COMMENTARY | In the land of premature extrapolation that is the sports media, we have a number of surefire Conn-Smythe Trophy candidates who will definitely win ... if their teams don't happen to be among the remaining seven of eight that will go home losers, and if they don't happen to regress to a certain mediocrity in the remaining three quarters of the postseason.
But we come today not to mock these prognosticators, but to nudge them -- in the rare instance that they are not only bloviators, but voters as well. We come to lobby for hardware to be bestowed upon one Pascal Dupuis, not because he may have the best postseason -- though through Thursday, his six goals had him tied with Patrick Sharp for the NHL postseason lead -- but also because it would serve sweet justice for his being denied any consideration for the Selke Trophy.
On Wednesday, the NHL released the names of the three finalists for the Selke Trophy, given to the "forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game," and that list included the usual suspects -- Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, Boston's Patrice Bergeron and Chicago's Jonathan Toews. All are worthy and honorable candidates, though Datsyuk and Toews may be riding more on reputation than accomplishment.
When judging a forward's defensive capabilities, the knee-jerk reaction is to look at the plus/minus rating of a player. All three candidates ranked in the top 10 season -- Toews third at +28, Bergeron sixth with a +24 and Datsyuk ninth with a +21. Yet above all of them was Dupuis, whose +31 led the league.
Skeptics will be quick to point out Dupuis' linemates, namely one Sidney Crosby, and dismiss his stats as padded on the shoulders of the game's best player. Cue the overwrought rebuttals suggesting a parade of unqualified boobs who could score 25 or 30 goals skating on Crosby's wing.
Regardless, these days the Selke conversation revolves around faceoff prowess and glamour stats like takeaways and blocked shots. And if those should fail to support reputation and justify votes, toss in the random advanced metric.
In its announcement of the finalists, NHL.com made a point of mentioning that Bergeron had started only 42.4 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, but finished 47.2 percent of them there. The point is to suggest that a 4.8-percent gain in offensive zone presence was evidence of a great transition game.
In that regard, Dupuis had a 4.6-percent gain (42.3 percent to 46.9 percent) in offensive-zone presence. Toews, however, was apparently going backward, starting 55.1 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone but finishing just 52.6 percent there. Datsyuk's offensive-zone presence also dropped from 54.9 percent to 51.4 percent on his shifts.
As for the other glamour stats, Dupuis ranked 25th among forwards this season with 36 blocked shots. Datsyuk ranked 47th with 30, Bergeron ranked 84th with 25 blocks and Toews was 205th with 16 blocks. Sixteen? Even the notoriously defensively challenged Alex Ovechkin managed to throw his body in front of 18 pucks this season.
Dupuis was also much more physical than the other candidates, notching 83 hits this season, well more than Datsyuk's 31, Bergeron's 28 and Toews' 24.
The one thing that may leave Dupuis out of the conversation is the insistence of voters to focus on faceoff prowess. The three candidates, all centers, won more than 50 percent of their draws -- a stat interpreted as essentially playing a good game of keep-away.
Dupuis, a winger, does not take many draws, and this season won only 27 of the 57 faceoffs he took. Whether that stat means more than the others is up for debate. After all, the description for the award does not precisely define "defensive aspects." But outside of faceoff percentage, Dupuis' accomplishments can't be dismissed.
Even his teammates have come to his "defense." Penguins blueliner and noted Goliath Douglas Murray gave Dupuis' defensive game a ringing endorsement on the team's website. "He obviously has put up a lot of points," Murray said. "He's done so without lacking anything defensively. He is very sound defensively. He obviously has great speed and a great stick and he reads the play well and he uses that on the defensive side too, which is huge for us, especially on the penalty kill."
This is to say nothing of the new paradigm that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma's system has created -- the best defense is a good offensive cycle. Every time that Dupuis pounces on a loose puck after a good forecheck, that's defense. Every time Dupuis works an efficient cycle with linemates Crosby and Chris Kunitz, that's defense. Every time Dupuis presses on the penalty kill to force the other team to reset, that's defense.
Bylsma knows that, the Penguins know that. But until the hockey writers realize that, seasons like Dupuis' will continue to go underappreciated. And there's no trophy for "Most Underrated."
Pittsburgh native Steve Wozniak has covered college hockey and the NHL for nearly a decade. Follow him on Twitter at @Swozinator.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Jonathan Toews
- Pavel Datsyuk
- Pascal Dupuis
- Patrice Bergeron