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.

PHT Morning Skate: This season’s top five breakout performers

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Jake Allen wore a special U.S. Navy tribute mask during last night’s game against the Coyotes. It’s really a gorgeous mask. “The blue and yellow complements our colors well, and it’s a great tribute to the Blue Angel pilots who have the honor of flying and performing across the country.” (NHL.com/Blues)

–With every NHL season, there are surprises and disappointments. Rather than focus on the negatives, The Hockey News breaks down the top five breakout seasons in 2016-17. At the top of the list is Panthers forward Jonathan Marchesault, who is shockingly closing in on a 30-goal season. Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson and Boston’s David Pastrnak have also made names for themselves. (The Hockey News)

–It’s no secret that NHLers are forced to travel a lot, but each team makes the most of their road trips in different ways. For example, Kevin Shattenkirk and the Capitals enjoy fine dining when they’re away from home.  “It’s so easy to go to the top names or the ones that you hear of all the time, but when you go to a lot of these cities, the food scenes everywhere now are really starting to improve. A lot of my friends naturally are foodies. They bring me to some of their places. Even just a simple Google, most of the times, the first two things that come up are Yelp or TripAdvisor, and I usually go a couple down and look at a local newspaper, if they have the best spots to eat in 2017. I like to focus on those.” (Washington Post)

–The Tampa Bay Lightning found themselves down 4-1 in lasts night’s game against Chicago, but they were able to battle back and win in a thrilling overtime period. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Tonight will mark the first time that Jordie and Jamie Benn play against each other since the trade that saw the older Benn head to Montreal. The Canadiens took the opportunity to ask their Benn some questions about what it was like growing up with his brother. Here’s a sample question: “Of the two of you, which one is Peyton and who is Eli?” (NHL.com/Canadiens)

–This year’s rookie class with Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski, Mitch Marner and Matt Murray is one of the best in recent memory, but which other freshmen classes stand out? BarDown takes a look at the top five rookie classes since 2000. (BarDown)

–Capitals forward Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky had some fun during picture day. The two players showed up to the rink with some pretty poofy hair. There’s no point in me trying to explain it when you can see the pictures for yourself. (NHL.com)

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.