by PuckStopsHere on 06/22/09 at 03:07 AM ET
They asked 131 sports writers to name the five best defensive forwards in the NHL in the 2008/09 season and found they received 70 different answers. Even the most popular answers were missing from 10% or more of the ballots. The winner Pavel Datsyuk was named on 120 of 131 ballots. The runner up Mike Richards appeared on 113 ballots. Clearly there isn’t any uniformity in the way hockey writes judge defensive forwards. The voting can be found here.
Some of the choices which were relatively popular look like pretty poor choices. David Krejci of the Boston Bruins faced a near average quality of opposition and posted a league leading +37 +/- rating. He wasn’t used as a shutdown guy in Boston. He finished in sixth place in the voting. Travis Zajac was another high +/- guy. He led the New Jersey Devils with a +33 rating. He wasn’t their main shutdown player. He finished seventh in the voting. Among many voters, there was a tendency to vote for high +/- ratings who are not exactly defensive forwards.
There is also a tendency among some voters to vote for established names that have done well in the award voting in the past. Rod Brind’Amour of the Carolina Hurricanes won the Selke in 2006 and 2007. This season was a bit of a disaster for him. His -23 +/- was the worst among all forwards in the league. He finished 16th in the voting and even had a first place vote.
The tendency to vote for past winners and to vote for high +/- ratings both benefit Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit. Datsyuk is the defending winner of the Selke Trophy and posted a +34 rating, third best in the NHL. Given the number of odd votes cast, I think those tendencies alone gave Datsyuk the 2009 Selke Trophy. Datsyuk won by only seven points (one second place vote) over Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers. Richards was named as a first place choice on more ballots than Datsyuk (61 to 55). Richards was named on fewer overall ballots because some of the out to lunch voters had not discovered him as a top defensive forward. His +/- rating was a very good +22 (second on his team), but it was back of the league leaders. He has never been a Selke nominee in the past. Richards has a very high quality of opposition that he played against all season. He was a very successful penalty killer. He played almost three minutes per game on the penalty kill against high quality first line power play units and usually shut them down. He led the league with seven short handed goals and nine short handed points. Only 20 goals were scored during the time Richards was on the ice short handed. There was a net of 11 goals scored by his opposition (subtracting off the short handed goals his team scored). That number is ridiculously low and is unapproached by anyone else who has as much short handed time as Richards.
The main advantage Mike Richards should have over Pavel Datsyuk in Selke voting is that he plays in far more defensive situations. The Detroit Red Wings largely roll out all four lines. This limits Datsyuk’s ice time. He plays more than two minutes fewer per game than Mike Richards. Over the course of the season this worked out to about 160 minutes of playing time. This playing time was largely in these defensive match ups that Philadelphia coach John Stevens tried harder to establish than Detroit coach Mike Babcock did. This played Mike Richards in far more defensive situations over the season. The top defensive forward should be the player who plays well in the most defensive situations. If the Red Wings chose not to commit Datsyuk to as many defensive situations then his chances of winning that award should decrease. Based on the fact that Richards received more first place votes, it seems many voters understood that. However, with the rather large number of poor selections made in the voting allowed Datsyuk to win anyway.
There is a lot of variation in the Selke voting. Seventy different names were mentioned on 131 ballots. Some of those names were poor choices. The voting was very close between the two top contenders in Pavel Datsyuk and Mike Richards. Some of the incorrect biases of voters, rewarding players who have done well in the past in the voting and rewarding players with high */- ratings without concern for the circumstances of those numbers both benefitted Pavel Datsyuk. Those biases were enough to give him an award that Mike Richards would have better deserved.
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