The NHL’s award period rolls along on this beautiful Sunday morning, with the league announcing its 2021 nominees for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game”.
Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, Florida’s Aleksander Barkov, and Vegas’ Mark Stone are the trio of potential recipients this year, with each player boating a compelling case as to why they should have their name engraved on this prestigious award.
Bergeron, for instance, has been nominated for the Selke so many times he could likely sue for custody of it in court and win. This year marks the 35-year-old’s 10th consecutive top-three finish in Selke voting, a streak that dates all the way back to the 2010-11 season and produced four Selke wins, in the process. Only Wayne Gretzky has earned so many consecutive award nominations, with 10 straight top-three Hart Trophy finishes between 1980 through 1989. And when you’re matching records set by The Great One, it must mean you’re doing something right.
Despite his increased age, Bergeron continues to perform as one of the league’s premier defensive forwards. The Bruins controlled 62.5% of all even-strength shot attempts with their captain on the ice in 2021, demonstrating just how little the puck comes near Boston’s netminder whenever Bergeron hops over the boards.
With yet another sparkling season under his belt, Bergeron might be in line for his fifth Selke win of the past decade.
Coming off yet another sterling season for the high-flying Golden Knights, Stone enters the race in search of his first career Selke after finishing second in the voting back in 2018-19.
The 29-year-old winger is somewhat of a departure for how this particular award has been handed out in recent years, with centres usually taking precedent over their perimeter counterparts. Does such a narrow-minded way of quantifying a forward’s contributions in their own end make sense? Of course not. But that’s the NHL for you.
Regardless, Stone is an elite defensive forward with a real shot at finally coming out on top this year. Not only was the Vegas captain a stalwart on his team’s top-ranked penalty kill in 2021, he also all NHL players in takeaways once again with 58 and logged nearly 20 minutes per night on a Golden Knights team that allowed the fewest goals against in the entire league.
Positional bias be damned, Stone is a legitimate Selke contender.
And then there’s Barkov, a first-time nominee, who most hockey circles label “the most underrated player in the NHL”. A Selke win would surely do wonders in making the Panthers centre “rated”, and Barkov has the numbers to back it up.
The 25-year-old can do it all, finishing top-10 in face-off percentage this season with a 54.9% success rate, averaging the ninth-most ice time of any forward at nearly 21 minutes per game, and putting up sterling possession metrics highlighted by a 59.4% CF/60 at even strength. A defensive force for years, Barkov is finally being recognized as one of the NHL’s elite defensive forwards, just as he should be.
While always a hotly contested award, this year’s Selke race might be the tightest ever.