What Exactly Is A Selke Candidate?

Selke Finalists from NHL News


So what exactly is a Selke Candidate?

Seems like that should be a pretty straightforward question.  First you have the Wiki description.

The Frank J. Selke Trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League  forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.

So what does that mean.  Should it go to the “best defensive forward?”  or the “best two-way forward?”  or the “best forward that also plays defense?”  We will take a look at this year’s options for candidates and pick our own winner.

Well the first thing we are going to start with is to look at centers.  Centers are usually the best defensive players on a line.  And if you aren’t the best defensive player on your own line then you really aren’t the best defensive forward in the league.  So let’s look at some centers.

And, per usual, the advanced hockey stats used here are 5on5 and come from behindthenet by Gabriel Desjardins.

Best Defensive Forward

When looking at the best defensive forwards it make sense to start with the “defensive specialists.”  Those players who play against the top offensive lines in the league.   Two of the best known of these types of players are Manny Malhotra and Samuel Pahlson.  And of course over the last couple of years Dave Bolland.

Looking at these types of players you see that they are the guys going up against the top level talent.  Dave Bolland had the highest QoC rating for forwards in the league.  You see them playing in a lot of tough situations, especially in defensive zone draws.  You expect these guys to be outshot and they usually are.  So most of the time their job is to try and limit the damage of the top offensive players in the league.  Occasionally however, a player like Dave Bolland, shown above, actually “wins” these toughest in the league matchups and scores more against the top players in the league than he is scored upon.

So should a player like Dave Bolland win the award?

Top Line Candidates

There are a number of top players in the league with the reputation of playing the other team’s top players.  These guys go top line against top line, mano-a-mano, and let the better line win.  Players like that, of course include Pavel Datsyuk who is a multi Selke award winner, Joe Thornton and Mike Richards.

While Richards responsibilities changed this year from previous years, Datsyuk and Thornton still have those high Quality of Competition values.  And yes, theses guys play the best and “win.”

So should the Selke be awarded to one of them?

Offensive Candidates

OK, so there are a number of players who are thought of around the league to be more offensive in nature.  I know fans in Chicago know that Jonathon Toews is a two-way player but if you ask fans in other cities you might hear that he shouldn’t be eligible.  Same for Henrik Sedin.  But why not?  So what about these guys?

Well first off, when looking at these players, offensive players generally get more offensive zone starts then is typical for defensive specialists.  However, some of them play against just as tough, and in some cases tougher, opponents than the so-called defensive specialists.  When a player like Toews who is up against the same level of talent as a player like Datsyuk and performs as well or even better, shouldn’t he be a candidate too?

I also noticed that it is really no longer fair to put Ryan Getzlaf in the offensive category.  Starting in the 2009/10 season, Getzlaf is much more of a two-way player.

So why shouldn’t players like this be considered candidates?  Just because they are viewed as more of an offensive forward?

Second Line Players

Now there are a number of second line centers that actually take on the other teams’ top lines.  These guys have a reputation of being on “hybrid” lines where they defensively match up against the other teams top line but are much more likely to score – at least compared to traditional checking lines.  Players like Dubinsky in NY, Weiss in Florida and, of course, Ryan Kesler in Vancouver.

Looking at this list, Dubinsky has maintained his role of playing against the other teams top end talent.  Weiss and Kesler, on the other hand, have dropped down in their level of competition.

My One Simple Rule, “The Kane Clause”

Now I have a pretty simple rule on the Selke Award.  I think you need to have at least the same Quality of Competition level as a player like Patrick Kane to win the award.  Basically, if you are in a more offensive position on your team then Patrick Kane is on the Hawks, then you aren’t the best defensive forward in the league.

Let’s look at Ryan Kesler some more…

The Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks matched the opposition’s lines differently.  The Hawks matched Bolland against other teams’ top lines.  The Toews line then usually matched up against the next toughest opposition line.

The Canucks’ Sedin line generally faced the toughest opposition line.  Again even though the twins are thought to be more offensive than defensive, they had the hardest defensive responsibilities for Vancouver.  The next toughest responsibility went to Malhotra’s line.

