Officially, the Frank J. Selke Trophy is awarded to “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”
There’s nothing in there about faceoff percentage, yet that stat seems to have become one of the most important criteria for picking the Selke winner. Faceoff winning percentage comes up in the Selke conversation just as often as stats like plus-minus, shorthanded minutes and point production.
The problem with that is wingers are rarely taken seriously as potential Selke candidates.
Montreal Canadiens winger Bob Gainey was the first player to win the award (four years in a row), but since then, it’s traditionally become a centerman’s trophy.
But why should it be limited to the pivot position? There are some remarkably sound defensive wingers in the league who still manage to put up big numbers offensively (a little unwritten element of the Selke is you have to be a good producer, too). Rick Nash, Marian Hossa and Jamie Benn are great scorers with strong defensive instincts, yet they’ll be in tough to become Selke nominees this year.
The Selke Trophy has been handed out 36 times, and only four wingers have won it in that time. The only winger to take home the Selke hardware in the last 23 years has been Jere Lehtinen, a three-time winner as a member of the Dallas Stars.
The trophy has been dominated by centers since Lehtinen’s last win over a decade ago, yet you could argue Hossa, Benn and Nash are every bit as good on the penalty kill as Patrice Bergeron or Pavel Datsyuk.
Benn leads the NHL with five shorthanded points (two goals, three assists), while Nash’s four goals make him the leader among shorthanded goal scorers.
Penalty killing isn’t about scoring, but the fact these guys are putting up points on the PK shows their coaches trust them to be out there in a defensive role. If they can turn the tables and score, all the better.
Nash leads the NHL in goals and still plays an average of 1:20 on the penalty kill in New York, behind only Dominic Moore, Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan. Moore leads the pack as a defensive specialist, while Hagelin and Stepan play a variety of roles in New York and don’t have anywhere close to Nash’s points.
Nash also leads the league in shorthanded individual Corsi among forwards – and that’s when compared to the rest of the centermen in the NHL.
Benn is the Stars’ fifth-most used forward on the PK, but he averages more time than Nash at 1:33 and all the players ahead of him are primarily defensive forwards.
Benn has 19 goals, 51 points and a minus-two rating this year. Nash has 35 goals, 55 points and a plus-25 rating. Hossa’s got a plus-five rating with 17 goals and 42 points.
So where do they rank compared to the perennial Selke nominees?
Reigning Selke winner Patrice Bergeron plays 1:46 shorthanded per game and has 16 goals, 37 points and an even plus-minus for the Bruins. Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk doesn’t even play on the penalty kill, and has 17 goals, 42 points and a plus-nine rating. Jonathan Toews is plus-18 with 16 goals and 47 points. He averages 1:24 of ice time shorthanded - 13 seconds fewer than Hossa's 1:37.
You could make an argument for any one of those guys. But the point is you could make an argument for Nash, Benn or Hossa, too. The Selke isn’t a center-only trophy, so let’s not forget about the wingers.