News came down today that the three Selke candidates this season are Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Kesler and Jonathan Toews. The first two are probably legitimate candidates. The latter, Toews, is just a very good hockey player who seems to have been nominated due more to reputation than anything else because he most certainly wasn’t deployed as a “defensive forward” this season.
The two best ways to gauge defensive responsibilities for NHL players is: where they start their shifts and who they regularly play against. The best defensive forwards in the league are asked to take more draws in their own end of the rink and they are frequently skated against the other teams best players. Guys like Frans Nielsen and Manny Malholtra were exhaustively deployed by their coaches in this manner all year. As was Datsyuk for that matter.
Jonathan Toews? Not so much. In fact, the opposite. The Blackhawks captain’s zone start ratio (offensive to defensive face-offs) was 61.2% this year. In raw numbers, Toews started out in the o-zone some 172 more times than the defensive end during the regular season. In contrast, Datsyuk’s zone start ratio was 47.7% or -21 in terms of differentials. To put Toews ratio in further perspective, his was the 17th easiest zone start amongst regular forwards in the entire league this season – with only 22 guys finishing with a ZS at 60% or above. In short, Quenneville put Toews in a position to score at even-strength, not to defend.
In addition, Toews wasn’t even tasked with the toughest defensive assignment on his team, let alone in the league. That assignment went to Dave Bolland, who was absolutely buried by Joel Quenneville. Bolland’s zone start was 34.2 (!!), one of the toughest gigs going this season. Bolland was also the guy most frequently assigned with facing the other teams top opposition, as he did during the first round in the playoffs versus the Sedin twins. In fact, I would argue that Dave Bolland was a more deserving candidate for this particular award than Toews.
None of this is to say Toews is a bad player. He boasted some good numbers in terms of take-aways, face-off percentage and averaged the second most time on his team amongst forwards in terms of penalty killing (behind…Dave Bolland), but the fact of the matter is Toews wasn’t deployed as a defensive option by his coach at even strength. Not even kind-of. He is therefore not a legitimate candidate for this particular award. An excellent player, to be sure. Just not a true Selke candidate (yet).