The 2016-17 NHL season is coming to a close and what better way to cap off the year by taking a look at the front runners for the NHL Awards? The Awards ceremony, held in Las Vegas, does not take place until after the Stanley Cup has been hoisted, but voting for the awards takes place when the regular season ends. There is no harm in getting our predictions in now.
The Frank J. Selke Trophy is presented annually to the “Best Defensive Forward ” in the NHL for that season, as voted by the members of the PWHA.
Predictions for the 2016-17 Selke Trophy
Patrice Bergeron: 75GP, 20 G, 32 A
Three times the Boston Bruins centre has taken home the Selke trophy and, frankly, he’s been snubbed more than once. Bergeron is the league’s gold-standard when it comes to defensive play as a forward. He is a dominant offensive player, but more impressively is the way he dictates play. Year after year he is among the NHL’s best, if not the best Rel.CF% player. This year his 8.39 zone, score and venue adjusted Rel.CF% places him fourth in the NHL; behind only Calgary’s 3M line. His -8.76 Rel.CA/60 also places him fourth in the league. He boasts the third highest raw expected-goals percentage, allowing a trivial 1.86 xGA/60.
These numbers aren’t uncommon for Bergeron, but they do highlight one important fact about his season. While his offence may have slowed down (primarily due to an lengthy run of misfortune and low shooting-percentage), his play did not suffer. He has consistently been one of the best defensive players in the game, and his ability to shutdown opposing forwards was on display once again throughout the 2016-17 season.
It’s also worth noting that Bergeron, unlike our other two finalists, does not play with a solid defensive winger. Brad Marchand is a lot of things, and depending on who you ask, they may or may not be positive. One thing that most fans, and pundits, can agree on is that his specialty comes in driving play forward, not suppressing chances in the other direction. It may not be an important distinction to some voters, but it’s worth remembering as we progress through the list of finalists.
Bergeron last took home the Selke in 2014-2015.
Mikko Koivu : 77 GP, 18 G, 37 A
No one in the NHL has more even-strength defensive zone starts than Mikko Koivu. The franchise centre for the Minnesota Wild starts a whopping 42.3 percent of his shifts behind his own blueline (sixth most in the NHL), yet shockingly he is able to turn the tide of play and drive play forward. His 2.6 Rel.CF% is nothing to fawn over, but it’s not something to be easily dismissed. Koivu provides valuable shelter for a team that is built from the blueline out. Koivu’s -4.08 RelCA/60 is yet another strong highlight of his defensive play. It even extends to his linemates. The trio of Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund–Jason Zucker owns the tenth best zone, score and venue adjusted CF% of any trio with at least 400 minutes together, and the sixth lowest CA/60.
Unfortunately for Koivu there is one major detractor to his case: Nino Niederreiter; otherwise known as the Wild’s other defensive maestro. Niederreiter is second in the league in Rel.CA/60, behind only Artemi Panarin. Coincidentally Panarin has the second fewest defensive zone starts at even-strength of any forward with 700 minutes played. On the flip-side, Niederreiter starts nearly one-in-three shifts in his own zone. Koivu was already hard-pressed to put a strong case forward for the Selke, but with Niederreiter’s stellar performance, the opportunity for a split vote in Minnesota is ripe.
Mikael Backlund : 78 GP, 21 G, 29 A
The lowest scoring of the three finalists, Backlund has exploded territorially. A dominant force in Calgary over the last four seasons, Backlund has garnered massive applause this season as the centre for one of the NHL’s leading lines. Only the David Pastrnak – Bergeron -Marchand line has posted a better score, zone and venue adjusted CF% than the 3M line in Calgary. While Matthew Tkachuk, and Michael Frolik have both been excellent for the Flames, it is undoubtedly Backlund who has been driving play for the two powerful wingers. Add to that his 8.92 Rel.CF%, and you have a candidate ripe for a Selke trophy.
There is another factor that will help Backlund to claim the trophy. The Flames success. Backlund has been an integral cog in the machine that returned the Calgary Flames to the post-season, something that is still undecided for the Bruins. While the Wild have struggled mightily over the past month, the Flames have cruised towards the playoffs. Add to that the idea of a new name, a fresh winner, someone who wasn’t won the award before and “is due” and you have Drew Doughty winning the Norris all over again. Thankfully, this time, it will be deserved.
Honourable mentions go to Mark Stone, who is top ten in the league in score, zone and venue adjusted Rel.CF% and leads forwards in takeaways, and Nino Niederreiter, whose case was previously laid out.