Awards season is upon us, and the unveiling of the top-three in voting for the NHL’s individual hardware began Wednesday when the league announced the Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron, St. Louis Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly and Vegas Golden Knights’ Mark Stone as the top vote-getters for the Selke Trophy.
So, who wins the award? Well, the Selke is often one of the hardest awards to pin down. Unlike the Hart Trophy or Vezina Trophy, where goals and points and wins and save percentage and goals-against average rule, Selke voting often dives deeper. Penalty kill time is considered, as if faceoff percentage. Some voters might still take plus-minus into consideration, even if only in passing, while others will take a new-school, analytical approach to their ballot, looking at possession rates and goals percentages. But instead of a few numbers, it's the whole picture, offense and defense, that determines who wins the Selke.
No matter how voters came to their conclusions, though, here are the three forwards who will head to the annual awards ceremony hoping to hear their name called:
THE CASE FOR BERGERON
This almost feels like the first step towards what will be an end-of-season coronation, doesn’t it? Bergeron has already matched the NHL record for most Selke wins, capturing his fourth following the 2016-17 season. That puts Bergeron level with Bob Gainey, for whom the award was seemingly tailor-made when it was introduced in the late-1970s. But Bergeron’s play this season, a campaign in which he posted a career-best 32 goals and 79 points, seems like it could vault him past Gainey and into sole possession of top spot among Selke winners.
As always, the case with Bergeron is pretty cut-and-dried. For the old school voters, he checks all the boxes with an excellent 56.6 faceoff percentage – ninth among the 120 players who took at least 500 draws this season – and heavy minutes on the penalty kill, not to mention a role as a key member of the Bruins’ defensive strategy and matchup game. For the new school, Bergeron’s case is readymade. Of the 365 forwards with at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5, Bergeron’s tied for 10th in Corsi percentage (56.8), ranked 25th in shots percentage (55.4), 34th in goals percentage (60.2) and 13th in scoring chances percentage (56.7). He was sound as could be in his own end of the ice. Sure, his starts lean heavily to the attacking zone, but that hardly takes away from his ability to maintain possession and generate chances while suppressing some of the game's best forwards.
However, what’s odd about Bergeron’s candidacy is that he’s a finalist despite missing nearly a quarter of the season. He was sidelined for 17 games this season, playing in 65 of the Bruins’ 82 contests this season. If Bergeron wins, it would mark the fewest games played by a winner since Gainey won the award in 1979-80 with 64 games played. Kris Draper has the second-lowest mark all-time with 67 games played in 2003-04.
THE CASE FOR O’REILLY
O’Reilly’s consideration as a top contender for the Selke is long overdue. Despite being heralded as one of the best two-way pivots in the game for much of his career, O’Reilly has often gone overlooked for the award, failing to finish top-five in any campaign. That’s likely due to his place on subpar, non-playoff teams throughout his career. After all, this season with the St. Louis Blues marks just his third trip to the post-season in a decade-long NHL tenure. He has found his way onto at least one ballot in all but his rookie season, though.
When it comes to O’Reilly’s candidacy, it’s worth beginning with offensive production, as this past season was far-and-away the best of his career. His 28 goals matched his career high, which he set back in 2013-14 with the Colorado Avalanche, the same season his finished sixth in Selke voting. However, his 77 points are 13 more than he’s recorded in any other campaign. Pair that with a 56.9 faceoff win percentage, the eight-best in the NHL among those who took 500 faceoffs, and his two-minute average on the penalty kill and it’s no wonder he’s earned enough votes to land among the top-three.
It’s O’Reilly’s defensive play that gives him a top-three finish for the award, though. This season, there were 108 players who skated at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5 and had an offensive zone start percentage below 50 percent, of which O’Reilly is one. Of those forwards, O’Reilly’s Corsi percentage ranks eighth (53.4), shots percentage ranks seventh (54), scoring chances percentage ranks seventh (54.8) and his goals for percentage ranks sixth (62.2). He was a machine, and while goaltender Jordan Binnington may have been the Blues’ most valuable player down the stretch, O’Reilly led the charge across the entire campaign.
