Tag: Selke Trophy

Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron might win the 2011-12 Selke Trophy


A year ago, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron was just shy of being nominated as one of the three Selke Trophy finalists, which goes to the NHL’s top defensive forward. This time around, Bergeron might nab the award.

The contest for the Selke Trophy is a bit unique in the sense that the statistics associated with success defensively are a bit more obscure and, in some cases, in dispute. For example, the value of a player’s plus/minus rating is open to debate. With that in mind, a forward’s reputation for doing all the little things necessary to help his team win is important. That’s something Bergeron has working for him.

In addition to finishing fourth in voting last season, Bergeron is having a great season both with and without the puck. He leads the league in faceoff wins and has a stunning 59.5% success rate on the draw. On top of that he has 61 points in 79 games, which might not directly factor into the award, but it does help him get the voters’ attention in the first place.

“With our system there’s no blowout out of the zone or cheating. He’s often the last one of the defensive zone, or the second-to-last one out,” said teammate Chris Kelly. “But he still manages to create a lot of offense in the system. It’s a lot of skating. He’s working every single night. It’s not like there are easy nights where he’s cheating like some other guys in the league do that recognized a little more for their offensive numbers.”

It’s also worth noting that two of last season’s three finalists, Jonathan Toews and Pavel Datsyuk, have missed a significant amount of time due to injuries this season. Meanwhile, 2010-11 award winner, Ryan Kesler, is having something of an off season by his standards. There are other worthy candidates, but Bergeron certainly seems to be in a good position to claim the award.

Does the hockey world need to judge Norris and Selke Trophy candidates differently?

Nicklas Lidstrom

If there’s one lesson to take from Michael Lewis’ game-changing book “Moneyball,” it’s that traditional ways of thinking aren’t always correct. When it came to baseball, it was just illogical to treat walks as if they were borderline irrelevant, so on base percentage continues to push batting average to only the simplest discussions of that game.

The problem with hockey is that it’s simply not as easy to boil down to simple numbers as baseball. While baseball has an obvious point of action (pitch) and reaction (batter attempting to defeat that pitch), NHL games feature thousands of invisible calculations. Giveaways and takeaways might seem like reasonable hockey stats until you realize that another teammates’ mistake (in the case of some giveaways) or great forechecking pressure (in the case of some takeaways) often has as much to do with such an event as the players who are credited or penalized.

The murky nature of major NHL defensive stats makes me wonder: do we need to change the way we determine Norris and Selke Trophy candidates? In other words, are we depending on faulty defensive statistics and perceptions to decide these awards?

While Ryan Kesler deserves individual accolades, I’m not so sure he was even the best defensive forward in Vancouver. As Kent Wilson sagely pointed out, checking center Manny Malhotra absorbed a lot of the most disadvantageous situations to allow Kesler and Henrik Sedin to dominate opponents. Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was quick to admit that Kesler gained attention for his goals as much as for his defense.

“You know, I’m not quite sure about the description for that trophy,” Vigneault said. “All the guys that are up for it are great two-way players. They’re not the defensive type players that you had in the past like Guy Carbonneau or Bob Gainey who were really there to shut down the opposition. We never really asked [Kesler] to shut down anyone.”

While Kesler might have been a shaky choice in a highly literal sense, he was probably the best defensive forward of the three finalists. I’m not so sure the same can be said for Nicklas Lidstrom being the best all-around defenseman in 2010-11, however. While it’s great to see him win another Norris Trophy from the standpoint of pumping up his well-earned legacy, Lidstrom played only 23:28 minutes per game to Zdeno Chara’s 25:26 time on ice and Shea Weber’s 25:19. Lidstrom’s defensive numbers were – at times – disturbingly pedestrian, especially compared to his lofty legacy and his more leaned-upon colleagues. Lidstrom was great in the regular season, but he didn’t seem as crucial to his team as Weber or Chara was to theirs.

With his extensive penalty killing duties and strong faceoff skills, it’s easy to accept Kesler as the Selke winner. Lidstrom’s victory smells of name recognition, emphasizing points far too much for a defenseman and a general deficit in defensive stats that don’t require an accounting degree, though.

Obviously, these award ceremonies are for fun more than anything else. Still, if the league wants people to look back at different eras and say “That guy was the best defensive forward of that year,” then we might as well try to find him. Right now, I don’t think we’re really trying hard enough.

