Who is the NHL’s best defensive forward: Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron or Anze Kopitar?


(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

The NHL awards the Selke Trophy “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”

It’s been awarded 35 times to 23 players since the 1977-78 NHL season, but just 11 have played a position other than center, so it’s no surprise that three pivots are up for the award this year.

It should be close. Here are the defensive virtues of each candidate:

Why Jonathan Toews should win:

Toews, the Selke winner last season for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, is one of the best forwards in the game. Ignoring special teams and lead-protecting situations (“close-game situations”), the Blackhawks outshot their opponents 440 to 333 (56.9 percent) with their captain on the ice and have a whopping 58.3 percent win rate for even-strength faceoffs occurring in the defensive zone.

The Manitoba native skated more than 21 minutes a night, which included 1 minute 33 seconds with the penalty kill.

Why Patrice Bergeron should win:

Bergeron is a Selke finalist for the third straight season and won it at the end of the 2012 season. This season, he won 58.6 percent of his faceoffs (1,015 wins) while skating 18 minutes per night, two per game while Boston was shorthanded.

He also drives play, helping the Bruins outshoot opponents 385 to 274 (58.4 percent) at even strength with the game within reach (no more than a one-goal lead by either team) when he is on the ice. Those same linemates without him: 50.3 percent.

Why Anze Kopitar should win:

This is the first time Kopitar is a finalist for the award — he finished ninth in 2011 and 2012, then fourth last season — but he has been deserving for quite some time.

Kopitar led all Los Angeles forwards in ice time (20:53, two minutes on penalty kill) during the regular season and was on the ice for 468 shots, but just 279 against (62.7 percent) at even strength during close games. His linemates managed to take just 53.3 percent of all shots without him.

Kopitar was put out for 366 defensive draws at evens and won 221 of those faceoffs (60.3 percent), plus won 53.3 percent overall.

The winner of the Selke Trophy will be announced on June 24 at the NHL’s Awards Show in Last Vegas.

Note: I am a member of the international chapter of the PHWA but did not participate in this year’s voting.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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