No other player shuts down snipers more skillfully, and legally, than Devils winger Jay Pandolfo, who deserves the Lady Byng
IN THE suburbs of northern New Jersey, where Jay Pandolfo earns his living, many people probably think the Lady Byng is an exotic dancer at a fictional mob-operated strip club. In fact, the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, donated in 1925 by the wife of Viscount Byng of Vimy, a Governor-General of Canada and a hero of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in World War I (and you thought the Sopranos were an impressive family), is given annually to the NHL player who best combines sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct with on-ice performance. Somehow the award has eluded Pandolfo, a Devils left wing who is the NHL's cleanest player. "That isn't exactly something I'm striving for," Pandolfo, 32, says of the label. Given the spasmodic outbreaks of thuggery that thrust hockey into the national conversation—the Buffalo- Ottawa brawl last month, for instance—there might be some confusion between playing clean and playing scared, but there's nothing mushy about Pandolfo.
"He's not playing dirty, so you can't even get pissed off at him," Montreal center Saku Koivu says. "He works hard, plays smart and always seems to be in the right spot. You think you have free ice for a two-on-one and he comes from nowhere. They win Stanley Cups, and everyone praises [goalie Martin] Brodeur and the first liners, but he's making plays that make them win."
On the NHL's most disciplined team—over the past 10 years New Jersey took the fewest minor penalties in six seasons and allowed the fewest power plays in seven—no player avoids the penalty box more assiduously. Although playing on the Devils' checking line against top trios (and often shadowing elite snipers) he had, through Sunday, taken only four minor penalties this season (a hook and three trips). Pandolfo's average of .18 penalty minutes per game is the lowest among active players with at least 400 matches, and his playoff comportment is even more astounding. Pandolfo, who held Rangers star Jaromir Jagr to one assist in three games last postseason, has had six penalty minutes in 108 matches, an .056 average that Devils broadcaster Mike Emrick, a hockey historian, calculates is the lowest ever.
"If you're not out of position, you don't have to hook and hold," says Pandolfo. "I try to keep my feet moving and get good angles on guys. Jack [Parker, Pandolfo's famed coach at Boston University] taught us about angling and playing both ends of the ice."
Of his penalties in 2006--07, none of which resulted in a power play goal, Pandolfo readily recalls only the last—a Valentine's Day trip against the Canadiens (" Sheldon Souray stepped on my stick and they're going to call that")—and the first: Chasing Scott Niedermayer behind the net in the third period on Nov. 24, Pandolfo was whistled for hooking after the Anaheim defenseman stumbled. "[After the game] he's laughing and telling me it was a terrible call," Pandolfo says of his former Devils teammate. "He says, 'There goes the Lady Byng.'"
Let's hope the professional hockey writers, the ones who decide the award, disagree.
ONLY AT SI.COM Michael Farber's All-Clean team and a gallery of Lady Byng winners.