information, it was through the writers,” Helper said. “So the writers carried a lot of clout. If the PHWA said, we need x amount of phones in the press box, the league and teams really worked to make that happen.”

In the early years, making sure women were allowed into the locker room, and treated appropriately, were always significant issues, even as late as the 1980s.

To put this issue into perspective, consider the PHWA didn’t allow women to join the organization up until the mid-1970s. Robin Herman (New York Times) was the PHWA’s only female member when she became the first woman to enter an NHL dressing room at the 1975 All-Star Game in Montreal.

“It was a sideshow for all terrible reasons,” said 2019 Elmer Ferguson winner Frank Brown, who was working at the game. “Which players were going to wear a towel and which ones weren’t? Was there going to be a scene at the doorway.”

Brown said Herman would have much preferred to just do her job without the spotlight.Her groundbreaking locker room appearance didn’t instantly transform the NHL dressing rooms into a female-friendly place.

Helene Elliott (Los Angeles Times) began working professionally at the Chicago Sun Times in 1977 and then went to Newsday in 1979 before moving to the LA Times in 1989. How difficult was it for women?

“Very,” Elliott says bluntly.

She said there were dozens of times when she had to overcome impediments to do her job.

“For a long time, the NHL let teams set policy for locker room access,” Elliott said. “There was no blanket edict from the league. That created a lot of problems. There were so few female sportswriters that we used to give each other tips. We would say such and such team is friendly, or say this team is going to be really tough, or avoid so and so or so and so will be really helpful.”

Duhatschek, a PHWA vice president for a decade, said Morrison did a lot of “the heavy lifting” formalizing access rules, including how female journalists were going to be treated in the NHL.

According to Duhatschek, NHL PR executive Gary Meagher was a PHWA ally in trying to firm up access policy.

“Those two worked together to do a lot of good in terms of developing policy and putting in firm rules,” Duhatschek recalled.

Their work was much needed. “People like Harold Ballard and Phil Esposito were not very welcoming to women,” Duhatschek said.

Duhatschek said the situation improved dramatically when Gary Bettman became the first NHL commissioner. “The foot dragging on policy stopped,” Duhatschek said. “Back then, he was very helpful to the Professional Hockey Writers Association.”

Elliott has an important place in PHWA history, because she is the only woman ever to serve as the organization’s president and the only woman to be honored by the Hockey Hall of Fame with the Elmer Ferguson Award.

She was president when PHWA members voted to stop accepting a $10,000 fee from the NHL for voting on NHL Awards. The money was partially used to fund a scholarship. The Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) had been pushing the PHWA to stop taking the stipend.

“I thought it was the right thing to do to stop taking the money, but it got really, really ugly,” Elliott recalled.

Not every member agreed with that decision. “It was hard,” she said. “A lot of us were told by our employers that we could not continue to be members if the (PHWA) continued to take money from the league.”

Even beyond the money, voting has long been a contentious issue. Some news outlets do not allow their sportswriters to vote because they see it as a conflict of interest. Some writers believe we shouldn’t vote because trophy race finishes can impact player bonus money. Some team executives believe writers shouldn’t vote on the awards because they didn’t play the game.

The voting procedure changed dramatically in 2003-04 when the PHWA expanded the pool of eligible voters.

Prior to then, each NHL city only had two votes. Writers would split votes. Some writers would vote only for the Hart Trophy or Norris Trophy. Another writer would vote on All-Star teams. Some highly qualified voters received no votes at all.

The problem with that process was that too few people were determining winners. If people forgot to vote, 60 votes would drop to 58 or 57. If someone left an obvious choice off his or her ballot, it could have a significant impact on the outcome.

It also meant some highly qualified voters – national coverage reporters – received no votes at all.

Plus, it was possible, under this system, that a center could win the Hart Trophy and not be named 1st team All-Star center because different groups were voting on those two honors.

Team officials preferred the old system because it had geographic balance. Every city received two votes. It seemed fair to old school executives.

But the PHWA approached the NHL about accepting that a qualified voter is a qualified voter regardless of where they live. The PHWA group argued that increasing the number of voters diminished the impact of outliers.

In days gone by, it made sense to limit the number of voters. You didn’t receive much information about what was happening in other NHL cities. In today’s technology world, a New York sportswriter knows as much about Los Angeles, Arizona and Vancouver as he or she knows about their old team.

Today, the PHWA has almost three times as many voters as it had in 2002-03. The results have shown that this voting system, with a larger sampling of quality voters, works effectively.

Not all of the PHWA history is as serious as voting issues and bold protests. Not every issue needs to be debated with passionate rhetoric. Duhatschek tells the story of how an off-hand suggestion by a part-time writer led to a change in NHL Awards.

In the early 1980s, Jack Newman was the Sports Information Director of the University of Calgary. He also worked as a stringer at Calgary Flames’ games for the Canadian Press. That earned him the right to join the Calgary chapter of the PHWA.

“He said to us, ‘Why don’t we have an All-Rookie team?'” Duhatschek said. “He said baseball had one.”

Duhatschek told Newman he didn’t know the answer, but he would take the suggestion to the national meeting.

“I told our secretary-treasurer Don Wilno and he said: We never thought about it, but it’s a great idea,” Duhatschek said.

The NHL All-Rookie team was introduced the following season, in 1982-83. Newman was in the PHWA for a short time. But he had a lasting impact.