Looking at the Selke Trophy candidates

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The ballots have been distributed to members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association for the year-end awards and debate is starting for each category. Since voting for the “best defensive forward” is such a subjective award, the Selke is usually one of the toughest to vote on. With that in mind, here are a few players who will get consideration this year—and a few who should.

The Usual Suspects

Ryan Kesler: The powerful 2-way forward in Vancouver has been the favorite this season since the moment Pavel Datsyuk’s name was called in Las Vegas last June. He finished as runner-up last season and if everything goes as expected, this will be the third straight year he’ll be up for the award. Among players who have played at least 70 games this season, Kesler is third in the league with a 17.9 CORSI rating. On top of the penalty killing, 3 shorthanded goals, and 57.4% faceoff percentage, he’s tied for 5th in the league with 37 goals. They can say offensive numbers don’t matter, but every year the finalists consist of great two-way players—not defensive specialists.

Pavel Datsyuk: The three-time defending Selke Trophy winner will be in the discussion until the day retires. Let’s put it this way, the last person to win the award NOT named Pavel Datsyuk was Rod Brind’Amour. That would be retired former Carolina captain Rod Brind’Amour. He’s in the top 10 in takeaways (as usual), yet he’s only played in 53 games. Voters are creatures of habit so he’ll always be in the conversation, but missing so many games due to injury may keep him off the podium this year.

Jonathan Toews: If Datsyuk usually excels in the takeaway category, then Toews is approaching his level. He’s second in the league with 90 takeaways, but even more impressive is that he only has given away the puck 26 times. Sure, these are highly subjective statistics—but any gap that substantial is bound to get the attention of voters. He’s an impressive 56.3% in the faceoff dot and plays almost 2 minutes per game killing penalties for the Blackhawks.

The Dark Horse Candidates

Frans Nielson: If for no other reason, Frans Nielsen is going to get consideration because of his 7 shorthanded goals and 8 shorthanded points. His 2:59 per game of shorthanded ice-time is more than every defenseman on his team other than Mark Eaton. That in itself shows how much Scott Gordon and Jack Capuano trust him on the ice.

Manny Malhotra: Ryan Kesler may have been preordained as the Selke nominee from the Canucks this season—but people around the team will tell you that newcomer Manny Malhotra has been just as important (if not more) to the team for keeping the puck out of their own net. His 61.7% faceoff percentage is 2nd in the league (Steckel) and he starts 75% of his shifts in the defensive zone. When Alain Vigneault has utilized a stopper unit, Malhotra has been centering it. His near catastrophic eye-injury last month has drawn attention to what he’s done for the Canucks, but it’s still hard to believe he’ll get any of the votes already headed Kesler’s way.

Deserve more consideration

Ryan Callahan: Looking at hockey’s advanced statistics, Ryan Callahan’s name shows up all over the place. He plays against the best competition (relative to CORSI) and is still putting up good numbers on both the offensive side and team statistics while he’s on the ice. Of course, playing on the same line as Brandon Dubinsky, playing wing (not center), and the NY hockey writers boycotting the vote won’t help at all. But he should probably get more consideration than he’ll get.

Anze Kopitar: The Los Angeles Kings launched a mini-effort for Kopitar to receive some recognition for his two-way play before he was sidelined with a gruesome ankle injury. He’s a team-best +25 and Terry Murray has trusted him with some of the toughest match-ups the league has to offer. On most nights, the Kings head coach trusted the young Slovenian to match-up against the opponent’s best lines, shut them down with strong two-way play, and still lead his team in scoring. If he’s getting noticed this year, he may get a little more recognition next year.

David Backes: Being +28 on a team that isn’t going to be close to making the playoffs should count for something; especially considering the fact that the next best forward on his team is a +14.  Throw in 209 hits this season and it’s easy to see he’s been doing things the right way when he doesn’t have the puck.

Dave Bolland: Ryan Callahan may play against the strongest competition when it comes to CORSI, but if we were to look at relative plus/minus of the competition, Bolland is drawing the hardest assignments in the league. Suffering an injury when the voters are looking for candidates certainly won’t help his cause, and neither will sharing the same jersey as Jonathan Toews. Regardless, Bolland should be somewhere on the “others receiving votes” list this year.

What about you? Who do you think should be the three finalists this year for the Selke Trophy? Let us know in the comments.

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.

Report: Former NHL referee Devorski to stop by Jets camp

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There is heightened focus on penalties right now and the Winnipeg Jets have taken the step of bringing former NHL referee Paul Devorski to training camp for help.

The league is cracking down on slashes and faceoff infractions right now, although according to Sportsnet, Devorski’s influence at Jets camp will go beyond just those two calls.

