The nominees for the 2019 Selke Trophy award were released yesterday, and in a criminal offense, Sean Couturier is not one of them. The Flyers forward received his first nomination last season when he came in second to Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings in what was another criminal offense in my personal opinion. This season, a winger has a chance to win the award for the first time since Jere Lehtinen in 2003 with Mark Stone from the Vegas Golden Knights receiving a nomination, along with Ryan O’Reilly from the St. Louis Blues, and of course Patrice Bergeron because he’ll get this nomination until he retires.
So, without even looking up the statistics I felt some tomfoolery was afoot at the sight of Bergeron’s name. Last season in researching the three finalists, I found it seemed like Couturier was faced with the most difficult workload out of the three candidates, and posted the best statistics given said workload. Along the way, it was staggering to see the percentage of Patrice Bergeron’s zone starts that occurred in the offensive zone. A whopping 63.17 percent of his zone starts came in the offensive zone, good for the highest percentage among the three candidates last season, and not much has changed this season.
In going through some numbers, there’s not a whole lot of good reasons for Bergeron getting the nomination over Couturier, and it all comes back to the workload. For consecutive seasons, Couturier had a more difficult workload than Bergeron. The Flyers forward had an OZS percentage of 46.26 to Bergeron’s 62.83 this year which is a massive difference when we know how competent the latter is defensively. The high OZS percentages for Bergeron have only developed over the course of the past three seasons as a matter of fact, and the numbers beforehand are absolutely ridiculous in comparison.
From the 2007-08 season to 2015-16, Bergeron’s OZS percentage never reached higher than 47.09 with a low point of 36.82 in the lockout shortened season of 2013. He routinely hovered around the 40 percent mark and was still posting elite play driving metrics. In the previously mentioned lockout season, Bergeron drove play at an outstanding mark of a 60.45 CF percentage, and the following season he one upped that with a 61.22 CF. Over this period of time, it was clear Patrice Bergeron was one of, if not the best defensive forward in all of hockey.
However, there has been a clear shift over the past three seasons, which have seen Bergeron relied upon less as an elite defensive forward, but for his offensive abilities. Of course, the 33-year old isn’t getting any younger, and a lessening of defensive duties was bound to happen eventually, but this should not be ignored when deciding nominees for “best defensive forward.” Over the past three seasons, Bergeron’s CF has decreased each season, posting a 61.22 in 2016-17, 57.60 last year, and a 56.77 this year.
Obviously, Bergeron’s track record speaks for itself, he’s won a record-tying four Selke Trophies and it makes sense why he received the nomination from that perspective. The problem is, this season he simply is not as deserving as Sean Couturier. There are plenty of other forwards I could mention that are deserving, but this is a blog about the Philadelphia Flyers and Couturier is going to be the focal point of this argument. Let’s take a look at Bergeron’s numbers relative to Couturier this season.
Couturier vs. Bergeron
From an initial glance, this may seem like an outrageous argument to make that Couturier should have been nominated over Bergeron. He trails Bergeron in almost all of these play driving metrics, but there are a few key stats that stick out. Offensive zone starts, offensive zone faceoffs, average time on ice, and CF relative. Couturier’s job was clearly much more difficult than Bergeron’s, having to start from his own zone more often than not, almost a complete opposite of Bergeron’s numbers in the same category. Another key component here, is how Couturier almost averaged four more minutes per game and still held his own in these categories. What can’t be lost here is the teams these two players played for.
The Boston Bruins scored 107 points this season and didn’t win their division due to the absurdity of the Tampa Bay Lightning this season (well, until the playoffs that is). The Flyers, meanwhile, had one of the most frustrating seasons in recent memory, and only scored 82 points as they missed the playoffs. Not only did Bergeron have an easier workload, his team was overall much better than that of the Flyers.
Given the fact Bergeron has such a massive edge in the ease of his usage, it would be fair to expect the same in regards to his possession metrics, and that’s just not the case. He has a definitive edge over Couturier in most of these stats, but it’s not the massive lead that one would anticipate given the disparity in usage. Now, while there isn’t a tool to adjust for usage and this is more of an educated guess than a fact, I do believe that Couturier’s metrics are more impressive than Bergeron’s at 5-on-5.
So, let’s look at the other game situation that is looked upon when discussing top defensive forwards, the penalty kill. Once again, Bergeron bests Couturier in CF and actually saw a much lower OZS percentage this time around with a 0.89 to Couturier’s 1.95. The only true factor that plays into Couturier’s hand is that he averaged more time on the penalty kill per game than Bergeron averaging 2:21 to Bergeron’s 1:41.
The problem with everything that has just been thrown out there about the metrics these two have posted this season, is that it’s almost a given there aren’t many of the voters actually looking at these stats. Patrice Bergeron was a plus-23 this season, and his team made the playoffs as the second seed in the Atlantic Division. Sean Couturier on the other hand, was a plus two and his team fired their general manager and head coach in the same season, and missed the playoffs. Bergeron also had three more points than Couturier on the season in 15 fewer games. And while that shouldn’t necessarily matter for a “best defensive forward” award, you just know it does to some of the voters.
Sean Couturier had a breakout season last year and was arguably better this time around. He scored 76 points yet again and did it in two fewer games for a team that was 16 points worse than they were last season. Also, his usage increased even more from last season and was relied more upon defensively this season after breaking even in zone start percentage in 2017-18. At the end of the day, I’m not sure if Couturier is more deserving than Mark Stone who was absolutely outstanding for Ottawa and now Vegas this season, but I think he has the edge over Ryan O’Reilly and absolutely over Bergeron.
Does this mean I don’t think Patrice Bergeron is a great defensive forward? Of course not, that would be ludicrous. But at a certain point he needs to stop getting these nominations simply because: he’s Patrice Bergeron. Going off of his previous seasons where he had one of the hardest workloads in the NHL isn’t fair to the guys currently going through it. He can’t control his usage, but if he’s not really enduring the heavy workloads of players such as Sean Couturier, then I don’t see the validity in his nomination. Our toothless wonder will not win the Selke Trophy this season, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t win one before his career is over.
All data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and hockey-reference