With the NHL Awards set for June 22 in Las Vegas, the three finalists for the Selke Trophy — awarded to “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game” as voted by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association — were announced Thursday.
Who is most deserving of the award? We break down each finalist, plus an honourable mention.
In today’s NHL, Patrice Bergeron is often the first name that comes up when conversation shifts to the Selke. He has been named a finalist for five straight years now, winning three of the last four awards.
The Boston Bruins alternate captain led his team in points (32 goals and 36 assists for 68 points in 80 games) this season and proved reliable in the faceoff circle. He led the league in faceoffs taken this year with 1,978 — that’s a career high, and the highest single-season total since Rod Brind’Amour’s Selke-winning season in 2006-07 (2, 047). He won 1,130 of those faceoffs, 389 of which were in the defensive zone, for a 57.1 per cent win rate.
Bergeron led his team’s forwards in short-handed time on ice with a total of 175:46, and placed fifth league-wide for short-handed faceoff wins with 128.
If he does receive the award, Bergeron would tie Bob Gainey for the most total Selke Trophies. (Gainey won four straight, beginning with the inaugural award in 1977-78.) He would also be the third player to receive the award in three consecutive years. (Pavel Datsyuk did so from 2007-08 to 2009-10.)
This is the third straight Selke nomination for Anze Kopitar, but both other times he’s been overshadowed by Bergeron. Might this be the year that changes it?
The Los Angeles Kings‘ $80-million man was the league leader in ice time among forwards, skating a total of 1,690:12 in 2015-16. He also played 174:44 shorthanded, good for 20th in the NHL.
Kopitar set personal career-highs in faceoffs taken (1,776) and faceoffs won (950) on the NHL’s third-ranked team defence. At plus-34, he ranked second in that category and third in shot attempts differential.
In the points department, the 28-year-old led his team in assists (49) and total points (74) and game-winning goals (8) to help the Kings finish second in the Pacific before being ousted from the first round of the playoffs by the San Jose Sharks.
The Pacific Division team boasted the league’s lowest goals-against average in 2015-16 (2.29) and had the top penalty kill. Kesler was a big help in both categories.
The 31-year-old centre also registered 21 goals and 32 assists this season, including four game-winning goals.
His faceoff stats are impressive: Kesler had the second-highest faceoff win percentage and led the NHL in faceoff wins in both the defensive zone (441) and when shorthanded (168). He also skated the third-most short-handed minutes among all forwards, behind Luke Glendening and Michael Grabner. He recorded a total of 92 blocked shots on the season to lead all forwards in that category, and led the Ducks in hits.
The Buffalo Sabres were the most improved team in the standings this year, and while there could be a number of reasons for that improvement (for one, see: Eichel, Jack) count O’Reilly as perhaps the biggest.
In addition to registering 60 points in 71 games this season, O’Reilly was one of the the league’s top performers in the faceoff circle. The 25-year-old ranked third in the NHL with 1024 faceoff wins and sixth when the team was short-handed. If that doesn’t bring O’Reilly into the conversation, consider this: On a minus-21 team, O’Reilly managed to end the season with a plus-8 rating. Not bad.