LOS ANGELES — Although it is unlikely that center Michal Handzus will be named as the 2008-09 recipient of the Bill Libby Memorial Award, given each year to the Los Angeles Kings’ most valuable player, Handzus, at the very least, deserves consideration with a little over a month left in the season.
In 65 games this season, Handzus has scored 14 goals and has contributed 19 assists for 33 points with 22 penalty minutes, a -5 plus/minus rating, five power play goals, one shorthanded goal, four game-winning goals and an outstanding 54.1% face-off rating.
None of those numbers stand out as eye-openers, to be sure. But compared to last season, when Handzus was still getting his knee back in shape after surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament during the 2006-07 season, this season’s numbers are far better.
Indeed, Handzus struggled mightily in the 2007-08 season, scoring just seven goals with 14 assists for 21 points. He also had a dismal -21 plus/minus rating and a poor 45.6% face-off rating.
This season, just as important as what you see in the statistics is what you don’t see…the strong forechecking, his uncanny ability to park himself on the edge of the opposing goaltender’s crease to set up screens and his solid and sometimes stifling defensive play.
Those were all parts of Handzus’ game that no one saw at all last season, making those contributions, which have been a routine part of his game all season, huge.
“We kind of assume he’s going to give us that kind of game every night and I need that kind of game from him every night,” said head coach Terry Murray.
“He’s battled through a lot over the last couple of years with injuries and I’m really happy to see him back playing the kind of game that he’s playing right now,” added Murray.
“He’s huge,” said center Anze Kopitar. “Him and Jarret Stoll are really good on face-offs and he’s probably our number one penalty-killer. He does a lot of the dirty work in front of the net on the power play. He’s been really valuable for our team the whole year.”
After struggling last season, Handzus knew he was capable of performing at a higher level.
“I knew I [was] better than I was last year,” said Handzus. “That was key for me after last season—to forget about it, have a good summer, get stronger and be ready for [this] season to help the team. That was my [goal] and I think I can still get better and I’m getting there.”
This season, Handzus is on the ice in all situations, even strength, power play, penalty-kill, and when the game is on the line.
“He’s that important of a player and this is the role I’ve known him to play when I was in Philadelphia as a coach,” Murray stressed. “He’s that dependable player who matches up against the top lines and we know he can score.”
“We saw his game,” Murray elaborated. “He was drafted by the St. Louis Blues. You saw his scoring ability with that team in the early part of his career. He put up big numbers so he can do it all for us.”
Handzus is getting the job done even when he is not on the ice.
“Michal doesn’t show his emotions very often,” Murray explained after his team defeated the Dallas Stars in overtime, 5-4, on March 5. “He certainly did tonight when he scored that goal [the overtime game-winner]. He is alive in the locker room, alive on the bench. He’s very emotional. He’s showing the leadership with what he’s saying to the players and then to get that goal in overtime, he exploded. It was great to see. I was happy for him.”
During the game against the Stars, Handzus was on the bench when a “goal” scored by Kings right wing Dustin Brown was disallowed because he had made incidental contact with Stars goaltender Marty Turco.
That kind of adversity has discouraged this young Kings team in the past. But not this time, at least, not if Handzus could help it.
“That’s one of the instances right there where Handzus is on the bench and he’s taking all of that excuse away,” said Murray. “He’s saying ‘dig in, keep going. Don’t let that bother us. We’ve just got to keep going.’”
“That’s leadership,” added Murray.
Indeed, Handzus has been one of the Kings’ most valuable players this season. But is he the most valuable? Probably not. But for what it’s worth, when Murray was asked where his team would be without Handzus, he replied, “out looking for player who’s just exactly like him.”
Rather high praise for a third-line center, to be sure.
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.