As Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter noted last season, teams that spend a lot of time playing in their own zone in this era of the NHL say they're playing defense but are typically just getting scored or on relying their goaltender to bail them out.
The best defensive players in the NHL are the ones who avoid having to play it a lot. There is a desire to possess the puck, and a player's ability to keep the puck and win it back have become incredibly valuable commodities.
Forwards, particularly centers, who are strong in all areas of the ice help drive the offense and support the defense. Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins has earned a reputation for being one of the best in the sport at this, and he is the favorite to win the Selke Trophy at the three-quarter pole of the 2014-15 season.
Bergeron has won the award in two of the past three seasons and could be the fifth player to earn the trophy three times since it was first awarded in 1977-78.
The answer for why Bergeron deserves to be the favorite is pretty simple. He faces the toughest competition, earns the toughest assignments and the Bruins still dominate the game when he is on the ice.
Bergeron leads Bruins forwards in quality of competition and defensive zone starts. The 137 defensive zone starts is in the top 10 in the NHL, and his percentage of shifts that start in his own end is higher than other centers on that leaderboard like Ryan Kesler, Joe Thornton and Claude Giroux.
Despite all of that, Bergeron is still sixth in the NHL among forwards with at least 200 minutes of even-strength ice time in Corsi-for percentage at better than 58 percent. He's also third in the League in faceoff percentage among qualified centers at 58.5 percent, and his 295 faceoffs won is second in the NHL.
His numbers alone make Bergeron worthy, but he's also compiled them in more adverse conditions than he is used to. Two of the other four best players on the Bruins (Zdeno Chara and David Krejci) have missed significant time with injuries. The fourth, Tuukka Rask, was not performing at his typical level until recently.
The Bruins remain in the hunt for a playoff berth and the Atlantic Division title, and Bergeron has been their most valuable player. He's also a strong choice for the Selke Trophy at this stage in the 2014-15 season.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers -- Giroux doesn't have the reputation that other two-way centers like Bergeron, Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar possess, but he's having a fantastic season. While his possession stats are not among the League leaders at a basic level, he is a top-five forward in both Corsi- and Fenwick-for percentage relative to his team's average at even strength.
He's also doing that despite having started the third-most shifts in the defensive zone among forwards with at least 200 minutes of even-strength ice time. The only players with more than Giroux's 152 are Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks of the Edmonton Oilers. Few players are shifting the territorial battle as well as Giroux, and he's an integral part of the team's penalty-killing efforts.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks -- The Blackhawks are one of the best teams at playing with the puck, and this season they are using that ability to prevent goals at an elite rate. Toews is obviously a big part of that. He leads all NHL forwards who have played at least 200 minutes at even strength in quality of competition, and his lack of defensive zone faceoffs is a result of Chicago's ability to avoid them.
He's among the League leaders in puck possession. He's a key figure for Chicago's penalty kill, which has been fantastic. This is the era of elite two-way centers, so like many seasons of late there is more than one correct answer for this award. Toews would be a worthy winner.
Also in the mix: Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens; Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning; David Backes, St. Louis Blues
NOTE: All quality of competition, zone start, Corsi and Fenwick statistics in this article come from www.war-on-ice.com