The nominations for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, announced Wednesday by the NHL, should come as little surprise to fans of the Detroit Red Wings and anyone who watched the first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks.
Pavel Datsyuk, who has won the award for three consecutive years, will have the opportunity at making it a four-peat, while Ryan Kesler and Jonathan Toews, who took turns checking one another into submission in a seven-game grudge match for the ages, round out this year's field.
The Selke is awarded annually "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game" as judged by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. Selke, its namesake, was an architect of championship teams in both Montreal and Toronto.
The award is voted on at the end of the regular season, so the writers don't get to take playoff performances into account, but Kesler and Toews displayed why they're up for consideration as the Canucks held off the Blackhawks' comeback from a 3-0 series deficit and a late shorthanded goal that forced Game 7 into overtime.
It was Toews who notched that goal for Chicago in a game Vancouver ultimately won 2-1, but it was also his only tally of the series, as Kesler's line helped hold the reigning Conn Smythe winner to 4 total points. But Toews and his line played a key role in shutting down Kesler, who was fourth in the League during the regular season with 41 goals but managed only 4 points, all assists, in the first round.
While this is a first-time nomination for Toews, who had 76 points and finished second in the League this season with 93 takeaways, it's another chance for Kesler -- among the top faceoff men at 57.4 percent -- to unseat Datsyuk. Last year Datsyuk received 37 first-place votes to Kesler's 36, and the overall points total went 688-655 in Datsyuk's favor, the closest race of the 2010 NHL Awards voting.
Datsyuk won't make it easy for Kesler or Toews to put an end to his run. Some of his defensive numbers such as takeaways, a category he led in three of the previous four seasons, were down this season because Datsyuk missed 26 regular-season games due to injury, but he finished plus-11, won 54.6 percent of his faceoffs and was better than a point-per-game player, with 23 goals and 36 assists.
The Selke Trophy will be awarded at the 2011 NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 22.