I don’t know what kind of a guy Frank J. Selke was, but he must have been some kind of awful.
The National Hockey League has a thing about naming awards and trophies after people, not accomplishments.
Baseball, basketball and football all have Most Valuable Player Awards. The NHL has the Hart Trophy, to show you.
There’s not a piece of hardware that the NHL gives out that isn’t named after a person, which means you need a cheat sheet to keep track of who means what.
Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings is the world’s best thief on skates. He wears a visor on his helmet, but he ought to wear a mask. If he did on the streets what he does in NHL rinks, he’d have a rap sheet that would make Kwame Kilpatrick blush.
The NHL names its award for the best defensive forward after Frank J. Selke, which means it’s honoring Selke, the longtime Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens executive of the '30s, '40s and '50s, by rewarding on-ice crime.
What’s next? The Al Capone Award for most creative tax evasion?
Datsyuk, this week in Las Vegas, just captured his third straight Selke Trophy.
This means that Datsyuk, for three years running, has been recognized by the league as being the best in pilfering the puck from the other guys. His face shouldn’t be in a program, it should be on post office walls across North America.
This description of the superstar Datsyuk may seem to be an oversimplification, but the NHL tracks takeaways, a politically correct word that means the same as stealing. Try being mugged and filing a police report that says the perpetrator committed a “takeaway.”
In the category of puck stealing, Datsyuk is consistently near the top, if not leading the thieves. He was at it again this season, finishing second in the whole NHL among forwards. That, combined with his other criminal activity, earned him Selke No. 3.
Datsyuk does all this while also being among the very best offensive forces in the league. He giveth AND he taketh away.
"This trophy is special for me,'' Datsyuk said in a phone interview. "I'm happy to represent the Red Wings. I hope it's not my last one.''
Talk about brazen; he hopes to strike again!
There’s an art to the grab, of course. Datsyuk doesn’t just smash a window and make off with the puck. He’s too refined for that.
First, you have to accept that Datsyuk with a hockey stick against his brethren isn’t a fair fight.
It’s like Michelangelo squaring off against Tom Sawyer in a battle of paint brushes.
Datsyuk uses his stick like the surgeons at Beaumont use their fingers.
It starts with what he does offensively. Datsyuk could stickhandle the puck on a bed of nails. He doesn’t ever lose the puck, he just gets tired of playing with it.
All he needs is a slab of ice the size of a welcome mat and you could spend the entire afternoon trying to touch the puck and all you’d get is an ice cold stick.
Datsyuk could stickhandle in a phone booth and never touch glass.
He uses that same aplomb when it comes to his petty crimes when he doesn’t possess the puck.
Datsyuk takes the puck away in stealth fashion. He doesn’t mug the other guy. He doesn’t drape himself all over his opponent and strong arm away the vulcanized disc of rubber.
It’s a “now you have it, now you don’t” kind of a thing.
He usually comes from behind you. Most of the good crimes start that way, I know. But even if you know he’s behind you, it doesn’t do you any good. In fact, Datsyuk could give you a call and set up an appointment and tell you that he’s going to relieve you of the puck and it wouldn’t mean jack squat.
A common method is for Datsyuk to glide up behind you and neatly use his stick to lift yours off the ice surface, mid-stickhandle. In a flash, he has the puck and is skating away with it. He does it so fast you’d swear he was playing with giant chopsticks, not a hockey stick.
Another modus operandi involves Datsyuk pretending like he doesn’t know you have the puck, allowing you to skate by him, presumably unnoticed. But then a flick of his stick later, he’s poke checked you, you’re sans the puck and he’s with it and you can’t wait to see what the security cameras show.
And he does it all with a wide-eyed, innocent expression on his face that suggests a lovable scamp.
Datsyuk never changes his expression; he always looks like a puppy who got caught piddling on the living room carpet.
But hey, do you want irony? You wanna hear the kicker?
Get this—Datsyuk just missed winning his fifth straight Lady Byng Trophy.
Translated: that’s the award the NHL gives out for sportsmanship and—I can barely stifle a grin as I type this—for gentlemanly conduct.
Only in the NHL can they honor a guy for stealing and being a nice guy, all at the same time.
But it’s true; Datsyuk really IS a perfect gentleman when he absconds with the puck.
Pavel, the Friendly Bandit.
Datsyuk, when reached for comment after his latest Selke Trophy, started singing like a canary. He was quick to implicate accomplices of the past.
"(Steve) Yzerman, (Sergei) Fedorov, (Igor) Larionov, I learned every day in practice from those guys,'' Datsyuk said. "I'm happy to disappoint a guy and make him not score on us. I want to score a lot, but I'm happy if they don't score on us.''
Pavel Datsyuk’s been “disappointing” guys in the NHL for eight years now. So that’s what he calls it, huh?
Again, try that at the local police precinct.
“Some guy, he committed a takeaway of my wallet! He REALLY disappointed me!”
Why are we parsing words? Datsyuk’s getting away!
Never mind—he’s already gone.