Forget the Hart Trophy, Selke is better indicator for Cup success
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
Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews celebrates a goal against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.