Selke Trophy may return to the East

By Ian Altenbaugh

 

Photo: Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron is strong at both ends of the ice, but he is also the top face-off artist in the NHL (courtesy of

Will Schneekloth/Icon SMI)

To the new or casual hockey fan, the Frank J. Selke Trophy is an award given at the end of every NHL season to the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game. The winner is selected by the Professional Hockey Writer's Association following the regular season. The 2011 winner of the trophy was Vancouver Canucks center, Ryan Kesler.

Below are Hockey's Future's three nominees for the Selke Trophy.

Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins – Early in 2003-04, Bergeron's rookie season, it was obvious even then that the talented center possessed an innate understanding of the defensive side of hockey. Fast forward eight years and Bergeron is among, if not THE, top defensive forward in the NHL. Deployed most of the season with wingers Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, Bergeron has been tasked with shutting down opposing teams' top forwards, killing penalties, and contributing on the first-unit power play, all of which he has done with brilliant equanimity.

The 26-year-old finished the season among the top face-off men in the league, taking 1641 draws and winning 59.3 percent of them. His 973 faceoff wins are tops in the league by a wide margin. He also led the league with a plus-36 rating. In general, he sees no favorable match-ups during the 18:34 he averages per game, a luxury most top forwards on a team are afforded. In fact, he is often the first man in the defensive zone when the puck is turned over and is often the third forward in an offensive breakout.

There are few players as responsible in their own end as Bergeron so it is quite a shock that he has never been nominated for the award in the past. He seems like a lock for at least a nomination in 2012, if not one of the favorites to win the award.

Jordan Staal, C, Pittsburgh Penguins – Long known as one of the top young defensive players in the league, 23-year-old Jordan Staal finally had a breakout offensive season in 2011-12, managing 25 goals and 25 assists in just 62 regular season games. More impressive, however, is how Staal has done it, playing almost perfect hockey in all three zones. Possessing the reach of a pterodactyl and the gait of a Clydesdale, Staal is able to create match-up nightmares for opposing players at both ends of the ice. He seems to have added a great deal of strength over the last year and has absolutely dominated in deep and along the boards, even while the Penguins are killing a penalty.

Playing in the Atlantic Division, Staal was tasked with containing the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Gaborik, or Claude Giroux in even-strength situations and for the most part was effective in those assignments. But his greatest contribution may be on the penalty kill, where he was an integral member of the NHL's number three-ranked penalty killing unit which allowed the fewest shots while short-handed (313) and the second fewest goals (33). Staal is also one of only two players this season (the other being Flyers rookie Matt Read) to manage over 20 goals while averaging more than 2:30 of ice time on the penalty kill. He also had three short-handed goals this season and averaged over 20 minutes a game. The Penguins' record with Staal in the lineup this season is 40-22 including overtime losses. Without him it is 11-9.

A finalist for the Selke Trophy in 2010, it seems like only a matter of time until Staal wins the honor, though considering it is typically awarded to prominent veteran players, he may have to wait a few more years.

Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles Kings – Though Kopitar is not producing at the offensive clip he did in 2009-10, when he managed 34 goals and 47 assists, it is because he has focused on becoming a complete two-way player. A prodigious talent from his first game in the NHL, Kopitar has become one of the top players in the faceoff circle this season, winning 763 of 1418 attempts and overtaking teammate Jarret Stoll, long considered one of the best in the league, as the go-to face-off man for the Kings.

Like Staal and Bergeron, Kopitar is used in all situations for the Kings, playing top-six minutes while seeing 2:14 on the fourth-best penalty killing unit in the NHL. He leads all Kings forwards with 53 blocked shots and his 76 takeaways rank ninth in the NHL.

His value to the Kings this season has been punctuated by an exiguous offense that averaged only 2.29 goals per game and, aside from Kopitar, saw no player crack the 60-point barrier.