If Patrice Bergeron is one of the top two runners-up for the 2012 Frank J. Selke Trophy, Boston Bruins fans can only hope he does not lose to a Detroit Red Wing whose candidacy is needlessly helped by past success.
Boston captain Zdeno Chara―or, more accurately, his apologists―ought to know that feeling. As one of three Norris Trophy nominees in 2010-11, Chara lost to Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom, who collected the seventh top defenseman laurel of his career.
This despite the fact that Chara had a career-high, league-best plus-33 rating, whereas Lidstrom finished with a negative rating (minus-two) for the first and only time in 20 NHL seasons.
Let’s be honest, Lidstrom only beat Chara and Nashville’s Shea Weber because he had the otherworldly resume and reputation. There was that and the fact that he had tallied 62 points, the second-most among all NHL blueliners that year.
Funny, this author thought the Norris was bestowed annually upon the top defenseman of the year. Kind of thought that, accordingly, the nominees and eventual winner should be judged, first and foremost, by how they did their day job in their own zone within that particular season.
If there is any justice, that will not happen again. Detroit pivot Pavel Datsyuk, who joined Bergeron and St. Louis Blues’ forward David Backes as this year’s Selke finalists on Monday, should not be rewarded just for winning it three times before.
Likewise, the fact that Datsyuk (67 points) exceeded both Bergeron (64) and Backes (54) in terms of offensive output should have little, if any, bearing on the final ballot.
Just a reminder that the Selke is supposed to go to the league’s best defensive forward. By definition, the topmost emphasis should be placed on a forward’s defensive performance in even-strength action and on the penalty kill.
In that regard, come June 20, the Selke should be welcoming a first-time recipient in either Bergeron or Backes. This should be a two-man footrace determined by their respective teams’ defensive campaigns and their individual influence.
St. Louis finished seventh in NHL penalty killing with an 85.8 percent success rate. Bergeron’s Bruins placed No. 11 under that column at 83.5 percent. Detroit was tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for No. 17, having survived 81.8 percent of their infractions.
Bergeron and Backes each had a hand in three shorthanded goals for their respective teams. Datsyuk had zero despite collecting more points overall than either of his fellow finalists.
Backes and Bergeron are leaned upon more when their defensive side is most critically needed, namely when their team is shorthanded.
Over the 2011-12 regular season, Datsyuk placed second among Red Wings forwards in total ice time per night at 19:34. But Darren Helm, Drew Miller, Danny Cleary and Justin Abdelkader all saw more action on the penalty kill. They each saw an average of anywhere from 12 to 64 additional seconds of shorthanded action per night.
Backes, who had a plus-15 rating on the year and is the most physical of the three finalists, averaged 19:59 total ice time per game to lead all St. Louis forwards. But his average shorthanded ice time was exceeded by two other Blues forwards in T.J. Oshie and one-time Bruin Vladimir Sobotka.
Bergeron led all Bruins forwards in penalty-killing time with an average of 1:48 minutes per game as well as total ice time with a nightly median of 18:34.
And he not only led the league with a plus-36 rating, but also helped sophomore linemates Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin finish in the 30-range. And he did that while dealing with the first-, second- and fourth-most potent strike forces from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Ottawa, respectively, more often than Backes had to.
In terms of defensive forwards, Bergeron was plainly the most reliable on a team that finished sixth in the league with 2.43 goals-against per night. Backes was virtually the same on a Blues team that led the NHL with only 1.89 opposing strikes per game.
But are the Bruins and Blues this defensively stingy because of Bergeron and Backes, respectively, or is it the other way around?
Well, Boston finished first or second in team defense each of the previous three seasons after Bergeron came back from his 2007-08 concussion. Backes stood alone last year with a plus-32 rating on a non-playoff team that finished in a tie for No. 17 and then helped them improve to regal status, downturn to plus-15 aside.
Safe to say that, in both cases, the team owes its success a little more to the individual than vice versa. Although, Backes’ defensive transcript grew less radiant this year even while the team has grown collectively stingier.
In the 2011-12 regular season, Oshie tied Backes’ plus-15 rating, while fellow Blues forwards David Perron and Alexander Steen eclipsed him at plus-19 and plus-24, respectively.
Assuming Datsyuk is this year’s decisive third-rate Selke candidate, as he should be, the size of the fish in Boston and St. Louis’ ponds could be the tiebreaker.
Bergeron is not only this year’s plus/minus leader among all NHL skaters, but of the three finalists, he is the only one to lead all forwards on his team in that category. Even while Boston finished behind St. Louis in even-strength and shorthanded defense, Bergeron is arguably owed a greater percentage of credit for his club’s success than Backes.