Sunday, January 20, 2008

Selke Trophy Leader

I like to write posts that list who I think is the leader for all the major NHL awards, as soon as that leader emerges during the season. One award I have not written about so far this season is the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward. It has not bee easy to identify a frontrunning candidate throughout most of the season.

Lat season, the Selke was given to Rod Brind'Amour of the Carolina Hurricanes. It was his second in a row. I believe he deserved the award, although many argued that the other nominees last year Sami Pahlsson of the Anaheim Ducks and Jay Pandolfo of the New Jersey Devils did. This is because of a fundamental lack of definition behind what is a defensive forward. Brind'Amour had more ice time than just about any forward in the NHL last year. He was used in both defensive and offensive situations by the Hurricanes. While he excelled in the defensive situations, his use in offensive situations as well dropped his average defensive stats (such as quality of opposition or goals against per minute when he was on the ice) from the levels of Pahlsson or Pandolfo. Pahlsson and Pandolfo had much more limited offensive value to their teams and were used in almost exclusively defensive situations. All three of these forwards were the primary defensive forward on their team and were on the ice as much as possible in important defensive situations.

In a new season, none of these three have emerged as legitimate Selke frontrunners. Brind'Amour is possibly starting to show his age. At 37, his ice time is starting to drop and he is no longer giving as goos a showing in his defensive stats.

After a great playoff last year, many fans were all but ready to give Pahlsson this year's Selke Trophy before the season began. However, injuries have limited Pahlsson to 33 of his team's 50 games so far and have limited his effectiveness at times while he is in the lineup.

Would that make Jay Pandolfo the obvious leader? It might if he hadn't been hit by injuries as well. Pandolfo has only played in 24 games so far this year.

So we must look in a new direction for a best defensive forward in the league. The man who has emerged as the leader is Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks. Sharp has the best +/- among forwards on his Chicago team (with +11). He leads the NHL in short handed goals and points (with 7 and 9 respectively). He plays as tough minutes as anyone in Chicago does and plays them well. He has played so well that some have suggested he should be in the All Star Game.

It is a bit of a surprise that Sharp is doing as well as he is. He was stuck in the Philadelphia Flyers system until he was almost 25, getting limited NHL ice time and frequently shuttled between the NHL and AHL. Chicago traded for him in 2005 and gave him NHL ice time for the first time in his career. He has adapted well and has been the best defensive forward in the league so far this season (and has contributed offensively too). Patrick Sharp is my pick for the Selke Trophy at this point in the season.

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