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Making a case for Sean Couturier to win the Selke Trophy

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Typing that headline made me oh so happy.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Couturier had a season that virtually none of us were expecting. He finally cracked the 40 point mark and then decided to tack on another 36, giving him an amazing breakthrough 76 point year. While he benefited from playing on a line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek for most of the beginning of the year, and no one is denying that certainly helped him, one can absolutely make the argument that he helped Giroux’s game as well. Couturier lightened Giroux’s workload by assuming the center role on the line, and with his elite hockey sense, opened up the ice for a player of Giroux’s skill.

Couturier is up for the Frank J. Selke Trophy this season, against Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, and, naturally, Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. This is his first time as one of the three finalists for the trophy, previously the highest Couturier has finished in voting for the Selke is eighth in the 2015-2016 season. When asked at the NHL Awards media availability if he’s “had a chance (the last couple of days) to really take it in — the season that you had and being nominated for this award” Couturier had this to say:

“Yeah I think it’s a tremendous honor. It’s nice to be recognized. You don’t necessarily play for the personal trophy and awards but it’s nice to be recognized by others, the way you play. Especially being nominated with [Patrice] Bergeron and [Anze] Kopitar, they’re two guys I kind of modeled my game after coming into the league and it’s already just a great honor to be nominated with them.”

Now, let’s take a deeper look into Couturier’s breakout year and what, in his statistics alone, make him a possible winner of the Selke. Then, we can compare Couturier to his fellow nominees.

Sean Couturier 2017-2018 Statistics:

31 G, 45 A in 82 GP, +34, 21:36 ATOI, 52.8 FO%, 48 takeaways

53.46 CF%, 52.02 CA/60, 56.4 dZS% 55.05 xGF%, 67 penalties taken to 86 penalties drawn

We already know about the drastically improved point totals, but Sean Couturier averaged the most time on ice in his seven year career, tied his career high in takeaways, started almost 60% of his shifts in the defensive zone, and still kept his metrics at a high level. Couturier posted the second highest CF% in his career so far and posted a career best CF% rel at 5.6%. For someone who was tasked with killing penalties on top of being a shutdown center, putting up those kind of numbers is absolutely incredible. What makes all of it even better is this: Couturier wanted it. He told Dave Hakstol at the beginning of the year he wanted a bigger role. He got it. Then made the most out of it in the regular season and the playoffs. This is a guy who scored a hat trick in an elimination game on a torn MCL. Remember when people said he was bad?

Now that we’ve analyzed Couturier’s season, let’s compare him to fellow nominee Anze Kopitar.

Anze Kopitar 2017-2018 Statistics:

35 G, 57 A in 82 GP, +21, 22:05 ATOI, 54.1 FO%, 54 takeaways

52.1 CF%, 53.54 CA/60, 51.9 dZS%, 49.3 xGF%, 61 penalties taken to 65 drawn

Kopitar has Couturier beat in many of the “basic” stats, if you will. He beat him in goals, assists, points, averaged more time on ice, and had more takeaways. However, where Couturier really stands out compared to Kopitar is deeper in the metrics. Couturier was better in each and every one of the metrics listed above, and did all of that with more defensive zone starts. What is also impressive is just how big the gap was in expected goals for percentage. Couturier blew Kopitar out of the water with his 55.05% to Kopitar’s 49.3%. After digging deeper, Couturier also has the edge in expected goals against per 60, with a mark of 2.19 to Kopitar’s 2.32. Now. who knows how much the majority of voters will be looking at these kind of metrics, and how much they’ll value them, but this is certainly impressive. Couturier also had a much better penalties taken to drawn ratio. With all of this being said, I think it’s fair to say Couturier has the edge over Kopitar.

Now here comes the man the trophy may as well be named after at this point, Patrice Bergeron.

Patrice Bergeron 2017-2018 Statistics:

30 G, 33 A in 64 GP, +21, 19:26 ATOI, 57.3 FO%, 55 takeaways

57.68 CF%, 48.7 CA/60, 40.6 dZS%, 52.06 xGF% 49 penalties taken to 57 drawn

Patrice Bergeron did not play a full season this past year, which does deflate his point totals just a bit. He was basically on a point per game pace and most likely would have finished above Couturier in points if he played all 82 games, so we’ll give him the edge there. Couturier does have him beat in ATOI, however Bergeron has the edge in all of the other “basic” stats otherwise. The advanced metrics are where things get very interesting.

Bergeron absolutely has the edge in CF%, his insane 57.68% is at an elite level without question. However, as we dive into the rest of these stats, Couturier has the edge in just about all of them. Bergeron has him in CA/60, but look at the defensive zone start percentage. Bergeron only had a 40.6 dZS% compared to Couturier at 56.4%. That’s a 15.8% difference, folks. Bergeron may have the better CF% numbers, but he was sheltered during this season, in a way. Couturier started in the defensive zone well more than Bergeron did, and still finished relatively close to him in CF% and CA/60. The Flyers center also beats him in xGF% by just under three percent, and holds the edge in xGA/60 with Bergeron coming in at 2.34 to Couturier’s 2.19. Although Bergeron didn’t play the full season that Couturier did, his penalties taken to drawn ratio was still worse than Couturier’s, which should be taken into account.

After this analysis, I think Sean Couturier is more than deserving of winning the Selke Trophy for the 2018 season. At the very least, it appears he has the edge over Kopitar, but the real question will be if he can overtake Bergeron. The Bruins center is going for his record fifth Selke, and no matter what the stats say, he’s going to be the favorite. I think given everything discussed here though, Couturier should be taking home his very first Selke tonight in Las Vegas.

Stats courtesy of hockey-reference and Corsica.hockey