Boston’s Patrice Bergeron will have a shot at the Selke Trophy three-peat — and his fourth nod as the league’s best defensive forward — but Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar and Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler will stand in his way.
The NHL announced the Selke finalists Thursday night with Bergeron, Kopitar and Kesler as the top three vote-getters for the award given to “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.” Both Bergeron and Kesler have won the award before, but Kopitar, who has been a finalist in each of the past two seasons, has never taken home the hardware.
Unlike other awards that can be judged off of pure statistics, the voting for Selke can be a lot more vague. Really, each of the three have good cases for the award.
When Kopitar was on the ice at 5-on-5 for the Kings this season, Los Angeles scored 62.5 percent of the goals for, and the Slovenian national managed a shot attempts for percentage of 57.4 percent while starting roughly 30.5 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone. And Kopitar was very heavily relied upon by the Kings. Only two forwards, Buffalo’s Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly, averaged more ice time per game than Kopitar.
It’s going to be tough for Kopitar to pry the award away from Bergeron, though. The Bruins center has bested Kopitar and Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews for the honor in each of the past two seasons, and even before a new season begins it seems inevitable that Bergeron will again be in the mix for the Selke. This season, Bergeron not only had one of the best offensive seasons of his career with 32 goals and 68 points in 80 games, but he skated the third highest average ice time of his career and was remarkable defensively, as always.
At 5-on-5, Bergeron’s on-ice goals for percentage was 56 percent, he maintained a shot attempts for percentage of 55.9 percent and he started nearly 34.5 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone. Compared to his teammates, Bergeron was a puck possession monster, and voters who paid attention to his ability to drive the play from the defensive zone could give him the nod for that. Those in favor of more traditional stats might note Bergeron had the seventh-most takeaways of any player.
As for Kesler, who won the award in 2011 over Toews and three-time winner Pavel Datsyuk, he might be in the toughest position in terms of taking home the trophy. While he did start close to 41 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone, which is the highest of the three finalists, he had a sub-50 percent on-ice goals for percentage at 5-on-5, as well as the worst possession rate. However, those who put a lot of stock in faceoff victories may lean towards Kesler. His 58.5 percent faceoff win percentage was the second-best among the 53 players who took at least 1,000 draws this season.
You may notice that, once again, all the finalists are centers, which will make 2016 the 12th straight season that a pivot has won the award. Not since Dallas Stars winger Jere Lehtinen won the Selke in 2003 has a winger won the award, and a center has won the award in 26 of the 37 seasons since it was first presented in 1978.
The Selke will be handed out June 22 at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
(All advanced stats via Puckalytics.com)