Ryan Kesler takes home Selke Trophy, breaks Pavel Datsyuk’s three-year reign

Ryan Kesler

Pavel Datsyuk had won the Frank J. Selke Trophy three years in a row as the NHL’s best defensive forward. Datsyuk was aiming to make it four in a row but Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler had something to say about that as he took home his first Selke Trophy beating out Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews for the award.

Kesler’s season in helping shut down opposing top centers on top of scoring 41 goals and having 65 takeaways, 80 blocked shots, and delivering 124 hits on top of being a top faceoff man helped put him over the top as the league’s best defensive forward. While Datsyuk had great numbers of his own, he missed 26 games this season. That was 26 missed opportunities to dazzle the voters. Expect Datsyuk and Kesler to do battle over this award for the coming years as they’re easily the game’s two best.

The talented two-way forward came close to winning the Selke last year, but ran away with the voting. 105 of the 127 first-place votes. Earned 1,179 points, far ahead of runner-up Jonathan Toews’ 476.

Kesler reflected on his distinguished season shortly after collecting the Selke.

“I pride myself on being hard to play against and I think that’s what that award is all about,” Kesler said. “Forty-one goals and then being named for the Selke … it’s a season I’ll never forget.”

That being said, Kesler admits that it doesn’t take away all the pain from falling just one win short of the Canucks’ first ever Stanley Cup.

“Obviously it’s nice to get acknowledged but at the end of the day that [the Stanley Cup] is the trophy we all want,” Kesler said. “It’s still hard to swallow now, but I’m sure in the next couple of weeks we’re going to look back and realize we had a great season, and we came one game away. Obviously it wasn’t our goal to come one game away, we wanted to win.  But we did a lot of things as an organization that we’ve never done before.  We won a Presidents trophy, and we did a lot of things. Time heals all wounds, right?”

Kesler fought hard through rumored injuries and truly burst onto the scene when he dominated the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference semifinals. It seems like a safe bet to expect Kesler’s name to come up in Selke discussions for a long time to come, even if his margin of victory might not ever be so substantial.

PHT makes the case for the Selke Trophy finalists

Vancouver Canucks v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Six

The Frank J. Selke Trophy might be one of the most subjective awards in all of sports. By definition, the Selke goes to the NHL forward who “demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.” Unofficially, the award goes to the best all-around forward in the NHL. There’s a reason that all three finalists are also amazing offensive talents. The three finalists this season should know their way to The Palms in Las Vegas—because they were all nominated last year as well.

Here are PHT’s best arguments for each of the three finalists to win the coveted award.

Matt Reitz’s case for Ryan Kesler:

The award for best defensive forward oftentimes goes to a great player who happens to play well on the defensive side of the puck. Both Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews had good seasons—but neither were on the same level as Kesler. And let’s be honest, it’s hard to give any award to Datsyuk because he missed 26 games.

Ryan Kesler actually fits into both roles—he’s a great player who happens to also be great defensively. He’s had a great all-around season and is an extremely good defensive player. His 57.4% faceoff percentage was tied for 6th in the league; and he won more faceoffs than anyone else in the league NOT named Jonathan Toews. He was in the top 10 with 3 shorthanded goals while killing penalties and served as the teams emotional leader as he lead all Vancouver forwards in blocked shots and takeaways (and was fourth in hits). Not bad when you consider Manny Malhotra plays on the same team. Oh, and he dropped 41 goals to finish in a tie for 4th in the league. That helps get a little attention.

Joe Yerdon’s case for Pavel Datsyuk:

Well really, what isn’t there to like about Pavel Datsyuk? You want a center who can defend and score and he can do that. He had 71 takeaways during the season. That total was good for 11th in the NHL. Sure that doesn’t seem impressive until you realize he missed 26 games this season. He won 54.6% of his faceoffs and also scored 23 goals with 36 assists.

He can defend against your best forwards and score against your best defenders. He’s a threat to steal the puck away anytime he’s on  the ice and he’s been lauded for his defensive work already in the past winning the Selke Trophy the last three years in a row. Ryan Kesler might’ve had a great year, but he’s still wearing Pavel Datsyuk underpants each day when it comes to playing defense.

