by PuckStopsHere on 11/01/11 at 04:14 PM ET
Measuring defensive play is a tough thing to do sabermetrically. Thus picking an early season Selke Trophy leader as best defensive forward so far this season is difficult to do without considering player reputations gathered in previous seasons. Nevertheless, that is what I am trying to do today.
A Selke Trophy leader will be a player who played in a tough defensive situation and succeeded. The team that has a system that most actively tries to put forwards in tough defensive situations is the Vancouver Canucks. In order to maximize Henrik and Daniel Sedin’s offensive effectiveness, they are put into a situation where they will have as many offensive zone starts as possible. In order to do this, the Canucks need players who will succeed despite a tough number of defensive zone starts. Last year, Manny Malhotra took the majority of the regular season zone starts and tis freed Ryan Kesler to join the Sedins in a more offensive role. Malhotra was suffering an eye injury in the playoffs and Maxim Lapierre took his role successfully.
This season the Sedin brothers continue to be given an offensive role that maximizes their offensive zone starts. Ryan Kesler has missed five games so far with lingering injuries from the playoff run. Manny Malhotra has not been the same defensively dominant player since his eye injury. Maxim Lapierre is carrying the load of the defensive zone starts this season and doing it successfully.
Lapierre has a +3 +/- rating despite playing against tough opposition and starting most of his shifts in his own zone. He has a modest four points in eleven games. He is my early season pick for the Selke Trophy. I think he is the forward who has played a tough defensive role on his team and best succeeded.
Lapierre has 42 even strength defensive zone starts to go with 13 offensive ones. This puts him among the league leaders in extra defensive zone starts. That allows Henrik and Daniel Sedin and their linemate Alexandre Burrows to be the league leaders in offensive zone starts.
The Vancouver Canucks system of maximizing the offensive role for the Sedins allows for Canuck defensive forwards to play in some of the toughest roles in the league. If they have good defensive forwards they should have Selke winners and candidates as a result. Ryan Kesler won the 2011 Selke Trophy. Manny Malhotra was perhaps a better candidate since he was playing a tougher role but he didn’t have the reputation or offensive numbers to be taken as seriously by voters. Maxim Lapierre is probably more similar to Malhotra than he is to Kesler in that he doesn’t put up big offensive numbers. Although that shouldn’t be necessary to win a Selke Trophy, it usually is. I think Lapierre is the current leader for the Selke Trophy. He is playing a tough role and succeeding.
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