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Looking at Sidney Crosby’s omission from the Selke Trophy finalists

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Was Crosby really one of the top three defensive forwards in the league this season? We check the data of Sid vs. Patrice Bergeron, Ryan O’Reilly and Mark Stone

NHL: Boston Bruins at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last week the nominees for the Selke Trophy were announced, and Sidney Crosby was not among the three finalists.

It’s not a huge shock that Crosby didn’t make it this time around, but momentum is surely picking up a bit for the Pens’ captain as he has been gaining a reputation for his two-way play for a while now. Crosby has finished in the top-10 in Selke voting each of the last three seasons and probably will push closer to the top-five this year, even if he obviously we now know he didn’t make it up to the top-three.

Selke is a tough one to judge, and often is based on reputation. Here’s the official definition from the league about what the award is for:

The Frank J. Selke Trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game

That leaves a lot to the imagination for just an open-ended “most skill in the defensive component”.

Here’s a look at some 5v5 metrics to compare Patrice Bergeron, Mark Stone and Ryan O’Reilly, the three finalists along with how Crosby stacked up. Data from nhl.com and Natural Stat Trick

Short-handed time on ice wasn’t nearly as big of a factor as I expected. Bergeron only ranked 62nd among NHL forwards with 1:42 SH TOI (min 64 games), Stone was 126th so it’s not like those guys were super workhorses down a man for their teams, though they certainly were a normal part of the rotation. Crosby only ranked 157th though among forwards with limited SH time.

Stone excelled at one metric not included in the graphic above: takeaways. It’s a pretty subjective stat from town to town, but Stone’s 122 takeaways were way higher than Bergeron (42), Crosby (54) or O’Reilly (94) in that look.

Hockey-Reference tracks a “defensive point share” and O’Reilly’s 3.0 led this group of forwards, and it was also second in the entire league, behind Tyler Seguin of Dallas, if you can believe that. Stone and Crosby were at 2.4 and Bergeron was 2.3 which placed all solidly within the top-20 in the league for this metric. Bergeron would have been way higher had he not missed 17 games.

But Bergeron missing those 17 games and still being a finalist does look like the biggest stretch here, as if reputation and being notorious for being a very fine two-way player excused missing 20% of the season in the voter’s eyes. That’s a shame since Bergeron ranked third or fourth in most of the above rankings if only because his sample size was smaller.

Based on this data, by all statistical accounts the forward with the finest all-around defensive season this year was Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues. The reasoning:

  • O’Reilly had a very heavy defensive-based role that Crosby and Bergeron really didn’t have (check those o-zone start percentages).
  • O’Reilly did a great job limiting actual goals against versus his xGA, and still tilted shot-based possession even with tough starts.
  • O’Reilly took the most faceoffs in the league this season (1,086) and won an impressive 56.9% which was higher than Bergeron and Crosby.
  • At 2:00 minutes a game his SH TOI was the most impressive of the finalists
  • He had the highest defensive point share among forwards in this grouping

The award show in June will announce the winner. This year Crosby was a fringe finalist, and I’ll bet probably ended up about fifth in overall voting (give or take a spot). But based on the numbers that showed role, usage and defensive performance, Sidney Crosby was not the NHL’s “most skilled forward in the defensive component of the game” in 2018-19. That would be O’Reilly in STL, unless the voters liked Stone’s takeaways and blocked shots or Bergeron’s overall mysticism of solid play in a season where he was out 20% of the time.