THE CASE FOR STONE
Finally. Finally, finally, finally. At long last, a winger gets more than passing consideration for the Selke. Stone is the first non-pivot to earn a place among the top three in voting since New Jersey Devils winger Jay Pandolfo came third in 2006-07, and there’s no winger more deserving than Stone to snap the dozen-year streak of center-only finalists for the defensive-forward award.
The key credential on Stone’s resume is takeaways, and the longtime Ottawa Senator-turned-Vegas Golden Knight remains the NHL's undisputed champion when it comes to stripping the opposition of the puck. Stone registered 122 takeaways this season, which is the fourth-highest total since the NHL began recording the statistic, and he has now led the league in takeaways in three of the past four seasons, including a career-best 128 back in 2015-16.
There’s more to his game than takeaways, though. Stone also averaged upwards of a minute on the penalty kill per game across his 77 outings this season, scoring a shorthanded goal during that time. That shorthanded marker was one of a career-best 33 he scored this season, which went hand-in-hand with a career-high 73 points for the winger. His underlying numbers were likewise impressive.
Despite playing on an absolutely atrocious Senators outfit for the majority of the season, Stone finished the season with a 53 percent Corsi rate, 52.5 percent shots rate, 56.1 scoring chances rate and 57.9 percent goals rate. And while his offensive zone start percentage, unlike O’Reilly’s, was above 50 percent, Stone managed to push possession and maintain positive 5-on-5 underlying numbers while finishing the season with a sub-50 percent offensive zone faceoff percentage.
WHO GOT SNUBBED?
How in the world does Sidney Crosby not finish in the top three? Listen, we get it, he’s made the odd gaffe and blown some defensive zone coverage, which Philadelphia Flyers fans in particular are quick to remind us of every time the subject of the Pittsburgh Penguins captain’s Selke candidacy is broached. But the same could be said of any player on this list, and Crosby’s two-way play was outstanding this season.
Get this: Crosby’s 65.6 goals for percentage at 5-on-5 was the best in the NHL among skaters with 500 minutes. That’s out of 365 players. And if your team is scoring two-thirds of the goals when you’re on ice at five-a-side, you should be in consideration. Period. End of story. What should have propelled Crosby further into contention, though, is that each of his Corsi, shots, scoring chances and goals percentages at 5-on-5 were better than those of Stone and O’Reilly. And given Crosby missed only two games and there’s a marginal difference between he and Bergeron in those same categories – albeit with the Bruins pivot ahead – as well as in offensive zone start percentage, it feels like Crosby was somewhat snubbed, which we understand is an incredibly difficult thing to wrap one's head around.
Beyond Crosby, it doesn't feel as though there were any outright snubs, however. Should some of the usual suspects earned more consideration? Maybe, but that will make it interesting to see how the votes shake out. The Flyers’ Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux certainly were no doubt in the conversation. Aleksander Barkov is becoming a fixture of voting, so one figures the Florida Panthers center got some consideration, too. A rebound season for Jonathan Toews probably struck a chord with some voters, as well.
But in terms of pure spirit-of-the-award type stuff, it will be interesting to see where Phillip Danault landed. The Montreal Canadiens center’s offensive numbers weren’t in the same ballpark as those of Bergeron, O’Reilly or Stone, but Danault scored a career-high 12 goals and 53 points in 81 games while showcasing a stunning ability to drive play. Among the 365 forwards with 500 minutes at 5-on-5, Danault tied for 10th in Corsi percentage (56.8), 13th in shots percentage (56.3) and 15th in scoring chances percentage (56.6). Pair that with a 41.9 offensive zone start percentage, the 43rd-lowest of that group of 365 forwards, as well as a 55.5 faceoff win percentage and 2:30 per game on the kill, and Danault has a clear-cut case as one of the best two-way forwards in the league this season. The knock? Goals percentage, where he finished 89th (55.3), but that hardly feels like enough to disqualify him. Anything less than a top-10 finish would be puzzling.
It's too close to call, but the numbers lean in O'Reilly's favor, particularly given his defensive zone duty. That said, it's hard to bet against Bergeron, who is going to get that elusive fifth Selke sooner or later. This could be the year.
(All advanced statistics via NaturalStatTrick)
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