The NHL continues to inch toward starting its playoff tournament later this summer. That means some regular-season business soon needs to be completed. Awards, for one thing.
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association must submit their completed ballots by June 15. Sean Couturier is considered the frontrunner for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which is awarded ‘to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.’
Couturier’s Strong Season
Now in his ninth NHL season, the 27-year-old center played fewer minutes under new coach Alain Vigneault than he did in his last couple of seasons. However, he still led all Philadelphia Flyers forwards in total ice time, even-strength ice time and penalty-kill time.
Couturier led the league by winning 59.6 percent of his faceoffs. He had a career-best 57.2 Corsi-for percentage at even strength, second in the league. And he fits the prototype for the modern Selke winner. He’s a two-way center who excels at both ends of the ice. He pairs his strong shutdown game with an impressive offensive touch, as both a scorer and a set-up man.
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Stiff Selke Competition
During All-Star Weekend in January, the PHWA announced that it had chosen Couturier as its midseason Selke winner. Four-time Selke winner Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins placed second and last year’s winner, Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues, finished third.
At the break, Couturier had 43 points in 50 games and was a plus-15. He was averaging 58.3 percent on faceoffs while skating 20:02 per game. Bergeron, who missed seven games with a lower-body injury, had 41 points in 42 games. He was also a plus-15 and 58.3 percent in the circle, averaging 19:18 per game. O’Reilly had 43 points in 49 games, was a plus-one, and was 56.9 percent on draws, averaging 20:47 per game.
The hockey writers at The Athletic conducted their own end-of-season awards vote in March. Since they make up the largest single block of voters in the PWHA, those results might provide a clue to how the actual Selke voting will turn out:
- Sean Couturier – Philadelphia Flyers – 48.78 percent
- Anthony Cirelli – Tampa Bay Lightning – 29.27 percent
- Patrice Bergeron – Boston Bruins – 12.2 percent
Anthony Cirelli entered the conversation as the season wore on. The 22-year-old center finished 11th in Selke voting last season. He put together a breakout campaign with the Lightning this year.
Cirelli hit a career-high with 44 points in 68 games, saw his ice time increase by more than three minutes a game and was tied for fifth in the league at plus-28 when the season was paused. His only black mark compared to the established names is his faceoff work, with a win rate of just 47.5 percent.
Projecting Trophy Results
Bergeron was a plus-23 at the pause, with 56 points in 61 games on the NHL’s top team. O’Reilly had 61 points in 71 games and improved to a plus-11 as the Blues held down first place in the Western Conference. And Couturier had 59 points in 69 games and was a plus-21. During the Flyer’s 9-0-0 surge just before the season stopped, he collected seven points, including a game-winning goal, and was a plus-three.
Bergeron turns 35 in July. His last Selke win came in 2017, so his time as an automatic choice may be coming to a close. O’Reilly’s Selke win last year was a reward for the Blues’ amazing surge in the second half of the regular season. Then, he went on to win the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy. Voters may feel like he has been lauded enough for now. As for Cirelli, he should improve on last season’s finish but will need to get those face-off numbers up and show that he can be consistently steady before he’ll crack the top three. A strong showing in a long playoff run for the Lightning would also boost his case for future seasons.
Couturier’s in a great spot — the frontrunner, who has paid his dues, and who has thrived in Alain Vigneault’s more defense-minded system this season. Expect to see him win his first career NHL award when the Selke winner is announced.