Both Toews and Kesler took over a tougher assignment when their respective checking line centers were injured.  It is just that Toews would take on the other team’s top line.  Kesler generally took on the second toughest opponent.  When this is all said and done, Kesler played a role on the Vancouver Canucks that would generally be given to a line made up of one-way offensive players.  There is just no way that Kesler should be viewed as the top defensive player in the league.  Maybe the year before, but not the 2010/11 season.

So Who Should Have Won The Award?

Well, what is the Selke?  To me it is the guy who faces the absolute toughest competition mano-a-mano and wins. The person that best personifies that for the 2010/11 season was Dave Bolland.  He had a truly wonderful season.  The thing is, the league typically does not give the award to the best defensive specialist but to the best two-way player.   So it is the guy playing against the best and dominating offensively.

So using the advanced stats found at behindthenet, in my opinion there should be two criteria: 1)  find the top players playing against the toughest competition, and 2) pick the guy who dominated the most.  This is pretty easy. I took the top 10 players ranked by Quality of Competition and sorted them by their “+/- per 60 minutes of play.”  And the top three candiates were:

Dave Bolland had an exceptional year considering he played with considerably less talented linemates, in the toughest situations, against the toughest opponents in the league.  There would be no objections from me if Dave Bolland had been given the award.

Pavel Datsyuk had another very good year, but with injuries it wasn’t as dominant as some seasons past.  Still if Pavel Datsyuk won there wouldn’t be any arguments from me.

I’m pretty happy with anyone on this list.  However, Johnathon Toews had the most dominant year of the top players playing the top level of competition.  And he was a much better candidate this year than Ryan Kesler, who seems to have possibly won the award for past performances, not for the work he did this year.  For this year, I would give it to Toews.

Tags: Behind The Net Chicago Blackhawks QoC Quality Of Competition Quality Of Teammates Stats Zone Starts

  • IndianHeadCrest

    Freakin’ brilliant

  • JulianneOmlam

    Solid post. Though your hypothesis is correct “Kesler isn’t a Selke candidate” your conclusion “Toews should’ve won” is preposterous.

    I appreciate the effort here, and you come by the mistake honestly – but there are some flaws in your methodology. First off: throw out relative corsi/ON (it doesn’t adjust for zone-starts). Secondly, QoC is useful to compare players on the same team, but Toews having higher QoC numbers than Sedin or Kesler center isn’t that meaningful.

    Finally, you have to incorporate adjusted fenwick/corsi so that a players situational deployment is taken into account. Toews looks like he dominated opponents, but actually, he was very average based on un-blocked shot differential (Adjusted Fenwick) especially considering he was the 2nd most sheltered center in the league. Adj Fenwick is less luck based than +/- and when you use it, the Selke nominees should’ve been Malhotra, Nielsen and one of Ward, Bergeron or Bolland.

    Kesler shouldn’t have been nominated, but Toews’ nomination was even more hilarious. Giving the Selke to a guy who starts over 60% of the time in the offensive zone is a joke.

  • Kent_Wilson

    Toews was dominant because his zone start was nearly 62.1% – one of the highest in the entire league. He played against good players, but had the high ground most of the time.

    Bolland is a far more deserving candidate. His ZS was nearly half that of Toews – 34.2%.

  • DaleHalas

    @IndianHeadCrest Thanks IHC, appreciate the comment.

  • DaleHalas

    @Kent_Wilson Hey Kent, thanks for stopping by. Really like your stuff at HotH and the Flames blogs.

    I agree it is hard to win the Selke when you have a Hart candidate on your line. You just don’t get the zone starts to be viewed as a “defensive player.” It’s totally different when Toews plays with Hossa, he just doesn’t play with him enough.

    Hawks have an overall 54/46 split offensive to defensive ZS. So Bollands’s QoC and ZS numbers were pretty indicative of how much Q values him defensively. And I agree that if I was giving out the award it would have gone to Bolland. Basically, I would have taken any of those three over Kesler…

  • Kent_Wilson

    @DaleHalas@Kent_Wilson That makes sense – Kelser was a more of Selke candidate last year than this season.

    I think Toews is probably good enough to play in tough circumstances and survive – he just hasn’t had to yet. Bolland is the man in CHI currently when it comes to the Selke.

