Mailbag: Selke favorites, Maple Leafs D-men, Zibanejad's rank at center
NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questionsby Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer
Here is the March 18 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag. If you have a question during the pause in the NHL season due to the coronavirus, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.
Who is your Selke Trophy favorite (if the season ended today)? -- @Start_Sammy
I narrowed it to my top five candidates for the Selke Trophy, which is awarded to the player voted to be the best defensive forward. I've considered some important and readily available statistics that help define this award, including discrepancy between shot attempts percentage (SAT) vs. percentage of defensive-zone starts, shorthanded ice time per game vs. success of the penalty kill, face-off percentage and plus/minus (with emphasis on anything in the plus-15 or above category). Anything between plus-14 and even, or going into the minus, has too many variables that can be attacked. If you're plus-15 and you're on the ice for a lot of defensive zone face-offs at even strength, then you're doing something right. Notice that I'm not mentioning goals, assists or points for any of the players I've listed, but all have at least 44 points.
My top five with stats based on at least 50 games played:
1. Sean Couturier, C, Philadelphia Flyers
He leads the NHL in face-off winning percentage at 59.6 percent (minimum 500 face-offs). He's third in defensive-zone face-off winning percentage (59.5 percent) among forwards with at least 300 defensive-zone face-offs. Couturier is 15th among forwards who have played at least 30 games in SAT (56.1 percent). The Flyers have an overall SAT of 50.9 percent. Couturier, who is plus-21, has started 51.4 percent of his shifts in either the defensive zone or neutral zone and averages 2:02 of shorthanded ice time per game on a penalty kill that is 11th in the NHL at 81.8 percent.
Video: CAR@PHI: Couturier scores 26 seconds after Aube-Kubel
2. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins
The four-time Selke winner is plus-23 and has an SAT of 56.0 percent on a team that has an overall SAT of 50.8. He starts 62.6 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, but that has a lot to do with the success of his line, including right wing David Pastrnak and left wing Brad Marchand. They routinely drive possession. Bergeron has won 57.9 percent of his 1,311 face-offs, sixth best among NHL forwards, including 57.2 percent of his 605 offensive-zone face-offs, 58.6 percent of his 348 neutral-zone face-offs and 58.4 percent of his 358 defensive-zone face-offs. He has won 49.6 percent of shorthanded face-offs (49.6) and is averaging 1:43 of shorthanded ice time per game.
Video: BOS@PHI: Bergeron wrists one past Hart
3. Anthony Cirelli, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
Cirelli is plus-28, which is tied with teammate Brayden Point for second in the NHL among forwards. Cirelli has an SAT of 52.0 percent despite starting only 45.2 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. He plays 2:49 per game on the penalty kill, helping the Lightning rank tied for 13th in the NHL at 81.4 percent. His issue this season has been at the face-off dot, where his winning percentage has dropped to 47.5 percent from 52.8 percent last season.
Video: TBL@BOS: Cirelli opens scoring with SHG from circle
4. Phillip Danault, C, Montreal Canadiens
His SAT of 59.2 percent is third in the NHL among forwards who have played at least 30 games, behind linemates Tomas Tatar (60.1 percent) and Brendan Gallagher (60.0 percent). Danault has started 54.1 percent of his shifts in either the defensive zone or neutral zone and has won 54.5 percent of his face-offs, including 50.9 percent in the defensive zone. His 525 defensive-zone face-offs are tied for fourth in the League. Danault, who is plus-18, averages 2:31 on the penalty kill, but the Canadiens are 19th in the NHL at 78.7 percent.
Video: CAR@MTL: Danault taps Tatar's feed home in front
5. Ryan O'Reilly, C, St. Louis Blues
Last season's Selke winner has an SAT of 52.8 percent (the Blues are 50.8 percent) and is plus-11. He starts 46.9 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, second fewest among the Blues' regular centers behind Oskar Sundqvist (40.6). He has averaged 2:09 of shorthanded ice time per game, but the Blues are 18th in the NHL on the penalty kill at 79.3 percent.