From Sportsnet:

The retired NHL referee will be at training camp on Friday where he will officiate the team during battle drills to give Jets players a better sense of how to stay within the rules.

NHL teams reaching out to the league to consult on officiating is not new, but having a referee work on-ice with a team is a less common step.

Currently many NHL teams are consulting with the league over more hot-button issues like slashing and faceoff violations, but the Jets focus with Devorski will be on past issues.

Around the league, it will be interesting to see if there is an increase in the number of penalties called, especially early on, and if so, the possible impact that will have on the games once the regular season gets going next month.

Per Michael Traikos of the National Post, there had been 91 slashing penalties called through 19 exhibition games in which real-time statistics were kept prior to Wednesday’s slate of games.

“It definitely changes how you have to defend. Those reactionary slashes of the stick, taps to the hands, are so ingrained in a defenceman,” Eric Gryba told Sportsnet. “If they stay as rigid on the rules as they are right now… the whole makeup, landscape of the D-corps is going to change, from top to bottom. Everyone is going to have to be a better skater to defend.”

The new tweak on faceoffs has also garnered some critics. Like Brad MarchandHe isn’t a fan.

“The slashing [penalties] is one thing, but this face-off rule is an absolute joke. That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play all year like that,” Marchand told CSNNE earlier this week.

“Basically you have to be a statue. You can’t move. It takes away from the center iceman. I think there was even a play [in the game I was watching] last night where a penalty was called on a 4-on-4 before play on the first penalty had even started because of a draw.”

While the Jets are seeking the knowledge of a seasoned official to help them stay out of the penalty box beyond slashing and faceoff violations, it seems the entire league is in for quite a learning experience over these next few weeks.

Canucks, Kings ‘put on a show’ during first NHL preseason game in China

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SHANGHAI (AP) A golden dragon was held aloft on poles by skaters. Kobe Bryant appeared on video. NHL mascots gave the crowd a primer on what this odd game is all about.

NHL preseason hockey made its debut in China – a 5-2 victory by the Los Angeles Kings over the Vancouver Canucks – in a step by the league to crack an immense market.

The fans in Shanghai got a fast and physical display Thursday – 17 power plays and 57 shots on goal, all met with loud cheers. Each hard check drew a collective “oooh” or “aaah.”

“Obviously, you wanted to put on a show for the fans here and they got to see some goals, too,” said Vancouver forward Sven Baertschi, who scored the Canucks’ first goal.

An announcer came onto the ice to explain the finer points of the game as Fin (Vancouver’s killer whale) and Bailey (Los Angeles’ lion) acted out infractions such as charging, crosschecking, tripping and hooking.

A golden Chinese dragon came out next, hoisted on poles by seven skaters. A group of Chinese kids in hockey uniforms joined the NHL players during China’s national anthem.

With Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the NHL is showcasing two preseason games in a country unfamiliar with hockey. The Kings and Canucks play their second game in Beijing on Saturday.

Even if the rules remain somewhat of a mystery, the crowd appreciated the speed and collisions.

“To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know the crowd, the noise, the atmosphere,” Los Angeles coach John Stevens said. “I think the whole thing for me is we’re here to grow the game. It’s my hope that the more they see it, the more people like it.”

Tanner Pearson scored twice for the Kings and Alec Martinez and Jeff Carter each had a goal and an assist. Jonathan Quick made 31 saves.

Team allegiances were hard to find in the crowd, the most demonstrative fans being rowdy Canadians waving their country’s flag.

Spectator Inge Zhang was more appropriately attired for an NBA game, wearing a Miami Heat jersey with pink letters. A media manager for the Shanghai Sharks basketball team, she was excited because she heard a certain NBA great might be there.

“So we came here actually for Kobe Bryant,” she said while her friend laughed. “But I love this sport, too.”

Bryant, in fact, did show, although in a video message to support his hometown Kings.

“I see more foreigners here tonight than Chinese, but I think there are still a lot of hockey fans in China,” Zhang added. “I think the NHL should take this opportunity to grow the sport here.”

That’s the plan now that the NHL has signed a contract to bring two preseason games to China for six of the next eight years.

“The effort here really is to build from the grassroots up, to try to grow the appreciation for the sport, the understanding of the sport,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said before the game. “We’ve certainly made the Chinese Ice Hockey Federation and the Chinese government aware that we’re willing to help any way we can as they gear up and prepare for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.”

But this is the first step in a long process.

“It’s great for China itself to see the NHL live and in person, see the speed of the game, how good the players are,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “But whenever you’re bringing hockey to a new country, it’s going to take time. I think it’s great the NHL is committed to doing that.”