Yesterday, we at BSH gave our choices for the Bobby Clarke Trophy, which is awarded each year to the Flyers' most valuable player that season. Most people -- both amongst our writers who chimed in as well as our readers who voted in the poll on the post -- believed that Steve Mason was the choice there, and it's hard to disagree with that.
Today we'll look at our choices for another award, the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy. The award goes to the "most improved player" on the team, as decided by the Flyers players themselves. Given that last season a rookie, Michael Raffl, won the award, the timeframe that players are supposed to consider "improvement" is a little unclear. Improved since last year? Improved within season? Since coming into the league? It's tough to say.
In any case, we once again tasked eight of our editors/contributors/pals to cast their votes for the award and justify them in approximately one paragraph. Once again, you'll see the results below.
Travis Hughes: I'm going with Michael Del Zotto here. The guy was almost out of the league last summer, and now he's playing more than 20 minutes per night on this Flyers team. That's definitely improvement.
Kevin Christmann: I don't think there are any clear winners for the Lindbergh this season. I'm not sure how likely it is but I'm going to cast my vote for Chris VandeVelde. His offensive production was mostly, or almost entirely, luck-based, but he contributed beyond that. I'd always thought of CVV as not even being an NHL player. I'm talking less than "replacement level". However, this year he contributed on the defensive end and became a pretty significant contributor on the penalty kill. I'm not going to be upset if he walks as an unrestricted free-agent this summer, but I do think he improved this season.
Charlie O'Connor: For such a mediocre-to-bad team, the Flyers are surprisingly filled with more than a few viable options for the "Most Improved" award. Chris VandeVelde has a good case, even though it seems unlikely that he'll sustain a 13.5% shooting percentage moving forward. Nick Schultz will probably get votes, as he surely exceeded expectations. Mason and Voracek both pushed their games to the next level. Michael Raffl could even win this for the second year in a row, as he potted 20+ goals and hopefully has quieted those who think that Giroux and Voracek need a Bobby Ryan-type on the first line to succeed.
But I'm taking Michael Del Zotto, even though his "improvement" is more a return to his early-career usefulness. Del Zotto's 2013/14 season was a disaster, as he saw two of the best offensive minds in the game (Alain Vigneault and Peter Laviolette) essentially decide they wanted nothing to do with the puck-moving defenseman. Sure, he still has flaws (he's basically a break-even possession guy and he's below-average in the defensive zone) but he established himself as a perfectly viable #4/5 blueliner with room to grow. Not bad for a guy who wasn't signed until August.
Kurt R.: This seems like a pretty easy choice to me, tbh. Last season, Nicklas Grossmann had a pretty tough season, finishing the year at minus-6. This season, however, he has rebounded to have a plus-9, which is the best of all Flyers players. Even better than so-called superstar Claude Giroux! As you know, this means he is good. To improve by 15 goals is good, and not bad. This makes Nicklas Grossmann the most improved player.
Al K.: I think there's only three legitimate contenders here -- Michael Raffl, Michael Del Zotto, and Chris VandeVelde. Raffl had a great year, and the fact that he can put up goals makes him a formidable first line player in only his second NHL season. Del Zotto, well, we know the story there, and it's pretty cool. VandeVelde is probably the least appealing candidate for me, because even though he had a good year, I don't think his trajectory has changed much. I'm going with Michael Del Zotto, though, because not only is it a nice story, but having him improve his play on this blue line was much appreciated.
Kelly Hinkle: Michael Del Zotto is probably going to win this but just to throw another name into the mix I'm going to go with Ryan White. Coming off of the injury he's got 12 points, which is twice as many as he had when he played 52 games with the Canadiens. Plus heart/grit/etc.
Ryan Gilbert: Steve Mason came to Philadelphia two years ago as the laughing stock of the league. This season analysts are being laughed at when they are not giving Mason the credit that he deserves. Sure Mason didn't have a bad season last year as he posted a .916 save percentage, but he has become one of the best goalies in the league this year and has kept the Flyers in games night in and night out. Michael Raffl won the award last season and is definitely a top candidate for it this season as well.
Two-peat? Michael Raffl has improved in driving possession and in scoring. Having 21 goals this year even though he wasn't on the power play until it didn't matter anymore is pretty damn impressive. He's become more confident in his game and has even started penalty killing. He's a multi tool player that this team needs a lot of and we still haven't seen his ceiling.
So there are our words. No shortage of options here -- what's your choice? Let us know in the poll below.