The Frank J. Selke Trophy may be the toughest to predict of all the NHL postseason awards, and it is certainly the toughest to gauge on merit. Picking the top defensive forward is not easy, and a lot of voters often base their decision more on reputation than statistics.
There are better statistics to determine a forward's defensive abilities now than there have been in the past (better than plus-minus, certainly), but hockey's version of sabermetrics are not quite as black-and-white as their more well-known baseball counterparts. Not to mention that defense in hockey is often more team-oriented than all of the other major sports.
That said, there are guys in the NHL who are clearly top defensive forwards on a consistent basis. Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk
and Vancouver's Ryan Kesler
are always mentioned in that category, as are guys like Chicago's Jonathan Toews
and Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal
None of those guys are on this list of the top Selke contenders at the quarter-mark of the 2011-12 season, but there should be a big caveat that defensive statistics fluctuate even more than offensive ones with small sample sizes. Any of those guys could be on this again in the near future.
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
- Bergeron's two-way play has gained plenty of notice around the League and he was fourth in the Selke voting last season. He has centered a line with Brad Marchand
for most of the season, and another second-year player (Tyler Seguin
) has been the most-used third member of the trio.
They have been fantastic at even strength -- all three are among the top seven NHL forwards in Behind The Net's plus-minusON/60 minutes. Bergeron has been on the ice for 17 of Boston's goals at even strength and only five against. He is also fifth in the NHL in faceoff percentage among qualified players at 57.5 percent.
Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings
- Richards is another guy who has been in the Selke discussion in the past (he finished eighth last year), and he has been outstanding in his own end this year as well. He has been fantastic on the penalty kill -- Richards has been on the ice for more than 51 minutes shorthanded this season and only one 4-on-5 goal against.
He also faces tough competition at even strength -- Richards and consistent linemate Dustin Brown
are ninth and 10th in Behind the Net's quality of competition ratings (QUALCOMP) and have only been on the ice for seven goals against at even strength. The only other guys in the top 10 who have been on for fewer are Tampa Bay's Tom Pyatt
(who plays significantly fewer minutes) and Edmonton's Ales Hemsky
, Phoenix Coyotes
- This award often has an offensive component to it -- the League's best checking-line guys are often shut out, even if their top priority is to play defense. Gordon was solid and often very good at this role with the Washington Capitals
, but he's been even better since moving to Phoenix.
Gordon has been a top faceoff guy, and he's eighth in the League at 56.0 percent. He's also tied for third with 45 shorthanded faceoffs won (Bergeron is second with 46), and has won more than 59 percent of his draws while shorthanded.
He plays against tough competition (Gordon leads Phoenix's forwards in QUALCOMP) and has been on the ice for 15 goals at even strength and only eight against. Gordon is also among the League leaders in shorthanded ice at 3:03 per contest.