Video: CHI@STL: O'Reilly nets Schenn set-up in transition
When the Toronto Maple Leafs have their injured defensemen back and fit will there be a big uptick in performance, or is there a basic lack of balance in the team that will stop them from winning? -- @SPENCE_JOHN
The Maple Leafs were getting closer to full health on the back end, with Cody Ceci playing the final two games and Morgan Rielly returning for the last game before the pause in the season. Jake Muzzin was out with a broken hand, an injury he sustained Feb. 25. I have to think the Maple Leafs are more stable defensively when they have everyone healthy, including Muzzin. It gives them options, especially with the slow emergence of Rasmus Sandin. They were showing improvements by allowing three goals and an average of 30.3 shots on goal per game in their three games prior to the pause, including one goal on 33 shots in a 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 10.
So it's a step in the right direction, but you're not going to convince me that Toronto's issues are because of its defensemen or a lack of balance. To me, it's more of a mindset that comes with experience and maybe the need for more grind in the Maple Leafs' game that at times plagues them. They are loaded with talent, but they are young and learning how to win in the NHL. Forwards Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner are 22, and forwards Kasperi Kapanen and William Nylander are 23. So too is defenseman Travis Dermott. They are a big part of Toronto's core and they have not been given a fair amount of time to get it right. Expectations have been high since Matthews arrived as the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. But they're still learning things like situational awareness, on a game-to-game basis and in-game. For example, how can Toronto win three in a row, two on the road against the Florida Panthers and Lightning, and another at home against the Vancouver Canucks, and then go to California and score three goals in total, in three straight losses against the bottom three teams in the Western Conference? How do they go into the third period against the San Jose Sharks tied 2-2 and give up three goals, including two in 50 seconds, to lose 5-2? It's a lack understanding what it takes to go to the next level in the NHL. It's a lack of push and, when necessary, pushback. They've been hurt by this in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past three seasons, which is why they haven't gotten out of the first round.
Does this mean the Maple Leafs are bad and going nowhere? No. It means they're young and learning. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Braden Holtby went through years of high expectations that led to playoff disappointments before they finally put it all together to lead the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup two years ago. The Maple Leafs will get there if they keep the core together and build around it the way the Capitals did.
Where do you think Mika Zibanejad ranks among centers in the League? -- @1994_nyr
The New York Rangers center has moved into the top 10 because he now has the ability to take over a game in the way that the elite centers in the League can do. We see it from Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres, and Matthews. Zibanejad was close to making my Selke Trophy list, knocked down only because the others had a better SAT, and although he plays 2:37 per game shorthanded, the Rangers are 23rd in the League on the PK at 77.4 percent. However, his overall game, complete with his skating, shot, forechecking and defensive awareness, makes him one of the best players in the League right now. I'd put Draisaitl, McDavid, Crosby and MacKinnon ahead of him, but I'd certainly be willing to listen to an argument for Zibanejad as the fifth best center in the League. It's an argument that would have been absurd to make before last season.
Video: WSH@NYR: Zibanejad scores five goals, OT winner
You have one line in 3-on-3 overtime and you're only going to pick one center to play on it. Who do you choose among Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Mathew Barzal? Assume in this case whichever of the two Edmonton Oilers players you don't pick doesn't play the wing in OT. -- @JMisercolaDBSF
I'll go with Draisaitl. He's been the most dangerous scorer in the League this season, which is why he leads the NHL with 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists), including two goals and an assist in overtime. Although he may not be as fast as the other two, he's certainly as dangerous, or more, with the puck on his stick. And 3-on-3 overtime is about possession as much as it's about a rush game. You need speed, but you also need to slow it down in the offensive zone, to see the play develop before you make it. If it was only about a rush game, the choice would be either Barzal (assists on three of the New York Islanders' eight overtime goals this season) or McDavid (assists on two of Edmonton's four OT goals), but for this season, the chances he's generating, the ability to get to the net or score on a one-timer, I've got to go with Draisaitl.