Derick Brassard, Marc Methot

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.

Red Wings approach training camp with an expensive goalie situation

Detroit Red Wings' Petr Mrazek (34) replaces goalie Jimmy Howard (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

There was a stretch in January when Petr Mrazek wasn’t unbeatable, but it may have felt that way. He allowed only 12 goals during a nine-game stretch. Subsequently, he posted a 7-1-1 record that month.

Then, there was a stretch in February and into March when he gave up 24 goals in eight appearances, including a trio of five-spots and that got people talking. His coach, Jeff Blashill, said at the time that such a run in January — citing a .956 save percentage — simply wasn’t sustainable and that Mrazek’s struggles a short time later were part of the ebb and flow of a season.

When the playoffs began, Jimmy Howard started the first-round series versus Tampa Bay but gave up seven goals in two games, before giving way to Mrazek for the final three games.

Over the summer, the Red Wings and Mrazek were able to come to an agreement on a two-year, $8 million deal just before the two sides were to have a scheduled arbitration hearing.

That is a large raise from the $737,500 average annual value Mrazek was making on his entry-level contract. The Red Wings now have more than $9 million dedicated to both Mrazek and Howard in the salary cap.

Howard, 32, is signed for three more years at $5.29 million. He posted a 14-14-5 record, with a .906 save percentage, which is well below his career average of .915.

General manager Ken Holland — he’s under pressure — has offered conflicting takes on Howard’s future prospects in Detroit, saying he had thought about trading the veteran goalie but then he made the case to keep Howard almost as insurance in goal, as Detroit continues to develop Mrazek as the true No. 1.

“Some teams have goalies that make $8 million, $7 million,” Holland told the Detroit Free Press. “We’re on the higher end in terms of the money we’ve got in net, but we see goaltending as a strength for us.”

Blashill told MLive.com during the winter that he went into last season with a three-week plan to alternate between Howard and Mrazek, to see which of those two goalies could separate themselves and take charge of that No. 1 position.

The plan this time around will be one to keep an eye on when the season begins. It’s shaping up right now to be an expensive one.

Coyotes hire skating guru Dawn Braid, believed to be first full-time female coach in NHL history

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes have hired Dawn Braid as skating coach and say she is believed to be the first full-time female coach in NHL history.

Braid has a long association with the NHL.

She worked part-time for the Coyotes last year and has served as a skating consultant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames.

Braid also spent seven years with the Athletes Training Center as director of skating development. Among the skaters she worked with while there is New York Islanders center John Tavares.

From NHL.com:

“Dawn has wanted to put me in to make myself a more powerful and efficient skater,” Tavares told NHL.com in 2012. “Dawn always says, ‘If you didn’t train properly and do the certain things you need to do, you’re not going to be strong enough to do the things I want you to do.'”

Braid’s hiring continues the trend of full-time female coaches in men’s pro sports; she follows Becky Hammon of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs (2014) and Kathryn Smith of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills (2016) as the first full-time women’s coach in their respective leagues.

It’s all about experience for Red Wings sophomore bench boss Blashill

Detroit Red Wing training camp, day one
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

Let’s be honest: It’s probably not easy to replace a coach of Mike Babcock’s repute.

More than a year ago, Babcock went to the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs and is being paid a lot of money — an estimated $50 million over eight years — to coach in that market. Meanwhile, back in Detroit and with Babcock out of the picture, the Red Wings turned to Jeff Blashill as their new bench boss.

True, Blashill had spent time as a head coach in the USHL, college ranks and with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. But he had no experience as an NHL head coach prior to the 2015-16 season and just one season as an NHL assistant when he was part of Babcock’s staff in 2011-12.

After a 41-30-11 regular season record and another playoff appearance, the 25th straight in Detroit, the Red Wings were bounced in the first round. One of the priorities for general manager Ken Holland this offseason was to insulate Blashill by bringing in more experienced assistants.

The Red Wings hired John Torchetti, previously the interim head coach in Minnesota, and long-time Boston assistant Doug Houda. Those moves were part of a larger coaching shake-up within the organization, as Tony Granato left for a head coaching job at Wisconsin, goalie coach Jim Bedard was not brought back and assistant Pat Ferschweiler, who ran the team’s 13th-ranked power play last season, was reassigned.

Blashill told MLive.com that “player development” will be a large part of Ferschweiler’s role going forward.

“I think it’ll be a real benefit,” Blashill told the Detroit Free Press of the additions to the Red Wings staff. “Lots of years behind NHL benches. I’ve only had two years on an NHL bench. That’s a scenario where I can learn from their past experiences.”

It’s all about experience.

Two years ago, Blashill was touted by Holland as an “NHL coach in the making.” A month later, he was given a three-year contract extension to coach the Griffins, so clearly they thought highly of Blashill by keeping him as opposed to potentially losing him to another NHL club. A year later, he was tapped on to replace Mike Babcock.

In this case, patience may be required, too. That may be easier said than done from a fan’s perspective because as impressive as Detroit’s current run of consecutive playoff appearances is, they haven’t made it out of the first round in their last three tries.

“I think he’s a tremendous coach and I think he’s going to be in the League a long time. He’s had a lot of success at every level he’s been at except the NHL,” Holland told NHL.com.

“He did guide us to a playoff spot in a League when it’s hard to qualify for the playoffs, but I also think as you looked at our team last year, there were lots of decisions to be made and I think the experiences of last year are going to be important for Jeff.”

If the Red Wings place such a great deal of value on Blashill gaining experience, and leaning on the experience of veteran coaches beside him, it would seem then that they are willing to invest a substantial amount of time in him as he continues to grow and establish himself as an NHL coach.

But with such experienced assistant coaches having joined his staff this offseason, it makes you wonder about what could happen if the Red Wings struggle significantly or fail to make the playoffs.

“I think there’s always pressure in this job and there always will be and I welcomed that when I took the job,” Blashill told MLive.com this summer.

“But really, I don’t spend lots of time worrying about what could happen bad. I spend all my time worrying about how we’re going to do things to make sure we win.”

Bouwmeester named to Canada’s World Cup team, replacing the injured Duncan Keith

KANATA, ON - AUGUST 25:  Jay Bouwmeester #3 of Team Canada skates against Team USA during their exhibition game in the World Cup of Hockey on August 25, 2004 at the Corel Centre in Kanata, Canada.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/WCOH via Getty Images)
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St. Louis Blues veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has been named to Canada’s 23-man roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

He will replace Chicago Blackhawks blue liner Duncan Keith, who is rehabbing a right knee injury.

“As Duncan continues offseason rehabilitation on the right knee injury that he sustained last season, we understand his decision not to participate in next month’s World Cup of Hockey,” Blackhawks team physician, Dr. Michael Terry, said in a statement.

“We believe it is in his best interests to focus on getting stronger and not risk further injury.”

Bouwmeester, a left-handed shot just as Keith is, which maintains the left-right philosophy for defensive pairings, joins his Blues teammate Alex Pietrangelo on the Canadian roster.

The two not only play together in St. Louis, but they were matched together on the blue line for Canada when it won gold at the 2014 Olympics.

The decision is, well, an interesting one and open to plenty of debate, as the Team Canada brass opted to take Bouwmeester over other Canadian blue liners — right-handed shots P.K. Subban and Kris Letang among the names — with far more offensive production from the back end.