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Does the hockey world need to judge Norris and Selke Trophy candidates differently?

Jun 23, 2011, 10:15 AM EDT

Nicklas Lidstrom AP

If there’s one lesson to take from Michael Lewis’ game-changing book “Moneyball,” it’s that traditional ways of thinking aren’t always correct. When it came to baseball, it was just illogical to treat walks as if they were borderline irrelevant, so on base percentage continues to push batting average to only the simplest discussions of that game.

The problem with hockey is that it’s simply not as easy to boil down to simple numbers as baseball. While baseball has an obvious point of action (pitch) and reaction (batter attempting to defeat that pitch), NHL games feature thousands of invisible calculations. Giveaways and takeaways might seem like reasonable hockey stats until you realize that another teammates’ mistake (in the case of some giveaways) or great forechecking pressure (in the case of some takeaways) often has as much to do with such an event as the players who are credited or penalized.

The murky nature of major NHL defensive stats makes me wonder: do we need to change the way we determine Norris and Selke Trophy candidates? In other words, are we depending on faulty defensive statistics and perceptions to decide these awards?

While Ryan Kesler deserves individual accolades, I’m not so sure he was even the best defensive forward in Vancouver. As Kent Wilson sagely pointed out, checking center Manny Malhotra absorbed a lot of the most disadvantageous situations to allow Kesler and Henrik Sedin to dominate opponents. Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was quick to admit that Kesler gained attention for his goals as much as for his defense.

“You know, I’m not quite sure about the description for that trophy,” Vigneault said. “All the guys that are up for it are great two-way players. They’re not the defensive type players that you had in the past like Guy Carbonneau or Bob Gainey who were really there to shut down the opposition. We never really asked [Kesler] to shut down anyone.”

While Kesler might have been a shaky choice in a highly literal sense, he was probably the best defensive forward of the three finalists. I’m not so sure the same can be said for Nicklas Lidstrom being the best all-around defenseman in 2010-11, however. While it’s great to see him win another Norris Trophy from the standpoint of pumping up his well-earned legacy, Lidstrom played only 23:28 minutes per game to Zdeno Chara‘s 25:26 time on ice and Shea Weber‘s 25:19. Lidstrom’s defensive numbers were – at times – disturbingly pedestrian, especially compared to his lofty legacy and his more leaned-upon colleagues. Lidstrom was great in the regular season, but he didn’t seem as crucial to his team as Weber or Chara was to theirs.

With his extensive penalty killing duties and strong faceoff skills, it’s easy to accept Kesler as the Selke winner. Lidstrom’s victory smells of name recognition, emphasizing points far too much for a defenseman and a general deficit in defensive stats that don’t require an accounting degree, though.

Obviously, these award ceremonies are for fun more than anything else. Still, if the league wants people to look back at different eras and say “That guy was the best defensive forward of that year,” then we might as well try to find him. Right now, I don’t think we’re really trying hard enough.

  1. warpstonebc - Jun 23, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    Kesler may not have been the shut down guy, but he always took the first shift on every penalty kill and the Canucks had one of the best PKs in the league. At the very least, he’s in the same category as Toews and Datsyuk in terms of in-game usage.

    But Lidstrom. Oi. Just boggles the mind how he beats out Chara or Weber.

  2. hystoracle - Jun 23, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    Selke should have nothing to do with scoring, period. It’s a defensive award. Scoring 50 goals or 2 goals should have no bearing on it. Have 100 points or 10 points – no bearing on it. There are a lot of guys in this league that are true defensive forwards that get no recognition. They might finish with 10-15 goals and be plus 5 to 15. But they are out there night in & night out against the other teams best lines. I think the Selke award was created to recognize those guys. If you want a best two way forward award create a new one for that.

  3. kylely - Jun 23, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    That is why you work for NBC. You, NBC, and Versus are a clueless bunch of characters that try to cover the NHL, and absolutley no nothing about the sport!!!

    • govtminion - Jun 23, 2011 at 1:41 PM

      Fair enough. Please, make them look bad by explaining the Selke trophy qualifications now as opposed to a couple of decades ago. Go on, please, I’d love to see what you think that makes you so much better than these guys.

      • rushbacker - Jun 23, 2011 at 6:59 PM

        Seriously. We’re all breathlessly awating your brilliant and insightful analysis, Kylely.

    • bobwsc - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:07 PM

      get clued in on how to spell genius. at least O’Brien is in the ‘no’ on how to spell.

  4. demons87 - Jun 23, 2011 at 12:04 PM

    If Lidstrom’s imminent retirement wasn’t the talk all year long, does he win the Norris? Is he even a finalist?

    It just seems odd that a defenseman who was on the ice for more non-special teams goals scored against his team than his team scored would be the best defenseman in hockey.

    You can say that +/- is a meaningless stat, but when your opponents defense is keeping more goals out of their net than you are out of yours, it’s hard to say that you are the best. Your job is primarily to keep the puck out of your teams net.

  5. sknut - Jun 23, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    People get lazy and resort to norms, it easy to understand how great of a Player Lindstrom is and thus wins it on reputation, but the numbers don’t lie. Chara and Weber were both more deserving.

    Same goes with the Selke, one of the great things about the NHL is guys who play a role ie. defensive forward to play in certain situations and does his job well, not just guys who score a lot.

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