With NHL Awards set for June 24 in Las Vegas, our writers make a case for each nominee — Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews — winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.” Which player is most deserving of the hardware?
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
When you think of the best defensive forwards in hockey, Patrice Bergeron immediately comes to mind.
The Boston Bruins centreman and defensive whiz led the NHL in face-off wins with 1,015, finished third in face-off percentage at 58.6 percent and was routinely assigned with shutting down the top opposing forwards. Along with Zdeno Chara, he was critical to the Bruins allowing the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference.
“He makes you proud. [Bergeron] always plays against top players and produces versus top lines,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters on Tuesday.
Bergeron finished second in the NHL with a career-high plus-38 rating and led all Bruins forwards in average ice time. Not only that, the Canadian Olympian excelled on the penalty kill, helping the Bruins post the eighth-best mark in the league.
What more could one do on the defensive end? Nothing against Jonathan Toews (who missed some time at the end of the season) or the impressive season Anze Kopitar had, but Bergeron should be the choice here.
It is the third year Bergeron has been a finalist for the award, winning it only once after the 2011-12 season. – Jeff Simmons
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
For years Kopitar has been one of the more underappreciated defensive talents in the NHL.
The Slovenian ranked fourth in the league in plus/minus and when you consider his Kings were 26th in goals per game — Toews’s Blackhawks and Bergeron’s Bruins ranked second and third, respectively — that’s all the more impressive.
Not all superstars kill penalties, but Kopitar does it tremendously. In fact, no other player finishing in the top 30 in league scoring had more shorthanded ice time. He cuts off passing lanes effectively and his outstanding hand-eye coordination leads to him intercepting errant pucks often.
Kopitar is perhaps the one player in the league that most closely resembles three-time Selke winner Pavel Datsyuk. Not only can he ignite things offensively, but you can always count on him to help out in his own end.
He’s a solid face-off man and the only forward in the NHL to log more total ice time was Sidney Crosby. He was the best player on the best defensive team in the league. – Mike Johnston
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Nobody tackled tougher assignments this season than Jonathan Toews. According to advanced statistic that tracks quality of competition, the Chicago Blackhawks centre saw the best players other teams had to offer more often than anybody in the league.
Hey, when you’re nickname is “Captain Serious,” you can hand a lot of responsibility.
Toews did a great job of making sure his team started plays with the puck, winning 57.2 percent of his draws for the fifth-best mark in the NHL. He averaged 1:33 of shorthanded ice time per contest and popped three goals with his team at a manpower disadvantage.
Last year’s Selke winner may have a couple conscientious forwards in Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa beside him in Chicago, but overall, the Hawks don’t employ the same grinding defensive style you’ll find in Boston and L.A., where Toews’s competition for this year’s award play. That means his defensive work is all the more impressive and valuable, because it brings balance to a club that’s geared toward pushing the attack.
And when the other team’s best players push back, you know who’ll be sent on the ice to stop them. – Ryan Dixon