TWO-WAY STREET

For­get the Hart Tro­phy, Selke is bet­ter in­di­ca­tor for Cup suc­cess

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS [email protected]­media.com @Michael_­traikos

Aus­ton Matthews has five goals in three games to start the sea­son.

At this pace, he could run away with the Rocket Richard Tro­phy and pos­si­bly be an early can­di­date for the Hart Tro­phy if he re­mains healthy. But it was a com­ment from head coach Mike Bab­cock that sug­gested the Toronto Maple Leafs cen­tre should be eye­ing a com­pletely dif­fer­ent — and some would ar­gue a more im­por­tant — year-end tro­phy.

“I think he has a chance to be the best two-way cen­tre in hockey,” Bab­cock told re­porters last week.

In other words, for­get the Hart. It’s time we gave some love to the Selke Tro­phy.

The award for best de­fen­sive for­ward, which was es­sen­tially cre­ated in 1977-78 to ac­knowl­edge the no-frills game of Bob Gainey, is not just lim­ited to third-line grinders and penalty-kill spe­cial­ists any­more. Play­ing a strong two-way game, which means be­ing just as good de­fen­sively as you are of­fen­sively, is the mark of a com­plete player.

If his­tory is any­thing to go on, it’s also the mark of a Stan­ley Cup cham­pion. As Sergei Fe­dorov showed in 1994, when he claimed the Selke and Hart Tro­phy in the same sea­son, it’s ev­ery bit as valu­able as the more tra­di­tional MVP award.

“I see guys like (Pavel) Dat­syuk or (Anze) Ko­pi­tar and (Pa­trice) Berg­eron win­ning that or at least be­ing nom­i­nated over and over for that award,” Black­hawks cap­tain Jonathan Toews, who won the Selke in 2013, told Post­media at last month’s NHL Player Me­dia Tour in Chicago. “That says to me that those are the best skilled for­wards in the game who are still go­ing out there and com­pet­ing and do­ing all the lit­tle things right and more of­ten than not are the rea­son their teams are com­pet­ing for the Stan­ley Cup.”

That’s mostly true. Ryan O’reilly, who was last year’s Selke win­ner, also won the Conn Smythe Tro­phy as play­off MVP. It fol­lowed a tra­di­tion where 15 of the past 16 Selke awards went to play­ers who have also hoisted the Cup.

Com­bined, Selke win­ners have won 42 cham­pi­onships.

Mean­while, the last three Hart Tro­phy win­ners (Nikita Kucherov, Con­nor Mcdavid and Tay­lor Hall) have yet to win a Cup. In fact, they com­bined for just one play­off win in the years that they won the Hart.

“Ev­ery­one wants that twoway cen­tre that can also make an im­pact,” said O’reilly. “I ob­vi­ously think it’s a great tro­phy and it shows a lot.”

That’s why Bab­cock wants Matthews to win a Selke. And

it’s why Oil­ers GM Ken Hol­land wants Mcdavid to at least want to try and win it. It’s even why Sid­ney Crosby, who fin­ished fourth in vot­ing for the Selke last year, has put the tro­phy on his bucket list of awards he has yet to win.

“I think the Selke is a great thing,” said Crosby. “It’s an hon­our to be in the con­ver­sa­tion. But I think you play de­fence to help win and I think ev­ery one tries to do that.”

Well, not ev­ery­one tries to play de­fence. Putting up points of­ten comes at a cost — one that some play­ers are will­ing to live with.

Phil Kes­sel had a mi­nus-19 rat­ing to go along with his 82 points last year, while Alex Ovechkin had a mi­nus-35 rat­ing when he scored 51 goals in 2013-14. When asked whether Kucherov had emerged as the best player in the NHL, Florida’s Jonathan Hu­berdeau said it de­pends on your def­i­ni­tion of what “the best” means.

“Of­fen­sively, ob­vi­ously,” Hu­berdeau said of Kucherov, who won the Hart Tro­phy af­ter lead­ing the league with 128 points last sea­son. “But I don’t think he’s an all-around player like some other guys. I feel like to be the top player, you have to be a com­plete player, like two-way.”

It used to be that two-way play­ers were the for­got­ten ones. Most of this was be­cause you could win the Selke with mid­dling stats.

Dur­ing Gainey’s four-year reign, he never scored more than 23 goals or fin­ished with 50 points — and that was dur­ing a high-scor­ing era where Wayne Gret­zky was av­er­ag­ing more than two points per game. Three-time win­ner Guy Car­bon­neau av­er­aged .50 points per game over his Hall of Fame ca­reer.

The rea­son for this was sim­ple: it’s dif­fi­cult to play at both ends of the ice. That’s as true to­day as it was 30 years ago.

“It’s like the best for­ward who isn’t in the run­ning for the Art Ross or Hart be­cause he’s play­ing a heavy, two-way game ev­ery night,” said Toews. “I’m one of them.”

But even that’s slowly chang­ing. Dat­syuk twice recorded 97 points to win the Selke in back-to-back years and Ryan Kesler won the award in a year where he scored 41 goals.

Two years ago, Ko­pi­tar won the Selke with 92 points, just one point be­hind Hart Tro­phy win­ner Hall.

In other words, pro­duc­ing and pre­vent­ing points go hand in hand. It’s a con­cept that Matthews said he has learned dur­ing his time un­der Bab­cock, who coached Selke win­ners Steve Yz­er­man and Dat­syuk.

“De­fen­sively, since the first day I walked in, he re­ally wanted to make sure I was re­ally di­alled in as far as those things go,” Matthews said at the NHL Player Me­dia Tour. “Just try to de­velop that part of my game. Just hav­ing the puck more. I think I’ve come a long ways, but I def­i­nitely think there’s a lot of progress to be made.”

For a player like Toews, it’s a bit scary.

Af­ter all, Matthews and Crosby are two of the more dan­ger­ous of­fen­sive play­ers in the league. And now, they want to be just as good de­fen­sively? What’s left?

“If he wins the Selke, then I quit,” Toews said jok­ingly of Crosby. “Se­ri­ously, I’m done. Stick to your Hart tro­phies and Rocket Richards and all that. I’m out of here.”

Ev­ery­one wants that two-way cen­tre that can also make an im­pact.”

St. Louis’ ryan o’reilly

STAN BE­HAL/TORONTO SUN

Maple Leafs cen­tre Aus­ton Matthews cel­e­brates a goal against the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens on Satur­day night.

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