  • DaleHalas

    @Kent_Wilson You know it is interesting to see how Toews is viewed inside and outside of Chicago.

    Inside Chicago, Toews is viewed as a defensive player because he is a +25 on a line WITH Patrick Kane.

    Outside of Chicago, Toews is generally viewed as an offensive player BECAUSE he plays with Kane.

  • semi_colon

    I don’t know if you can really compare players on different teams based on QoC. I don’t like that stat to begin with because there are too many factors going into it, but using it to compare across teams and divisions is a bit off, because not everyone plays everyone else the exact same amount.

    I also think that the reason players like Henrik and Toews see “high” QoC while having high Ozone% is because a lot of them time most coaches will put their best players on the ice against those guys (who will also probably have high +/-), so it looks like they are facing tough competition, but it’s more so in the offensive zone compared to actually playing against them in the defensive zone. Basically what Kent said.

    I would say guys like Bolland, Malhotra, and Nielson are more deserving of the Selke than Kesler or Toews, but the way the award seems to be given out these days tends to be to the guy “who gets the most points but we think he backchecks good too”.

    Playing against tough competition while starting in the offensive zone over 60% of the time isn’t nearly as tough as playing tough competition while starting in the D zone over 60% of the time.

  • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

    @semi_colon Hey semi,

    First regarding QoC. Although there is some “noise” involved with QoC, couldn’t your argument *against* QoC actually be used as an argument *for* it?

    “Because not everyone plays everyone else the exact same amount” is the reason QoC is so useful. It normalizes and quantifies the level of competition.

    Toews and Henrik inherit their high QoC’s mostly from playing against top lines like you said. If they solely faced checking lines, their QoC’s would be lower because checking line players are often “one dimensional” and not as great a scoring threat.

    I think we agree that guys like Bolland and Malhotra are among the best defensive forwards. Although I somewhat agree with the league’s stance that a more well-rounded candidate is deserving of the award, if you go by the letter of the law, neither Toews nor Kesler’s names would be in this conversation IMO.

  • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

    @semi_colon To add…

    The area I disagree with Neal is where he states:

    “Quality of Competition level as a player like Patrick Kane to win the award. Basically, if you are in a more offensive position on your team then Patrick Kane is on the Hawks, then you aren’t the best defensive forward in the league.”

    Neal lists Kane’s QoC, but doesn’t show his Ozone% which I know is pretty high (weak). Only by using BOTH QoC and Ozone% can you make that determination IMO.

    I’m assuming Vancouver, like the Hawks, had a majority of their starts in the offensive zone? If so, Kesler at 50% suggests that he was used more defensively than Kane, despite his QoC being lower.

    To me, when comparing Kesler and Toews, they both have strong Corsi and +/- stats. Toews’ weak Ozone% and strong QoC are a wash with Kesler’s stronger Ozone% but weaker QoC.

    So it’s a toss up, and you then have to look at other data like giveaways/takeaways (as was suggested by Canuckles on NM) and everything else including offensive production.

    Kesler winning the Selke this year is similar to Keith winning the Norris in 2010. Both their numbers were actually better the year before, but it takes time to build a reputation – and reputation often wins the individual hardware.

  • DaleHalas

    @semi_colon Semi, first off, I think I said, if it was up to me I would give the award to Bolland for the year he had.

    I then said the way it is typically awarded it should go to Toews.

    And there is no argument that players have an easier time when faced with more offensive then defensive zone draws. It’s just that I will pick the player with more offensive zone draws and tougher opponents compared to a player with a more equal offensive to defensive zone ratio but against considerably lesser opponents.

    As for your argument about Henrik and Toews, that is exactly my point. Opposing coaches match those guys with their better players. This means they are in fact, often facing as stiff or stiffer competition then the so called defensive specialists. So they have to play a more two-way game then they are normally given credit for.

    For Vancouver this year you most certainly can compare Henrik, Kesler and Malhotra and see that Kesler was third in defensive responsibilities.

    Kesler played Sharps role for the most part on the Hawks as compared to Bolland or Toews who took on tougher matchups.

