Elias Lindholm has been named a finalist for the 2021–22 Frank J. Selke Trophy, earning the honours along with Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers.
Up against last year’s winner in Barkov and one of the all-time great defensive forwards in Bergeron, just being nominated is an honour for Lindholm, but he is not out of place among those names. His efforts on the Flames’ top line this past season were exceptional, and he established himself as a true top-line centreman, scoring over 40 goals while remaining extremely defensively responsible.
It is the first time a Calgary Flame has been named a finalist since the 2001–02 season, when Craig Conroy finished second in voting to Michael Peca, which gives Lindholm the opportunity to be the organization’s first-ever Selke win.
What it takes to win the Selke
In theory, the Selke trophy is supposed to be given to “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.” In practice, it is traditionally awarded to a player who also makes noteworthy offensive contributions. That’s why its rare to see penalty kill specialists who typically play depth roles win, even though they may be the best pure defensive forwards in the league. Given this reality, Lindholm fits the bill perfectly, given his strong play at both ends of the rink.
Another unofficial criteria is that the player should be a centreman, based on the idea that centremen have more difficult defensive assignments. In 44 years of awarding the Selke, voters have given it to wingers only nine times, and four of those were to Bob Gainey, who won in each of the first four seasons the award was given out. This is noteworthy because the line mates of both Lindholm and Bergeron are themselves worthy Selke candidates—Matthew Tkachuk and Brad Marchand.
Earlier this season we broke down just how impactful Tkachuk is as a two-way force despite being a winger and not playing on the penalty kill, and that all remains true. But, the reality of PHWA voting is what it is. Centremen are considered much more strongly for their role winning draws, and the penalty kill is often considered the purest measure of a defensive forward’s ability.
Based on the criteria, official and otherwise, Lindholm would make a very deserving winner this year.
Comparing the Selke trophy finalists
How does Lindholm stack up against the other finalists?
Barkov, Bergeron, and Lindholm are all legitimate offensive threats. They are also undisputed top line centremen, who consistently play against their opponent’s very best players. Because it isn’t really supposed to matter, I won’t spend any more time breaking down the offence of each finalist. Sufficient to say, you don’t become a top line player without bringing serious offensive upside, and each of them did.
Based on some traditional metrics, Lindholm doesn’t necessarily stand out, but fits right in with the two previous champions he’s nominated with. All stats are taken from Evolving-Hockey.com at even strength, score- and venue-adjusted.
|Player||Games Played||Giveaways||Takeaways||Takeaways per Giveaway||Blocks||Hits||FO%|
He played by far the most of the three players—and reliability counts. You can’t be the best defensive forward in the league if you’re not playing.
In the metric that is likely the most important of those listed in determining a player’s defensive skill, the ratio of takeaways per giveaway, Bergeron lives up to his reputation. Puck management is a huge part of playing effective defence, and Lindholm and Barkov are both a touch back of the four-time champ Bergeron in that regard.
Using some more advanced stats, the picture is admittedly less favourable for Lindholm. The major public analytics leaders attribute the defensive prowess of the Flames top line to Matthew Tkachuk, far more than Lindholm. However, these models can mistakenly attribute the success of one line mate to another in situations where the line plays almost all of their minutes together, which could be the case of Calgary’s top line.
For example, taking a look at visuals from HockeyViz.com that separate the defensive results of a team with or without a player on the ice, Lindholm’s effect is much less impactful than Bergeron’s. Interestingly, it is slightly better than Barkov’s impact.
Lindholm is often the defensive driver of the line and the team by the eye test, but the model is less convinced, because all of the data—or very nearly all it—has Tkachuk, Lindholm, and Gaudreau together, making it difficult for it to distinguish each player’s individual effect.
Similarly, Evolving-Hockey.com has the following data on the trio, that also show Lindholm’s dominance may be more offensive than defensive. In terms of goals above replacement (GAR), Lindholm defence was worth 1.2 goals above replacement, and Tkachuk’s 2.7. My suspicion is that unlike the models, most voters will assume that defensive value should be attributed to Lindholm, and the models mistakenly attributed to Tkachuk, hence why Lindholm ended up enough votes to be a finalist.
Looking at some rate-based data, Lindholm performed slightly better than Barkov defensively, but not even close to as well as Bergeron. Data is score- and venue-adjusted, taken at even strength.
|Player||CA/60||xGA/60||GA/60||On-Ice Save %|
Based on the analytics, at even strength Bergeron seems like a clear favourite to once again be the best defensive forward in the league. But, even strength is only part of the story.
Penalty kill performance
There is far more to Selke winning than even strength play, and Lindholm leads the candidates with over 170 shorthanded minutes played, good for eleventh most in the league among forwards. Data is score- and venue-adjusted, and includes all shorthanded situations, taken from Evolving-Hockey.com.
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While Bergeron still dominates, it is interesting to note that Lindholm saw the smallest drop off in faceoff percentage. Winning clutch draws is a key reason wingers are rarely considered for the trophy, and Lindholm’s relative success in this regard is an important part of the Selke equation.
Using more advanced stats, the short handed GAR values for each nominee help explain Lindholm’s exceptional season. Not only did he provide more than double the value to his team on the penalty kill than either of the other two, he also contributed the most to his team in terms of drawing penalties.
|Player||Shorthanded GAR||Penalty GAR|
In simpler terms than goals above replacement, Lindholm was the only nominee to take fewer penalties than he drew this season. He took 11 minor penalties and drew 13, impressive for a guy playing big minutes against the league’s best!
There can only be one winner
It would be disingenuous to pretend Lindholm is a clear favourite, as much as I wish it were true. The reality is, there are three very deserving candidates and, by the true definition of the award, Bergeron should probably be the favourite.
But, if it were given out purely based on defensive merit, many past winners would have lost and many who were snubbed would have won. Why expect voting to change now? Considering the reality of the voting ahead of the criteria of the award, Lindholm could absolutely win this time around.
With voters typically preferring a solid two-way forward who impresses at both ends of the ice, rather than the true best defensive forward, Lindholm’s 42-goal, 40-assist, plus-61 stat line makes him more than deserving when considering he was also strong in the defensive metrics mentioned previously.
Hopefully, voters feel the same way, and a Flames can finally take home this elusive individual award for the first time.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire