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The Latest 2016 Selke Trophy Rankings in the NHL

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2016

The Latest 2016 Selke Trophy Rankings in the NHL

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    This June, the NHL will present the Frank J. Selke Trophy to the forward who best excelled in the defensive aspects of the game in 2015-16.

    The winner of the award is determined at the end of the regular season through voting by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, who will each rank their top five candidates. Each vote earns a player a certain number of points, the top three vote-getters are announced as finalists and the winner will be called to the stage to accept the hardware at the annual summer awards ceremony.

    The fraternity of Selke finalists has become quite an exclusive group. Over the last several seasons, we've started to hear many of the same names announced for top honours in this category year after year.

    This season, those top candidates are all in the mix again, but some interesting challengers and up-and-comers are making cases for their inclusion in the voting.

    Not on the list—Nicklas Backstrom. He's having another tremendous season with the Washington Capitals but manages to stay so low-profile that, once again, he'll probably fly under the radar with the voters.

    With less than three weeks to play in the 2015-16 campaign, here's how the candidates are lining up for Selke consideration this year.

8. Sean Couturier: Philadelphia Flyers

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    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    2015-16 Scoring: 54 GP, 9-24-33

     

    Key Selke Stats (from Hockey Reference)

    • 48.0 percent on faceoffs
    • 52.3 percent Corsi For
    • 58.5 percent defensive zone starts
    • plus-eight
    • averages 1:59 of short-handed ice time per game on ninth-most-penalized team

     

    Selke History: In his four full seasons to date, Sean Couturier has received Selke Trophy votes three times. His best finish was ninth in 2013-14.

     

    Why He's a Candidate

    Not too many 18-year-olds step directly into a high-responsibility role as a two-way center just a few months after they're drafted. Couturier proved to be the exception to the rule with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011-12. Since then, he has continued to excel in his role in spite of his youth and a good deal of organizational turmoil. He's already on his third coach in just his fifth NHL season.

    This year, Couturier suffered the first significant injury of his pro career, missing the better part of a month starting in late January. His absence underscored his importance to his team: During the 12 games he was out of the lineup, the Flyers went 4-5-3. Since his return on Feb. 23, the team has gone 9-4-2 and fought its way into wild-card contention in the Eastern Conference.

    Couturier's return has had a direct effect on the team's defense. In the 13 games since he got back into the lineup, the Flyers have surrendered an average of 2.54 goals a game, compared to 2.83 goals per game while he was sidelined.

    At 23 years old, Couturier hasn't quite reached the same level as today's top defensive forwards, but he's on his way. In future, watch for him to be battling it out with fellow young guns like Ryan O'Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres and Mark Stone of the Ottawa Senators as part of the next wave of elite Selke candidates.

7. Pavel Datsyuk: Detroit Red Wings

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    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    2015-16 Scoring: 57 GP, 16-27-43

     

    Key Selke Stats (from Hockey Reference)

    • 53.9 percent on faceoffs
    • 59.0 percent Corsi For
    • 37 percent defensive zone starts
    • plus-11
    • averages 0:05 of short-handed ice time per game as part of NHL's seventh-most-penalized team

     

    Selke History: Pavel Datsyuk won three straight Selke Trophies between 2007-08 and 2009-10. The 37-year-old was also named a finalist in three straight years between 2010-11 and 2012-13.

     

    Why He's a Candidate

    Starting a decade ago, Pavel Datsyuk set a new standard for what a two-way forward could be—great on faceoffs, defensively stifling and also offensively dazzling—capable of scoring highlight-reel goals and setting up his linemates to score beauties of their own.

    Injuries have limited Datsyuk's contributions to his team over the last few seasons, but now that the Detroit Red Wings are fighting for their playoff lives, once again it's Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg who are leading the team's charge for its 25th consecutive postseason appearance.

    Datsyuk can't do everything he used to do. His penalty-killing responsibilities, for example, have decreased significantly from his younger days. All told, though, when he's on his game, he's still one of the best in the league.

    The Selke votes that Datsyuk receives this season will be earned—not just token nods based on an impressive overall body of work.

6. Jonathan Toews: Chicago Blackhawks

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    2015-16 Scoring: 73 GP, 25-25-50

     

    Key Selke Stats (from Hockey Reference)

    • 58.5 percent on faceoffs
    • 52.9 percent Corsi For
    • 43.1 percent defensive zone starts
    • plus-15
    • averages 1:29 of short-handed ice time per game on NHL's 24th-ranked power play

     

    Selke History: Jonathan Toews has finished in the top six in Selke voting for the last six consecutive seasons. He has been a finalist four times and won the award in 2012-13.

     

    Why He's a Candidate

    As usual, Toews' faceoff performance has been outstanding this season—the third-best percentage in the league among players who have taken at least 500 draws, behind Matt Duchene and Ryan Kesler. 

    The rest of his numbers, however, have taken a bit of a dip. Toews is below his usual offensive pace, his Corsi For percentage is the lowest since his rookie season and even his plus-15 is below his usual standards. 

    Don't get me wrong—his numbers aren't poor. They're just not as good as we've been accustomed to seeing from one of the preeminent two-way players of the last several years.

    Toews will still earn some votes on Selke ballots, but it's unlikely that he'll hear his name called as a finalist this year.

5. Joe Thornton: San Jose Sharks

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    John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

    2015-16 Scoring: 73 GP, 17-53-70

     

    Key Selke Stats (from Hockey Reference)

    • 52.4 percent on faceoffs
    • 56.3 percent Corsi For
    • 43.2 percent defensive zone starts
    • plus-27
    • averages 0:02 of short-handed ice time per game on NHL's sixth-least-penalized team

     

    Selke History: Joe Thornton has received Selke votes in nine of his last 10 NHL seasons. His highest finish to date was 14th place in 2014-15.

     

    Why He's a Candidate

    Now 36 years old, Joe Thornton may not be the San Jose Sharks captain any longer, but he is still the team's top dog in many ways. He leads the Sharks in scoring, and his plus-27 ranking ties him for fourth place in the entire league.

    Sharks TV analyst Bret Hedican told Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area that he is seeing the evolution of Thornton's game, which is making him a Selke contender. "He’s made that commitment because he wants to win a Stanley Cup," Hedican said. "He knows that in order to win a Stanley Cup, he has to be a three-zone player. He’s elite in all three zones."

    "Yeah, this guy plays as hard coming back into our end as he does going offensively," added coach Peter DeBoer. "Unless you watch him closely, you don't realize that. He's got tremendous respect from the guys on the team, the coaching staff, for how hard he works away from the puck. Never mind the points he puts up." 

    Ten years ago, Thornton won the Hart Trophy as most valuable player when he led the NHL with 125 points in 2005-06. This year, he's close to MVP level again. A Selke nomination would likely be a valued consolation prize, but like Hedican says, at this point the Stanley Cup is the only trophy that really matters.

4. Ryan Kesler: Anaheim Ducks

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    2015-16 Scoring: 72 GP, 17-27-44

     

    Key Selke Stats (from Hockey Reference)

    • 59.0 percent on faceoffs
    • 54.0 percent Corsi For
    • 61.2 percent defensive zone starts
    • plus-two
    • averages 2:49 of short-handed ice time per game on NHL's best penalty-killing team, which also ranks fourth overall in the number of times short-handed

     

    Selke History: Ryan Kesler was a Selke Trophy finalist three times with the Vancouver Canucks. He won the award five years ago, in 2010-11.

     

    Why He's a Candidate

    Kesler's offensive production no longer matches the 41 goals and 73 points he posted when he won his previous Selke Award—and those are the kinds of numbers that most of this year's top candidates are achieving. Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau thinks it's an unfortunate voting trend.

    "To me, he's the perfect Selke candidate," Boudreau told Curtis Zupke of the Los Angeles Times. "But people look at [offensive] numbers now for that award. But he plays against every top line in the league — him, [Andre Cogliano] and [Jakob] Silfverberg — and they've been doing a great job."

    On a Ducks team that puts top-line center Ryan Getzlaf in the most favorable offensive situations, Kesler's high percentage of defensive-zone starts underscores the load that he shoulders. The Ducks rank second in the NHL with 168 goals against. At the time of Zupke's March 19 article, Kesler's faceoff percentage ranked him fifth in the league, and he was also the NHL's top shot-blocking forward.

3. Sidney Crosby: Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    2015-16 Scoring: 71 GP, 31-45-76

     

    Key Selke Stats (from Hockey Reference)

    • 52.0 percent on faceoffs
    • 54.3 percent Corsi For
    • 46.5 percent defensive zone starts
    • plus-15
    • averages 0:26 of short-handed ice time per game as part of NHL's sixth-best penalty-killing team

     

    Selke History: Sidney Crosby has received Selke Trophy votes in four of his 10 seasons to date. His best finish was 15th in 2012-13.

     

    Why He's a Candidate

    A red-hot second half to the NHL season has vaulted the Pittsburgh Penguins comfortably back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture—and pushed Sidney Crosby into the top three in the league scoring race.

    Crosby has rediscovered his offensive mojo, but just as impressively, he has been playing a serious, committed 200-foot-game that has made the Penguins the fifth-best defensive team in the league. That's a new wrinkle for Penguins group that has been known for its run-and-gun style ever since winning the Stanley Cup back in 2009.

    With just 10 games left on Pittsburgh's regular-season schedule and 16 points separating Crosby from Patrick Kane in the league scoring race, it's unlikely that Sid will be able to challenge seriously for the scoring title—or for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

    Voters may decide that Crosby deserves to be rewarded for his impressive late surge—and his improved commitment to two-way play. Don't be surprised to hear his name called as a Selke Trophy finalist.

2. Anze Kopitar: Los Angeles Kings

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    2015-16 Scoring: 72 GP, 24-43-67

     

    Key Selke Stats (from Hockey Reference)

    • 52.9 percent on faceoffs
    • 56.6 percent Corsi For
    • 48.1 percent defensive zone starts
    • plus-32 (No. 1 in NHL)
    • averages 2:06 of short-handed ice time per game on NHL's 14th-best penalty-killing team

     

    Selke History: Anze Kopitar has finished in the top 10 in Selke voting for the last five seasons. His best showing was second place, behind Patrice Bergeron, in 2013-14.

     

    Why He's a Candidate

    No longer content to try their old routine of sneaking into the playoffs as a low seed, the Los Angeles Kings have come to play this season. Currently sitting fourth overall in the NHL standings, the Kings take care of their own end first, letting their offense flow from from their league-best defense.

    Again this season, big Anze Kopitar has been a beast, leading all forwards on his team in ice time and playing hard minutes—on the penalty kill, in his team's own end and in the faceoff circle.

    It seems inevitable that Kopitar will win a Selke at some point in his career, but he'll likely have to settle for runner-up status again this year because one other player has been even better.

1. Patrice Bergeron: Boston Bruins

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    2015-16 Scoring: 71 GP, 28-33-61

     

    Key Selke Stats (from Hockey Reference)

    • 57.3 percent on faceoffs
    • 54.6 percent Corsi For
    • 56.8 percent defensive zone starts
    • plus-12
    • averages 2:10 of short-handed ice time per game on No. 9 penalty-killing team

     

    Selke History: Patrice Bergeron has won the Selke Trophy three times—in 2015, 2014 and 2012. He also placed second in 2013 and has two other top-five finishes.

     

    Why He's a Candidate

    Did you see Bergeron back-checking during this year's All-Star Game? The man can't help himself—he's out to make life miserable for his opponents no matter what the situation.

    Bergeron's faceoff percentage and his Corsi number are both a little lower than last season, but he has made up for those dips with one of his best offensive years in quite some time. He has also made the players around him better during a bounce-back season for a Boston Bruins team that's now looking to make some noise in the playoffs.

    Bergeron remains the class of the field among the league's defensive forwards. He will almost certainly walk away with his fourth Selke this June—an honor that would tie him with Bob Gainey of the 1970s Montreal Canadiens and seal his name in history.

    Did I mention that he's only 30 years old? When all is said and done, Bergeron could well be remembered as the best two-way forward of all time.

     

    Stats courtesy of NHL.com and Hockey Reference

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