    Campbell although a defensiveman for the Hawks had a similar role as Kesler did. And although he had a wonderful defensive year, nobody in Chicago would dream of Campbell winning the Norris.

  • semi_colon

    @DaleHalas Regarding Henrik and Toews, they may be playing tougher competition, but starting in the offensive zone is a huge advantage as opposed to starting in the defensive zone in terms of how “stiff” the competition will be, and even though you’re playing against “tough” competition, you are on the offense as opposed to defending against them.

    And I think you might be confusing QoC with “defensive responsibilities” there. Kesler may have been 3rd in QoC, but it’s not fair at all to say he was behind Henrik in defensive duties. A guy that starts 70% of the time in the offensive zone isn’t taking defensive duties, even if he is facing “tough competition”.

    I guess my issue is that you are using QoC as a main factor, but not really taking into account the context . To me, a high QoC with high Ozone starts would be “easier” than a high QoC with low Ozone starts, and the Ozone starts give a better idea of who is drawing the “defensive responsibilities”

    The Selke is just a really really hard trophy to quantify, which is why I think it is debated/confusing most of the time.

  • semi_colon

    @John Schultz Yeah, I agree that you need to look at the context behind the QoC.

  • semi_colon

    @John Schultz The reason I don’t like it is because it gets skewed based on the strength of your division and your team. If you have a strong team (like Vancouver last year), you’ll probably have a higher +/- ratio compared to the other teams in your division, so when you play them the multiples times that you do it will drag down your own QoC because you’re playing guys who played you and you scored a lot of goals against. (this is a big roundabout thing here)

    I don’t know how BTN calculates it, but from what I read they don’t do any sort of recursion to eliminate some of that stuff, and because of that I don’t think it’s that great for comparing between teams.

    So guys on the Canucks would have lower QoCs than the Hawks because the NW sucks, and the Central is pretty good. Unless I’m completely missing how they do the calculations.

    And I do agree with your last point.

  • DaleHalas

    @semi_colon Sorry, I completely disagree with you. The disparity in line productions has a much bigger impact on probability of success then zone starts. And it is a big factor of difference. So I will always rank “who you play against”, “where did you start” and “who won the draw” in exactly that order of importance.

    And I am using QoC correctly. The twins had to perform much more of a two-way game then did Kesler. They played more guys capable of scoring then Kesler did. At least until Malhotra was injured. That is indeed one of my points in my article.

    If the award is based on two-way play INSTEAD of best defensive player then I will rank a player higher with a high QoC and favorable zone starts over a player with a much lower QoC and less favorable starts; Every single time.

  • semi_colon

    @DaleHalas It isn’t enough to just look at the QoC and say “this guy played tougher competition than this guy, therefore he must be a better 2 way player”. Playing against tough competition and actually being able to do so successfully are two different things.

    Henrik played “tougher competition” than Kesler did, yes. But he was also on the ice for more Goals Against/60 than any of the other Canucks forwards (not counting Lapierre since he wasn’t there for the full season). Meanwhile Malthotra and Kesler were 3rd and 4th respectively.

    Then what about his teammates? Henrik had a whopping .469 QUALTEAM, while Kesler was at -0.042.

  • DaleHalas

    @John Schultz@semi_colon Sorry John, The Kane reference was the only place where I was being purposely flippant in talking about Kesler. :)

    I’ll give you the same answer I gave semi, QoC, ZS, FO Wins are important in that order. Kesler and Toews’ QoC’s and ZS’s are NOT a wash. If they were there would be SO many other more deserving Selke winners.

    BTW, Bollands .121 QoC is a much bigger indicator of Q’s respect for him then his ~30 zone starts. Coach Q will match Bolland to the top line regardless of where they start over saving him to use in a defensive zone draws.

    It’s actually the offensive coaches use of his top lines that more impacts the defensive specialists zone draws. You will see that with Bolland in particular.

  • DaleHalas

    @semi_colonMy argument was pretty simple here. “Who played against the toughest competition and won in the most dominating fashion?”

    If you are going to look at a two-way player instead of a defensive player, then I think that is the correct approach to take. Who cares who got scored on least? In a “two-way” question you only care about who had the bigger differential.

  • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

    @DaleHalas@semi_colon We’ve got this conversation going on three different sites! I just apparently countered your point above over at SCH.

  • DaleHalas

    @John Schultz@semi_colon I know I am having trouble keeping up. I responded over there.

  • http://paperstreetbrigade.com/blog Bard

    No Frans Nielsen?

  • DaleHalas

    @Bard Islanders kind of bounced around their lines a lot right? Typically to get up in the top end competition wise a center has to either always be on the top line going against top lines or a checking line guy going against the top lines.

    Also, Taveres ended up with slightly higher competition numbers then Nielsen did. So if you are going to be known for your defensive or two-way skills, the coach has a lot of impact in making that happen.

  • DaleHalas

    @semi_colon@John Schultz You know semi that Nucks Misconduct site is pretty messed up. You have John over there ripping that Nucks blogger for poor behavior and the Nucks own moderator agreeing with John and rec-ing the post. That’s just a mess…

  • http://paperstreetbrigade.com/blog Bard

    @DaleHalas Moulson-Tavares-Parenteau was pretty much the top line all season. Comeau-Bailey-Random was supposed to be the second line and Random-Nielsen-Hunter was the shutdown line. Injuries though caused the shutdown line to become Grabner-Nielsen-Okposo, with Grabner and Nielsen doing a ton of work on the PK too.

    I’m not a big advanced stats guy, but I think that Tavares and Nielsen are close enough in QoC that the difference comes down to other teams not wanting to put their top lines against the Nielsen line if they had last change.

  • DaleHalas

    @semi_colon BTW, semi, Simple Plus/Minus, number of goals each player scores, and well you know Wins, are all “stats” affected by who teams play against. And using your logic you really shouldn’t compare any of those numbers between teams because the teams play a different group of opponents.

    And although you have a point here, it really isn’t as big a deal as you think. The twins win the +/- battle against “their” opponents compared to their teammates. If what you are concerned about was a huge factor then there would be no way for the twins to have a larger QoC compared to the Canucks other lines. If your concern were true they would “skew” themselves out of their own higher QoC numbers. Obviously they don’t.

    Anyway, I’m pretty cool with what I did here in grabbing the highest 10-15 QoC guys. I didn’t rank players from that list I just used it for a “pool.” Any variance in those numbers due to “recursion issues” is covered in the number of players in the original pool.

    And again your point is also valid for +/-, Goals, Wins, etc. The Canucks as candidates for the President’s Trophy are affected by this. The twins as candidates for the Hart are affected by this. Who you play and don’t play against and how often affects the outcome of all stats.

  • semi_colon

    @DaleHalas@John Schultz It’s not a dictatorship or an exercise in group think. People are allowed to disagree with what others say and write.

  • DaleHalas

    @semi_colon Yeah, semi but that is way beyond a difference of opinion. cam charron’s integrity as a blogger or even a “member of the human race” was in question and the moderator agreed with John so much he “rec”ed the post.

  • semi_colon

    @DaleHalas You are you talking about? Section isn’t a moderator

  • semi_colon

    @DaleHalas Who are you talking about? Section isn’t a moderator

  • DaleHalas

    Sorry, I thought Section was a Nucks Misconduct “bouncer.” Mixed up you and him in the conversations. We were bouncing around too many sites yesterday…

  • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

    @DaleHalas Let’s all let it go. We can all agree via stats though that absolutely all Nucks fan’s are pyromaniacs and all players on their roster are divers, right?

  • cliffkoroll

    Fascinating as usual Dale. Seems like the Selke tilts toward offensive numbers more than the description would suggest (kinda like the Norris).

    The stats you provide are interesting, but they need to be looked at in totality. To semi’s point, Henrik drew a tougher QoC than Kesler, but Kesler (and Malhotra’s) GA/60 are impressive nonetheless, and Kesler and Datsyuk’s Corsi #s are also impressive, considering their zone starts. Good stuff.

  • DaleHalas

    @cliffkoroll And that’s what I don’t think people are doing. You have to look at who you are playing against for the context to matter. It’s like playing the Lakers and having one player hold Kobe to 15 points and another to hold Mat Barnes to 6. And everybody is talking about what a great job the guy did holding Barnes to 6…