NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
When he took home All-Star Game MVP honors this past Saturday Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby managed to win one of the few awards in professional hockey that he had yet to claim in his ongoing Hall of Fame career.
It is definitely not the most important or relevant award he has won, and it will ultimately just be a footnote on his career when he hangs up his skates for good, but it’s still something to add to the collection that already includes three Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythe Trophies, two MVP awards, two Rocket Richard awards, two scoring titles, and a couple of Olympic gold medals.
There is however still one fairly significant award out there that he has yet to win, or even be close to winning.
That award would be the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward.
There is an argument to be made that he should at least get some consideration for it this season.
Will he actually end up winning it? Probably not, because the voting for the Selke Trophy tends to be more based on reputation than anything else. Largely because defense is such a subjective thing to measure, which is why the same handful of players end up in the top-three of the voting every season. It’s not that Patrice Bergeron, and Anze Kopitar, and Jonathan Toews aren’t great defensive players and deserving of the recognition (they are), but it’s long been decided that they are the best and they are always going to keep getting the attention because dominant defensive play from anyone else can be difficult to pick out unless you happen to watch them every single night.
When it comes to a player like Crosby, his career has been defined by offense and highlight reel plays with the puck.
[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]
His defensive game, no matter how good it has been, always gets overshadowed by that. When you are one of the best offensive players ever, that is certainly understandable.
Still, as his career has progressed he has started to get a little more recognition for his defensive game and has even finished in the top-10 in the Selke voting in each of the past three seasons.
Now, this isn’t going to be some argument that he is willingly sacrificing offense to improve his defense, because we hear that all the time with players like Crosby when they reach this point in their career. Nobody willingly gives up offense at any point in their careers. If a player can score goals, they are going to do it. Rather, a player’s all-around game tends to evolve more and their defensive game tends to improve because they can no longer score the way they did when they were in the early-mid 20s or in the offensive prime of their careers.
It is an adaptation to what their skills are at this point in their careers.
Entering Wednesday’s game against the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning Crosby is playing some of the most dominant two-way hockey in the NHL and has all of the numbers to back it up.
“I’d like to be in the conversation, for sure,” Crosby said of the Selke conversation during All-Star Weekend. “I think your play has to earn that. But I definitely want to be known as a player that’s responsible defensively. I want to be good offensively, but do it the right way. For the most part this year that’s been the case. I think you leave that up to others to watch and decide, but I take a lot of pride in being good defensively.”
Among the 240 forwards that have already logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time this season, Crosby is in the top-15 in shot attempt differential, scoring chance differential, and high-danger scoring chance differential. He is dominating play all over the ice and dictating the pace of just about every game he plays. All of that domination shows up on the scoreboard where the Penguins are outscoring teams by a 53-22 margin when he is on the ice during even-strength of player.
All of these numbers and rankings are among the best of his career.
Along with all of that he’s also been given an extended role on the penalty kill this season where he and his regular linemate Jake Guentzel have been called on to give the Penguins’ PK a different, more dangerous look.
He is doing pretty much everything you would want a Selke Trophy forward to do.
He plays big minutes against other team’s top players. He outplays them by a significant margin and not only outshoots, outchances, and outscores them, but also completely shuts them down. And now he is getting more time on the penalty kill which always seems to be a prerequisite for players to get any attentio in the Selke voting.
He has gradually climbed the ladder in this discussion in recent years, and given the way he has played this season in all phases and completely dominated a 200-foot game he might get even closer to snagging that one big individual award that has so far eluded him
MORE: Kendall Coyne Schofield to serve as NBC Sports analyst on Wednesday Night Hockey
Coyne will join the broadcast team of John Forslund (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst) and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) for the call from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Wednesday night.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.