Via @DanTheFlyeraFan on Twitter
It’s that time of year again, the NHL Awards are here! Never failing to cause controversy in every category, today, I’ll look closer at the Selke Trophy nominees. The 2016-17 nominees are Ryan Kesler, Mikko Koivu, and Patrice Bergeron. While they’re all deserving of the award, Flyers fans are asking one question… Where’s Sean Couturier?
The biggest problem with the awards is that most of them are judged by the wrong stats. The Norris trophy is a great example, as it is usually given to the defenseman who amasses the most points versus the player who’s the best at their position. The same rules apply for the Selke, more often than not going to the highest scoring two-way forward rather than the best.
The Selke Trophy by definition is the “National Hockey League forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.” Patrice Bergeron is a perennial finalist and three-time winner. Kesler is a 3 time finalist and one-time winner, While Koivu has only made one previous appearance as a finalist.
Ryan Kesler is coming off his best season since 2010-11 with 58 points. He finished the season winning a whopping 57% of his faceoffs. Keslers’ peripheral stats are nothing to overlook (186 SOG, 146 HIT, 75 BLK, 83 PIM). The glaring issue for me is he finished the season only a plus-8. Ryan Kesler played a huge role for Anaheim this season, In the Ducks 46 wins, Kesler had 41 points and went plus-28. In their 12 losses, Kesler registered only 12 points and a minus-16.
Miikko Koivu is the dark horse in the Selke voting this year. Koivu has played a pivotal role for The Wild for years. posting three 50+ point seasons in the past four years, he continues to be a solid playmaker in Minnesota. Koivu wrapped up the 2016-17 season with 58 points as well. His other stats are less impressive than Keslers (139 SOG, 32 HIT, 65 BLK, 34 PIM) However, the place Koivu has him beat is +/-, owning a plus 27 good enough for 9th in the NHL.
Bergeron has long been considered the best two-way player in the game. His point totals are very impressive, having not finished the season with less than 50 points since 2008-09 (minus the lockout year). 2016-17 saw him finish with 53 points and a plus-17. HIs other stats fall in the middle of Koivu and Kesler (52 HIT, 47 BLK, 24 PIM) and the standout stat is a staggering 302 shots on goal.
Now, on to Sean Couturier. His offensive numbers are not nearly as impressive this season (or any other) as those listed above. 34 points in 2016-17 and averaging point totals in the high 30s for the previous 3 seasons. Injuries derailed his season, playing in only 66 games, explaining his minor drop in points. Couts has been one of the players caught in the line of fire of Dave Hakstol’s system. He wasn’t given a chance under Berube, then Hak shows up and gives Couturier ice time on the second line but he couldn’t handle that role.
Couturier rarely saw the same linemates on a night-to-night basis, partially to blame for his offensive struggles. It wasn’t until The Flyers acquired Valtteri Filppula at the trade deadline that Couturier started to play extremely well. Couts scored 17 of his 34 points in the 20 games after the deadline being paired with Dale Weise and Brayden Schenn, of all people.
The biggest difference between Sean and the three Selke finalists is his position on the roster. Sean Couturier is a 3rd-liner while the others are all a mainstay in the top 6. The point totals are the other major gap between the players. Couts’ career high is 39 points, hitting that mark twice in his career. Not counting the lockout or injury decimated seasons, none of the other three players have recorded less than that since Patrice Bergeron’s 39 point 2008-09 season.
Couturier has finished top 10 in Selke voting twice in his six year career (ninth in 2013-14, eighth in 2015-16). It’s his inconsistancy to score and turn in flawless performances night in and night out may hold him back. He may never get the recognition he deserves, which is unfortunate. Saying that, he remains a hidden gem in Philly. Greatly under appreciated by fans because he has never grew to an all-star level, and maybe he never will.
This all goes back to my main complaint in the first place, judging awards by the wrong stats. I’m not arguing against any of the finalists, but the only thing that distinguishes them from all the other top defensive forwards is their point production. Again, the definition for the Selke Trophy is “forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.” Nowhere does it say the best two-way player. So the merits don’t necessarily apply to the worthy players.
Patrice Bergeron is quite possibly the best defensive forward to ever play the game. Heck, I think they should re-name the trophy after him once he retires. However, he shines above all the other because he is a scoring machine. There are so many players that are great defensive forwards on the NHL that will never get properly recognized because they aren’t elite scorers, Bryan Little, Jordan Staal, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Turris, just to name a few.
Sean Couturier is only 24-years-old and still has a lot of potential. In my mind he still has a couple more seasons before i think he won’t breakout offensively. Will he ever reach Bergeron status, no. Will he get the credit he deserves for being a top defensive forward, I don’t know. He receives Selke votes every season, but failed to break the top 10 four of six times. As The Flyers roster continues to improve there is a chance Couts stock could rise by association. Jonathan Toews is a prime example who won the Trophy in 2013 and was runner up in 2015, the years the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.
Couturier will be a mainstay in the Flyers lineup for years to come. If he continues to blossom as a player, sooner or later the NHL will have no choice but to acknowledge Sean Couturier for what he is, One of the top defensive forwards in the NHL.
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