THE FIRST thing Nick Schultz does whenever he walks into the Flyers' locker room after a game or practice is to swap his helmet for a black, flat-brim hat - pulled low over his eyes.
He jokes it makes him fit in with a younger team. It also conveniently hides his receding hairline, though he didn't mention that part. Aside from Vinny Lecavalier, Schultz has played 214 more NHL games than the next closest player on the Flyers' roster.
He arrived in Philadelphia without another game guaranteed, signed as a spare defenseman last summer. Even after then-Flyer Kimmo Timonen was diagnosed with blood clots, Michael Del Zotto immediately jumped Schultz on the depth chart.
If Braydon Coburn didn't fracture his foot on Opening Night, Schultz may not have seen the ice for a while - a sinking feeling he was already familiar with from stops in Columbus and Edmonton last season.
Schultz, 32, skated in 74 of the last 75 games, resurrecting an under-the-radar career that seemed on its last leg last summer. For that, Schultz was named the Flyers' nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy yesterday, as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. He earned a 2-year, $4.5 million extension on Feb. 18 for his steady play.
The award is given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
"I've been around a long time, so I know what the [award] is about," Schultz said. "It's a great honor. It's great to be nominated and recognized for this."
Flyers assistant coach Ian Laperriere won the award in 2011 after his post-concussion syndrome battle. Bobby Clarke (1972) and Tim Kerr (1989) also won the award. This year's winner, from 30 nominees, will be announced on June 24 in Las Vegas.
The Blackhawks have nominated Timonen, whose triumph over multiple blood clots makes him a front-runner for the award.
"I think you find out in a hurry where you stand when free agency rolls around and you don't have a lot of opportunity," Schultz said. "That kind of puts you in your place in a hurry. I knew I could still play and be effective. It's harder now. Guys get pushed out a lot sooner. You've got to work hard and take care of yourself, keep yourself going as long as you can."
The Flyers were officially eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday with Boston's win over Carolina . . . Defenseman Luke Schenn is likely out for the season, but the Flyers are awaiting full medical results before making an official announcement . . . Mark Streit returned to Europe over the weekend to visit with an ill relative and was expected to return to Philadelphia last night.