Centers David Backes of the St. Louis Blues, Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings are the three finalists for the 2011-12 Frank J. Selke Trophy.
As voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, it's given to "the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game."
Or, in typical voter terms: "Who won the most faceoffs, who has the best plus/minus and who's due for a trophy?"
Granted, many voters are digging a little deeper these days into real time stats (takeaways!) and advanced stats like quality of competition. To that end, the three finalists are worthy ones.
Who wins the 2011-12 Selke?
Why David Backes Deserves the Selke
From the NHL:
Backes had the highest average ice time per game among forwards (19:59) on the club that allowed the fewest goals in the NHL by a wide margin. The 6'3", 225-lb. center again was a punishing physical presence, doling out a team-leading 226 hits, joining Los Angeles forward Dustin Brown as the only players to record 200 hits or more in each of the past five seasons. Backes led the Blues in face-offs (1,353), blocked 72 shots and posted a +15 rating. The Blues captain is an NHL Trophy finalist for first time in his seven-year NHL career and is the first Blues player vying for the Selke Trophy since Michal Handzus finished second in 2000.
A fitting tribute to the best two-way forward on the NHL's best defensive team. He's not the faceoff man that Bergeron or Datsyuk are, but they're not the physical presence that Backes is. Of the three, Backes faced the toughest competition on average at even strength in the regular season according to Behind the Net. Check out this Robert Cleave post on Backes for more context.
If there's a knock on Backes, it could be his 101 penalty minutes this season. You have to go all the way back to 1993 to find the last Selke winner who took himself off the ice for over 100 minutes during the regular season. Of course, that Selke winner was Doug Gilmour, which is obviously a compliment for Backes.
Why Patrice Bergeron Deserves the Selke
From the NHL:
Bergeron led the NHL in plus-minus (+36), posting a +18 rating both at home and on the road, helping the Bruins rank second in the Eastern Conference in team defense (2.39 GAA). Appearing in a single-season career-high 81 games, he topped all Bruins forwards in shorthanded time on ice (1:48 per game) and was dominant in the face-off circle, posting a 59.2% winning percentage (973 of 1,641) to rank second in the League behind Chicago's Jonathan Toews (59.4%). Bergeron is an NHL Trophy finalist for the first time and could become the second Bruins player to capture Selke honors, joining Steve Kasper (1982).
Like Kesler last year, Bergeron entered this season as the player who was "due" for a Selke. Zdeno Chara had been honored his work in creating a defensive force in Boston; Bergeron had yet to be, finishing fourth in the voting last year. His faceoff prowess and shorthanded play are palpable glamor stats; but anyone that watches him can see he's the best two-way forward in the Eastern Conference. Joe Haggerty had some great stuff on what the Selke means to Bergeron.
Why Pavel Datsyuk Deserves the Selke:
From the NHL:
Datsyuk continued his mastery of separating opponents from the puck in 2011-12 by ranking third in the NHL in takeaways (97), and his stickhandling and passing skills helped the Red Wings' renowned puck possession game. Datsyuk posted a +21 rating and was the club's top face-off man, posting a 56.2% winning percentage (702 of 1,249) — his eighth consecutive season posting a win rate above 53%. Datsyuk has been voted a Selke finalist for the fifth consecutive year, matching the streaks of Montreal's Guy Carbonneau (1986 through 1990) and Bob Gainey (1978 through 1982) as the longest since the award was introduced in 1978.
Datsyuk's run of three Selkes came to an end last season, which was shortened by injuries and not his most effective campaign. But he was back to being a tenacious, smart and frustratingly stellar defender in 2011-12 — and he even played a little shorthanded (1:13) too.
Who wins the Selke?
Bergeron. It's his time, even if Backes had the more impressive defensive campaign in some ways. But as you'll see, had another player's injuries not occurred …
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. David Backes, St. Louis Blues
3. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
4. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
5. Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado Avalanche
Jonathan Toews was limited to 59 games and posted a 59.4-percent faceoff winning percentage, which is obscene for a player who's expected to do so much more than simply win faceoffs. Had he played another 10 games, perhaps he takes this award. Alas, like Datsyuk last season, the shortened season matters. With Toews an also-ran, Bergeron wins the Selke on the strength of his faceoffs, his penalty killing and his body of work this season.
O'Reilly over Anze Kopitar and Claude Giroux? It's really anyone's fifth slot to take, but the Colorado Avalanche kid made an impression defensively every time I watched him. Pucks Across The Pond has more.