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

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