Fernandez's future overshadows award ceremony
OTTAWA -- Manny Fernandez could hardly have looked any more uncomfortable at Saturday's mini-NHL awards ceremony if he had sat on a broken goalie stick. Along with Minnesota Wild teammate Niklas Backstrom, Fernandez was honored with his first William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals against during the regular season.
Yet, it hardly seemed like a celebratory occasion with the future so uncertain for both netminders, but especially Fernandez.
Backstrom, who came out of nowhere to take over the starter's role when Fernandez went down with an injured ligament, also captured the Roger Crozier Save Grace Award for the league's best save percentage during the regular season (.929). The native of Helsinki, Finland, will also become an unrestricted free agent this summer, setting up an interesting dilemma for Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough.
Backstrom was splendid from the time he took over right through the Wild's five-game loss to Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs. He is four years younger than Fernandez, who will be 33 in August, and seems, based on the short sample of his work, to be more even-keeled.
Because the free-agent goaltending market is as thin as it's been in years, Backstrom is looking at a potentially big pay day -- somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.5-$4 million a year.
But the belief is Risebrough will move to lock up Backstrom long-term and then deal Fernandez, who is more high maintenance and has two years left on a three-year deal at $4.33 million per year against the cap. Fernandez played only one game after the end of January. Prior to that, he suffered through a miserable stretch in November, when he lost eight of nine starts.
"The way I see it, we had a tough time because we had a lot of injuries in the middle of the season," Fernandez said after Saturday's ceremony. "The good thing is, I left on a good note. I think for the last 12, 13 games, I was getting my average back where I wanted and I was erasing the bad times that happened.
"I think I'm sitting in a good position," Fernandez added. "Which means, if I go back, I'm going to have a chance to play either way, and if I don't, then the team that picks me up obviously is going to give me a spot to play more. Either way, I think I'm sitting in a pretty good seat. I've got to do the same thing that I did last year and try and pick it up from where I left off."
Does he look around the NHL and wonder what teams might be looking to upgrade in net?
"That's endless, and bottom line is, I don't make those kinds of decisions," Fernandez said. "You can buy a lottery ticket and believe you're going to win, but it's maybe not going to happen. You know what? I stopped this thinking. Right now, I'm worried about my knee. I just want to make it come back 100 percent again."
Fernandez will not have to have surgery and doctors recently told him they think his damaged ligament is at full strength.
"They can barely see the difference between this one and the good one," Fernandez said. "I think it's all positive."
Crosby growing more comfortable in spotlight
Teenage NHL scoring champion Sidney Crosby was also on hand for Saturday's ceremonies that are a precursor to the main awards ceremony held later this month in Toronto.
Crosby becomes more and more self-assured and thoughtful with the media every day. Earlier this week, he was named captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, making him the youngest captain in NHL history.
"I don't think there's really any big challenge that comes with it," Crosby said. "I think the expectations for myself are high already. Maybe they'll be higher. But as far as I'm concerned, I'm not really going to change too much.
"I'm still learning a lot. And I'm going to learn more about how to handle things and how to be a good captain. That doesn't happen overnight," Crosby added. "I think I've always tried to lead by example. And no matter what it was, I tried to be a leader. And I think, if anything, it will just motivate me to be better and just take that responsibility a little bit more."
Special day for Lecavalier
The ceremony also provided a nice moment for Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier, who became the first French Canadian winner of the Maurice Richard Trophy awarded to the top goal scorer during the regular season (he had 52).
Lecavalier, who grew up a huge Montreal Canadiens fan and attended the ceremony with his parents, was presented the award by Richard's younger brother, Henri, another legend in the French hockey community who has won more championships (11) than any other single pro athlete.
NHL honors legends
Kudos to the NHL, who honored the surviving members of the Montreal Canadiens' 1950s dynasty a night earlier -- Richard, Jean Beliveau, Jean-Guy Talbot, Dickie Moore, Tom Johnson and Don Marshall.
Crosby is another longtime Montreal fan who got a chance to meet some of the legends when he arrived in Ottawa on Friday night.
"Growing up a Montreal fan, it's pretty amazing to meet those guys. Here I am talking about trying to win one Stanley Cup and those guys have 10 or 11. It doesn't seem fair," Crosby joked. "But it's still amazing, and their stories are probably stories we could sit down and listen to for hours."
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com
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