For the first time ever, the NHL hosted its annual end-of-season awards gala in Las Vegas. I was fortunate to cover the event at the Palms Hotel on Thursday.

The players, coaches and guests – to a man – loved traveling to ‘sin city’ a.k.a. “the entertainment capital of the world”. The reviews of the show itself, however, are understandably unfavourable. Missing perennial host Ron MacLean – or any host – was akin to having Dick Clark not host New Year’s Eve. Say what you will about MacLean and his puns, but his absence was felt. The teleprompter miscues by presenters such as Kirk Muller and Jeremy Roenick gave the presentation a very unpolished feel.

Organizers have two more tries to get it right, the Awards show will return to Las Vegas in 2010 and 2011.

No I don’t know who inserted Chaka Khan into the list of performers. I can only speculate that Nena, Toni Basil and Dexy’s Midnight Runners were all unavailable.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed a scrum of reporters at a presenters’ reception the evening before the show. Bettman lauded the city of Las Vegas as a premiere location for entertainment, as the league attempts to raise the profile of the event. The oddest question I heard in the scrum, from a reporter who I do not know, was: “So Las Vegas is good enough to host the Awards, but not good enough to host the Winter Classic?”

You have to feel good for ex-Leaf Steve Sullivan, who missed 22 months of action, but recovered from his back injury to resume his career. “I’m just glad to be playing,” Sully told me as he walked the red carpet just before the show. “When you’re out for so long, you just miss it so much that you want to get back and play, and be back at doing what you do, and what I felt like I was born to do. I was just glad to be given a second chance.” About an hour after we chatted, he was named winner of the Bill Masterton Award for sportsmanship, perseverance and dedication to hockey.

Between the time you started reading this and now, you’ve probably received another three copies of the email showing images of the Stanley Cup taking a dip into the swimming pool at Mario Lemieux’s house. The word is that the photos originated from the camera of one of the players’ wives.

Art Ross trophy winner Evgeni Malkin remembers the party quite well. “It was a good time, lots of people and family came,” said Malkin, who was also the leading playoff scorer as the Penguins claimed hockey’s championship. “The Stanley Cup stayed in the middle of the pool , and there were lots of pictures!” However ‘Geno’ wasn’t quite keen on joining his friend Stanley for a dip. “I’m not a swimmer, and it wasn’t a big pool.”

Malkin plans to take the Cup home to Magnitogorsk , Russia when his turn comes to keep hockey’s Holy Grail for a couple of days this summer. “I have lots of friends there, and we’ll have a big party!”

No Leafs player was nominated for any of the awards. Mikhail Grabovski finished 11th in Calder Trophy voting, while Luke Schenn was 17th (tied with Dallas’ James Neal).

Ron Wilson was tied for 13th in Jack Adams Trophy voting, tied with Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma. Obviously Bylsma would have been a shoo-in winner, had playoff results been a factor.

A sign of the rebuilding times for the Leafs: no player received any vote for an All-Star position. To put things in perspective, even Patrick Marleau (centre), Ray Whitney (left/right wing) and aging Rob Blake (defence) received at least one third place vote.

Former Leaf legend Doug Gilmour was scheduled to make an appearance at the presenters’ reception on Wednesday but was not in attendance. I don’t know if that served as an omen for yours truly, who – no word of a lie – lost exactly 93 dollars in blackjack this week.

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Blue And White Beat, and will be blogging at throughout the NHL off-season.