Anze Kopitar and Sean Couturier Image by: Harry How/Getty Images
The NHL announced Patrice Bergeron, Sean Couturier and Anze Kopitar as the three finalists for the Selke Trophy, but which of the three pivots will be accepting the award in Las Vegas?
After Tuesday’s announcement of the top three contenders for the Vezina Trophy, the NHL continued to roll out its award finalists on Wednesday with the Selke Trophy, the award handed out annually to the “forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.”
As we’ve become accustomed to, this year’s group includes three centers — the Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron, Philadelphia Flyers’ Sean Couturier and Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar — and the tradition of a pivot winning the award will continue for what will be the 14th consecutive season. Here are the cases for each player, and a brief look at a few players who could be viewed as snubs:
THE CASE FOR BERGERON
The incumbent and arguably the greatest two-way player in the history of the NHL, Bergeron has finished no lower than fifth in Selke voting in each of the past eight seasons and is riding a streak of three wins in four years. And if voters didn’t hold his time on the sidelines against him in voting — Bergeron missed 18 games this season due to injury — there’s no reason why he can’t make it four Selkes in five years.
To the surprise of no one, Bergeron’s candidacy is rock-solid. His offensive contributions, and this is an award that takes into account both offensive and defensive play, were among the best in his career as he netted 30 goals and 63 points, and his base statistics are impressive across the board. His faceoff win percentage was a whopping 57.3 percent, the fifth-best mark of all pivots to take at least 1,000 draws, and Bergeron ranked 13th in the league with 55 takeaways throughout the campaign. More importantly, he was a fixture on the league’s third-ranked penalty kill, averaging 1:49 per game while the Bruins were shorthanded. He also won 58.3 percent of his faceoffs while down a man.
If there’s anything that puts Bergeron over the top, though, it’s his underlying numbers. Some may gripe that he benefitted from a heavier slant of offensive-zone starts than his Selke counterparts, but that does little to take away from the fact Bergeron’s 57.6 Corsi for percentage at 5-on-5 was tops among the 221 forwards to play 850 minutes or that he ranked 22nd in goals for percentage at 61.8 percent. Bergeron also had the second-best scoring chances for percentage, 57.5 percent, among the same forward group. Outstanding.
THE CASE FOR COUTURIER
How will Couturier celebrate his breakout season? Well, the first-time Selke nominee has a great shot at becoming a first-time Selke winner. Couturier has long been considered one of the better defensive centers in the NHL — he’s finished top-10 in voting twice — but finally putting together the offensive part of his game is what has taken him over the top an into true contention to win the award. And, boy, did Couturier ever find his offensive game.
Entering the season with previous career-bests of 15 goals and 39 points, the Flyers pivot absolutely obliterated those marks and established himself as a true No. 1 center by registering 31 goals and 76 points in 82 games for Philadelphia this season. But, as noted above, offense is only part of the equation. The good news for Couturier is that he has the defensive side of the game covered in spades.
He outdoes Bergeron in the shorthanded ice time category and Couturier was among the most limiting penalty killers in the league this season. He was excellent shorthanded. Couturier also finished 22nd in faceoff percentage (52.8) among the 1,000-draw players and he was almost equally adept at stripping players of the puck as Bergeron — the Flyers center had 48, only seven fewer than the Bruins pivot.
Underlying numbers also support Couturier as he managed a 53.3 Corsi for percentage, 52.8 scoring chances for percentage and a 62.8 goals for percentage, the 14th-best mark among forwards with 1,000 minutes at five-a-side. He did all this, too, while taking the 33rd-highest slant of defensive zone starts among those players and facing a quality of competition that was higher than that of either Bergeron or Kopitar.
THE CASE FOR KOPITAR
A finalist for the award in three of the past four seasons, and the winner in 2015-16, Kopitar finishing top-three in voting was a no-brainer. Offensively, he was head and shoulders above the rest of the Selke pack. Frankly, he was head and shoulders above most of the league. His 35-goal, 92-point campaign saw him finish 15th and seventh in the respective scoring categories, and he was among the most reliable players in every single situation all season.
Based purely on ice time and overall impact, Kopitar’s case is almost infallible. The highest average ice time among all forwards? Kopitar, at 22:05 per game, which included more even-strength ice time than all forwards save Connor McDavid and the 13th-most shorthanded ice time among the same group. His 2:10 average ice time while shorthanded is the most among the Selke finalists, and it’s worth noting that he spent that much time on the league’s top-rated penalty kill. Including other base statistics only makes Kopitar’s case stronger, too. He had 54 takeaways, took more than 1,800 faceoffs and had the 14th-best win percentage (54.1) among 1,000-draw centers.
The only holes in his Selke case may be his 5-on-5 underlying numbers. Kopitar ranked 71st among 850-minute players with a 52.1 Corsi for percentage, 126th with 50.6 scoring chances for percentage and 64th with a 56.1 goals for percentage. That said, he did start more than half of his shifts in the defensive zone — 54 percent, to be precise — and faced the second-toughest quality of competition among the finalists.
And, whether right or wrong, one has to factor in the potential for voters to throw a Selke nod Kopitar’s way if he was passed over for the Hart. That could very well play a part in who wins the award.
WHO GOT SNUBBED?
Florida Panthers fans won’t be happy with the absence of Aleksander Barkov among the finalists, but this was as tough a year as any for the Cats center to crack the top three. That said, Barkov was tremendous. He finished 17th in faceoff win percentage (53.5) on the fifth-most draws, had more takeaways than any other forward and he was no slouch when it came to game-by-game impact. He had the fifth-most ice time of any skater, including 1:45 per game on the kill, and only Kopitar had a higher average ice time. He got the job done at both ends of the ice, too, scoring 27 goals and 78 points in 79 games.
One has to wonder how close William Karlsson will have come to finishing among the top of the list, as well. The Golden Knights center had a career year, scoring 43 goals and 78 points, and it may have muddled his defensive play. He finished 53rd in Corsi for percentage, 42nd in scoring chances for percentage and first in goals for percentage, though, and he wasn’t too heavily sheltered, either. Karlsson’s goal scoring also made many overlook the fact he skated nearly 1:40 per night on Vegas’ top-10 penalty kill.
There are a few others who should have earned nods and didn’t, too. The Flames’ Mikael Backlund has established himself as a dandy two-way pivot over the past few seasons and again acquitted himself well in Calgary. Mikko Koivu was a finalist last season but the Minnesota Wild captain is missing from the top trio this time around. Brayden Point also had one heck of a season in Tampa Bay, but the Lightning sophomore’s defensive contributions were overshadowed by a high-powered offense. And if it weren’t for Couturier’s nod — or the fact he played on the wing throughout the season — one has to think Claude Giroux would have earned more praise for his defense. The Flyers captain was the most limiting penalty killer this season, an absolute terror for opposing power plays, and his underlying numbers were as good and in some instances better than Couturier’s.
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