James O’Brien’s case for Jonathan Toews:

I agree with Matt regarding Datsyuk; missing 26 games eliminates him despite his greatness. While Kesler is a great candidate, both players seem to follow an interesting pattern in that they probably weren’t the best defensive centers on their teams (Kesler had Manny Malhotra; Toews had Dave Bolland) but dazzled as two-way players.

Ultimately, I think Toews deserves the Selke because a greater burden was put on his shoulders. The Vancouver Canucks shared the wealth at center (Henrik Sedin was counted upon more for scoring while Malhotra took plenty of draws in his own zone) while the Chicago Blackhawks counted on Toews to be Mr. Everything. (Again, Bolland helped, but Toews was often on an island.)

Toews won the second most faceoffs in the league. He came in second in the NHL in takeaways with 93 to Kesler’s 65 and Datsyuk’s 71 (it’s a nebulous category, but people usually love to cite it when choosing Datsyuk). The hockey world is still refining its methods of measuring great defensive play, so in the mean time, go with the guy who’s doing the most at each end of the ice. Toews fits that bill in 2010-11.

Vancouver Canucks officially confirm Manny Malhotra is cleared to play, listed as day-to-day

Manny Malhotra

In almost every playoff game, a player’s individual toughness emerges to a startling degree. Just look at Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos shaking off a puck to the face as an example that even the “pretty boys” fight through jarring pain.

Even with high expectations for their tolerance to pain, it’s still difficult to get jaded when hockey players keep topping themselves. Rumors were already circulating that Vancouver Canucks center Manny Malhotra was pushing toward a possible playoff comeback, but the team announced that he has officially been cleared to play. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said that Malhotra is day-to-day and would not discuss his lineup for Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. In other words, a Game 1 return isn’t guaranteed, but it remains a tantalizing possibility.

No doubt about it, Malhotra’s comeback would be one of the most unlikely in recent hockey history. There were many people who thought that Malhotra’s career – not just his regular season and playoffs – would end after taking a puck to the eye that required two surgeries.

Who knows how close Malhotra could be to the player he was during the 2010-11 season, but the two-way center could be a great asset for Vancouver in what should be a tight defensive series. He was actually my mid-season pick for the Frank Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward, a stance that probably left me alone among hockey writers. Still, when you look at Kent Wilson’s breakdown of Malhotra’s importance to the Canucks, it shows just how strong a player he really is/was.

One of the reasons Malhotra is so effective in his “defensive only” role is his incredible ability to win draws. Most of the time I consider face-off skill to be rather unimportant since most players are +/- 50% on the dot. Malhotra, though, is an extreme outlier. This season he finished with a 61.7% win rate, trailing only New Jersey’s David Steckel (62.3%) by that measure. As a result, Malhotra won the second most defensive zone draws amongst centers this season with 296 and he likely only trailed the leader (Steve Ott) because he missed the final 10 games of the year. Malhotra’s win rate in the defensive zone was even higher, a mind-boggling 63.5% at even strength. This is notable because as Gabriel Desjardins has noted in the past, losing a defensive zone draw can spike shots and chances against in the immediate aftermath. As Gabe says “it’s as though you gave the other team a 10-15 second power-play. For several seconds, the rate of shots allowed is as high as it is on a 5-on-3.”

This issue is especially pertinent in one goal games and, obviously, when killing penalties. Naturally, Malhotra also figured prominently on the Canucks penalty kill this season, averaging a team high 2:45 a game a man down. He won the second most draws on the club (136) on the PK behind only Ryan Kesler (138), again primarily because Kesler played the whole season and Malhotra didn’t.

The effect of Malhotra’s absence ripples across the Canucks line-up. It means guys like Ryan Kesler and Maxim Lapierre are forced into more defensively oriented positions at even strength. It means less defensive zone face-off wins in general and it lowers everyone elses zone start ratio across the board.

When you look at the success of strong puck possession teams like the Detroit Red Wings, it’s no coincidence that their systems operate more smoothly when they dominate in the faceoff circle. Malhotra is the kind of player who quietly makes the Canucks’ system work.

Since Rod Brind’amour retired, Malhotra and a few other players (such as Jarret Stoll) are among the truly “elite” guys when it comes to winning key draws. If Malhotra is reasonably healthy, he makes an already formidable Canucks team that much deeper down the middle. We’ll keep you updated if Vigneault reveals lineup information closer to the first puck drop on Wednesday.