The NHL has announced the finalists for yet another of its end of the year awards, the Frank J. Selke Trophy. Always a hotly-contested and highly-debated award, the Selke Trophy is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association on the basis of “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.” The 2020-21 finalists are Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov, Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, and Vegas Golden Knights winger Mark Stone.
Bergeron should of course come as no surprise. The Bruins captain is a finalist for a record tenth consecutive year and one of only two four-time winners in league history, alongside Bob Gainey who won the award in each of the first four seasons that it existed. Considered by some to be the best defensive forward to ever play the game, Bergeron is always a safe bet to be a Selke contender, especially when he again led the league at the face-off dot this season, recording a 62.5% winning percentage. Bergeron also led the NHL in total face-offs won, while leading the Bruins forwards in blocked shots, short-handed time on ice, and career-best possession stats.
With that said, some wondered if Bergeron was even the best defensive forward on his own team this year with the success that Brad Marchand had forcing turnovers, checking, and recording a league-leading seven short-handed points, not to mention leading all non-Oilers in league scoring. If Bergeron faced competition even on his own team, perhaps the door is open for one of the other finalists to prevent him from taking home a record fifth Selke win.
Barkov led a resurgent Panthers team to the postseason this year, topping all Florida forwards in ice time, takeaways, and possession, as well as points per game, and was second in blocked shots. Barkov finished in the top-15 league-wide in face-offs taken, won, and percentage. A first-time Selke finalist, Barkov has nevertheless established himself as one of the best defensive forwards in the league right now and his candidacy is long overdue.
As for Stone, he is looking to become the first winger to win the Selke since Jere Lehtinen did so three times, the last coming in 2002-03. A takeaway machine, no player in the NHL has forced more turnovers during Stone’s career, as he led the league for the fifth time again this year. Stone led all Knights forwards in time on ice and finished third in short-handed time on ice per game and blocked shots per game. Stone also led all forwards in points and plus/minus. However, Stone faces an uphill battle to win without any face-off contributions and he may also be dinged for not being more engaged in the checking game, trailing Bergeron and Barkov in hits per game despite his considerable size advantage.
Other than Marchand, other potential snubs include recent winners Sean Couturier and Ryan O’Reilly, while some felt that Sidney Crosby deserved recognition for what was arguably the best two-way season of his storied career. However, few will argue that the PHWA didn’t settle on the right choices for the top three this year.