Bergeron, Couturier, Kopitar are 2018 Selke Trophy finalists

2 Comments

NHL awards season is upon us and Wednesday brought the finalists for the 2018 Selke Trophy, given to the league’s best two-way forward.

The nominees, who are voted for by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association at the conclusion of the regular season, are Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.

Bergeron is a four-time winner who could become the all-time leader for Selke wins, passing Bob Gainey, if he takes home the hardware in June. Couturier is a first-time finalist, while Kopitar won the award in 2016 and has been a finalist in four of the past five seasons.

The winner will be announced on June 20 at the 2018 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case For Patrice Bergeron: This is a record seventh consecutive nomination for Bergeron, passing Pavel Datsyuk’s streak of six seasons.

A perennial contender, Bergeron put together another solid season despite dealing with injuries that limited him to just 64 games — something that could hurt his chances of winning a record fifth trophy.

Still, Bergeron paced the league in CF% (Corsi-for percentage) with 57.68 percent (minimum 600 minutes played). He was also sixth in face-off win percentage (57.3 percent) and was an NHL-best 58.3 percent on faceoffs while shorthanded.

The 32-year-old, who won the award in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2017, finished with 63 points, his best season in terms of points per game. Bergeron hit the 30-goal mark for the fourth time in his career.

The Case For Sean Couturier: Couturier had a career-year in terms of goals (31), assists (45) and points (76) playing in all 82 regular season games for the Flyers.

Couturier, getting his first Selke nomination, benefitted from a move to left wing for Claude Giroux, and the line that formed with the duo flourished all season.

Couturier was leaned upon by the Flyers and was second in the NHL in minutes with 1,770:31 and third in average time-on-ice at 21:35 per game.

Couturier’s possession metrics were solid, finishing with a 53.2 percent CF%, which was highest on the Flyers.

A win for Couturier would make him the first Flyers Selke winner since Dave Poulin in 1987 and just the third in franchise history (Bobby Clarke won in 1983).

The Case For Anze Kopitar: The 2016 winner is a finalist for the fourth time in the past five seasons, and he has, arguably, the strongest case this season to return to the podium.

The 30-year-old had a bounce-back season this year, scoring a career-high 35 times on his way to a career-best 92 points, good for seventh in NHL scoring.

Kopitar led all NHL forwards in ice time with 1,810:58, an average of 22:05 per game. This is all the more impressive given that the Kings were the top club in the league in terms of team defense, allowing a league-low 2.45 goals per game.

Kopitar was also a force shorthanded, averaging 2:10 per game on the NHL’s top penalty-killing unit.

And his faceoff prowess has never been better, taking 37 percent of the Kings’ faceoffs, the third-highest percentage in the NHL. His faceoff win rate of 54.1% led the Kings and also marked a career-best.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Vezina Trophy

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Patrice Bergeron might win the 2011-12 Selke Trophy

17 Comments

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?

8 Comments

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

2 Comments

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

2 Comments

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.