Kings fans dream of a day when their players are recognized individually on a national stage. Recently, we have not been closer than we have with Anze Kopitar's Selke aspirations.
The only thing that has really changed from this picture (created by @thxbud two seasons ago) is that Kopitar is about to lead the Kings in scoring for a 9th consecutive season.
He's still excellent. He always has been. I love him very much.
However, Kopitar's always had a formidable obstacle in the way of him actually winning this award: Patrice Bergeron.
Despite the fact that Jonathan Toews (wrongly) won a Selke during Bergeron's reign as the greatest defensive forward in the NHL, it has been Patrice's league to run for quite some time. It's worth mentioning that this is a very well-deserved reputation.
I mentioned Jonathan Toews. Toews is less formidable statistically, but still has created quite a speed bump for Kopitar on the road to winning this award. Kopi is basically Ultra-Toews and always has been. Toews, however, gained extra notoriety because his team won a Cup before the Kings did. Also, NBC has aired Chicago almost twice as often as the Kings since it took over the NHL's broadcasting rights. Despite being essential equals (or, despite Kopitar often being superior), Toews is seen as the slightly better player/defensive option.
Fortunately, as I explained in my post about Jonathan Quick's Vezina candidacy, there may be something to the theory that voters feel they owe Anze Kopitar (and many Kings) the award due to overlooking him in the past.
Kopitar has been a finalist for the award each of the past two seasons, and he's been in the top 10 in each of the past five seasons. He'll certainly be considered for the award again this year. So how does he stack up with other likely candidates?
Two seasons ago, at the height of Anze Kopitar's #SelkeSmooth push, my personal hero Blobert P. published this piece that tried to objectively look at the actual capabilities of each likely candidate. I'm going to do this as well. To get our bearings, we're gonna set a few parameters.
One: you have to play on the penalty kill. This is a big one. At this point of the evaluation, you don't have to even play well on the PK, but you cannot avoid the responsibility altogether. This flatly boots former frontrunner Pavel Datsyuk from the running. He hasn't played on the PK regularly in quite some time. We'll set an arbitrary limit at 1:00/game.
Two: you have to allow fewer goals against/60 than Patrice Bergeron. He was my cut off. According to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, this places him at 134th in the league among forwards with 500 minutes of ice time this season. These two qualifications leave us with 64 players.
Three: Goals For% has to be greater than 50%. If you're getting outscored, your defense doesn't really matter and no one really cares about you much any way. I know this is a defensive award, and if we're purely looking for defense, then this seems irrelevant. I do at least partially buy into the thought that the best defense is a good offense. If the team can't push play the other way, then they aren't excelling at defense. You would not be a viable candidate for the award. This qualification eliminates Dustin Brown and Nick Shore -- the latter has been one of the very worst offensive players in the NHL this season.
From here, I was going to go with using zone starts as another tool to eliminate candidates, but that would hilariously dispose of Jonathan Toews, much as it could have in Robert's linked post above. There is a zero percent chance that Toews gets overlooked for the award and there is not much reason to argue that he should be, besides the fact that he looks like a foot and I don't like him. Instead, we'll just look at competition (by TOI) and lop off the 20 players that face the weakest opponents.
This process of elimination leaves us with 20 candidates. That seems like a fair pool to evaluate. It leaves us with the Big Three of Kopitar, Bergeron and Toews. It also leaves us with several other candidates that are thought to be excellent by conventional wisdom. This lends some credence to the process, to me. Without further ado, here are the candidates and how they stack up.
|ZAJAC, TRAVIS||New Jersey||1.49||54.8||94.65||27.2||38.8||17.89||2.81||10.08||49.99||0.2||85.77|
|NIELSEN, FRANS||NY Islanders||1.59||54.8||94.03||28.7||36.6||17.63||2.02||10.72||53.51||2.68||88.95|
|KOPITAR, ANZE||Los Angeles||1.85||59.4||92.88||33.7||31.9||17.73||2.16||10.32||46.76||2.34||100.73|
|TOFFOLI, TYLER||Los Angeles||1.54||65||94.21||37.5||29||17.76||1.23||9.26||48.42||3.51||101.67|
|STEPAN, DEREK||NY Rangers||1.55||63.3||94.3||33.9||31.2||17.86||1.7||10.98||56.82||2.51||101.06|
|STEEN, ALEXANDER||St. Louis||1.85||54.2||93.63||32.5||33.1||17.94||1.95||10.78||55.79||-2.63||104.15|
|CARTER, JEFF||Los Angeles||1.77||52.2||93.99||39.6||27||17.67||1.68||10.15||52.13||-0.08||93.83|
If you have any questions about the acronyms used, please refer to this glossary.
Some fun names on this list! Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux! Probable future-season Selke winner Aleksander Barkov! Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter! Andrew Ladd! Okay, that one's not fun.
I included Goals For% because I used it as an elimination device, but I didn't feel that it was a particularly important evaluation tool at this point. Too much of GF% is reliant on teammates and luck. I don't think I'd include it in my evaluation personally. As long as the player is outperforming his opposition, I'm happy with his inclusion.
Save Percentage is open to interpretation. To me, a lower SV% does not mean you are a worse defender, but others might view that differently. SV% essentially winds up being GA/60 reversed, anyway, which means it's mostly irrelevant in analysis. Also, unless noted otherwise, all numbers are from 5v5 play.
Look, my objective thought on the Selke are that it probably should just be renamed the Bergeron Award at some point the future. Patrice is amazing. This year is certainly no different. At the same time, I'm all about having fun. I want Anze Kopitar to win, but also how cool would it be for hockey writers to recognize Barkov or Couturier? Those guys are going to have their time in the future, but they are already amazing. Even finally recognizing Travis Zajac's excellent two-way play would be interesting to me.
I feel like being great defensively as a forward right now is what it must have been like to be a great golfer at the same time as Tiger Woods' peak. Even if you outperform him for a time, who cares? We're all conditioned to just accept Bergeron awards anyway.
For instance, Travis Zajac may have outperformed Bergeron defensively so far this season. I also do not think even for a second that Zajac is actually going to beat Bergeron for the Selke. No one else is really in the ballpark (including, unfortunately, Anze Kopitar). There is still time left in the season, though! Hope remains.
I don't think it's been Kopi's best season. He's still wonderful, he's still been amazing, and he'll likely be a finalist for the award because award voters are creatures of habit. Still, though, pretty much any way I look at the numbers here puts him around the middle of this group of players. I do, however, believe that he has been significantly better than Jonathan Toews. This is worth mentioning because fuck Jonathan Toews.
I decided to go ahead and average each player's ranking in each category to see who performs across the board. I excluded GF% and SV% for reasons stated above. Predictably, Bergeron came in first. Travis Zajac was second. Jordan Staal was third. Anze Kopitar didn't show up until the 9th spot, just two steps ahead of Tyler Toffoli. Jeff Carter placed 19th, one spot ahead of last place Jonathan Toews. Here's the complete list:
If the question is "Will Anze Kopitar finally win the Selke?" then I think the answer is no. However, with a little less than 20 games left, he has a shot. A strong finish and a Kings' division win would be significant boosts to his profile. In the meantime, here's Kopi working on a dog bowl. This is perhaps the strongest Selke evidence in this whole damn post.
Note: all stats were pulled from stats.hockeyanalysis.com and war-on-ice.com. The stats were pulled a few days prior to publish and therefore may not be 100% accurate today.