The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association has spoken, as the NHL has announced that three forwards have been nominated for the 2018 Frank J. Selke Award. The Selke Award, or as some call it “the Bergeron Award”, is given each year to the top defensive forward in the league. To the surprise of very few, Boston Bruins top center Patrice Bergeron is again among the finalists, a record seventh consecutive nomination. Bergeron is the reigning champ and the winner in four of the past six seasons. However, Bergeron faces stiff competition for his fifth Selke, going up against 2016 winner and two-time runner-up, Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar, and breakout Philadelphia Flyers star Sean Couturier, who earns his first Selke nod.
While the Selke is perhaps up to the eye test more than any other major award, there are some key statistics to look at to determine the odds-on favorite. The original measure of a players’ two-way success is plus/minus, which would favor Couturier. His +34 rating was good enough to tie for third in the NHL behind only Vegas Golden Knights linemates William Karlsson and Jon Marchessault. Meanwhile, both Bergeron and Kopitar were +21, tied for 28th. However, possession metrics may be the best way to evaluate two-way ability, in particular a player’s Corsi For %, which shows the proportion of shots for relative to shots against. By this standard, Bergeron was firmly in the lead. His 57.56 CF% led all forwards who played in at least 50 games this season. In comparison, Couturier was 59th and Kopitar was 93rd among that same subset. Bergeron also edges out the other two in face-off percentage, short-handed time on ice, and takeaways; Couturier gets the nod in hits, while Kopitar had the most blocked shots. It again looks as if Bergeron would be the favorite, but one thing to consider is that Bergeron played in just 64 games this season, averaged the least amount of time on ice of the trio, and benefited from playing alongside another two-way dynamo in Brad Marchand. Bergeron may have been the best defensive forward in the league this year – and at this point might be the best all-time – but there’s a strong case that the two-way play of Kopitar and Couturier had a greater impact in 2017-18.
As for snubs, many out there will fight for the cases of Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu, dynamic young Florida Panther Aleksander Barkov, and even the aforementioned Marchand. However, unlike the debated results of the Vezina voting, it seems that the correct trio of players were selected and any one would be worthy of taking home the hardware at the NHL Awards in June.