Tom Poti is the Capitals’ Masterton Trophy nominee, as chosen by the Washington chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The 35-year-old defenseman returned to the NHL in January after missing two calendar years with groin injuries and a fractured pelvis.
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”
General manager George McPhee said a few times that he doubted Poti would play again, but the veteran worked to get back as the team supported his efforts.
“I wanted to play, I still had the passion inside me,” Poti said. “Hockey’s still fun for me to this day, I wanted to do everything I could to get back. I wanted to have no regrets. That was one of the biggest things. I didn’t want to say maybe if I tried a little bit harder or more – if I didn’t give up at that point. What if? I didn’t want to have any what ifs.”
Poti is still left with the “what if?” of this season. Neck and back injuries limited him to just 16 of the Caps’ first 45 games, and it’s unlikely that he plays another regular-season game unless another left-handed defenseman gets hurt.
“You know what, he’s been very professional about the fact that he’s not playing,” coach Adam Oates said. “He’s had a tough go, obviously, coming off injuries and then coming back, try to see where he’s at and keep getting a little injury and setting himself back. And he’s been great about it. Now we’ve won a lot of games, so we’re not changing our lineup and he’s just been a true pro every day.”
It’s not easy on Poti, who’s still on injured reserve but weeks ago said he’s healthy.
“It’s been tough, kind of in and out of the lineup a lot and not playing too many minutes,” he said. “[But] a bad day in the NHL is a good day anywhere else. Just keep working hard and maybe I’ll get a chance.”
That was Poti’s mentality during his time away from the Caps. He played Jan. 12, 2011 at the Tampa Bay Lightning and not again until Jan. 19, 2013.
Poti wanted to return for Washington’s 2011 playoff run, but in trying he set himself back. He had to get off the ice, and at one point he wondered if his NHL career was indeed over.
“I think probably toward Christmas time last year when I got on the ice and didn’t feel good at all and I kind of felt the same pains and problems and at that point I didn’t know if I would be able to play or not be able to play,” Poti said. “Just made a decision that I wanted to keep trying and keep working at it and I’m lucky I did.”
Defenseman Dennis Wideman was the Washington nominee in 2011-12, when Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens won the Masterton. Forward Matt Hendricks was the Washington nominee in 2010-11, when Ian Laperriere of the Philadelphia Flyers won.