As we hit the quarter pole, NHL.com takes a comprehensive look at where things stand. Certainly, the New Jersey Devils have been the main story line of the past month, making an unprecedented run at an unexpected playoff berth. But, there are also six other storylines that merit your attention in the final two months of the season. Also, we look at potential candidates for each of the major NHL Awards in our on-going Trophy Tracker features. Finally, we have updated our fantasy rankings as we head into the final 20-game portion of the regular season.
"The Frank J. Selke Trophy is an annual award given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game."
Pretty straightforward wording to determine who wins the award, right?
The only problem for those who have to pick the player who deserves the trophy is deciding what constitutes good defense. Is it takeaways? Is it plus-minus? Can't we just add the two numbers and give the award to that guy?
There might not be a more subjective award that's handed out by the NHL.
For me, there are three very important components to how good a player is defensively:
1. Is the player consistently matched up against the best offensive players on the opposing team and does he hold them off the scoreboard?
2. Does the player excel when his team is shorthanded, the time when a coach wants his best defenders on the ice?
3. Is the player an asset when it comes to blocking shots and taking away the puck?
Other criteria like shorthanded goals and plus-minus involve defense as a component, but the player's offensive ability can also play a large role in piling up numbers in those categories. It's not that those categories should be ignored, but they aren't as important as the other statistics.
That's why I'm taking Vancouver's Manny Malhotra as the Selke winner at this point in the season with teammate Ryan Kesler and Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron as the other two finalists.
Manny Malhotra, Vancouver Canucks
-- There are two aspects to his game that blow me away when I try to find someone else to choose instead of him -- he leads all forwards in blocked shots (68) and shorthanded faceoffs won (132 of 214, 61.7 percent). The Canucks' penalty-killing unit has gone from 18th to 4th in Malhotra's first season in Vancouver. He only has 8 goals, but one of them came while shorthanded. Detractors will point to his mediocre plus-3 rating, but when you consider he's earned that without the luxury of being an offensive force while facing the Western Conference's best offensive players every game, it's extremely impressive. Even with Canucks defensemen dropping like flies over the last few weeks, none of Malhotra's numbers have dipped one bit.
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
-- Much like Malhotra, Bergeron is used primarily against the opposition's top line. He's the best defensive forward on the League's best defensive team. He leads Bruins forwards in blocked shots (45) and takeaways (33). He's won the 13th most shorthanded draws (89-of-169, 52.6 percent) in the League and has two shorthanded goals. He wins faceoffs, checks the best players and has a plus-21 rating. With 20 goals and 29 assists, he has the type of overall numbers that should draw serious consideration from voters.
Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks
-- The reason for two Canucks on this list is because while almost every Canuck defenseman has suffered a serious injury of late, Kesler has stepped up his game to help keep his team among the best goals allowed. He's fourth in blocked shots in the League with 63 and is also an important reason for the Canucks' improved PK unit and has 3 shorthanded goals. He also leads Canucks forwards with 51 takeaways. The drawback is while Malhotra is posting his numbers against offensive greats, Kesler is free to focus on his offense. Kesler, a finalist for the Selke the past two seasons, hasn't slacked on his defense at all this season, but his responsibilities have been lessened by Malhotra's presence.