Every year, the NHL hands out awards and every year, we debate them. Usually we're debating among candidates for individual awards or why a certain player was left off the ballot.
However, through some interesting conversation with Cam Charron and Arik James on Twitter, it seemed worth comparing different award winners to each other. The topic being discussed was whether a GM should prefer this year's Hart Trophy candidates or Selke Trophy candidates to build their team around. The three of us were unanimous in taking Ryan Kesler, Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews over the Hart crew of Corey Perry, Daniel Sedin and Martin St. Louis. The two-way games of the Selke nominees were superior to those nominated for the Hart, with comparatively little dropoff on offense.
The Frank J. Selke Award is given out each year for the NHL's best defensive forward. However, many times it is handed out to great two-way forwards like Steve Yzerman and Ron Francis who not only display fantastic defensive ability but top-end offensive ability as well. Other years it's awarded to defensive specialists like Kris Draper or John Madden. If the voters were serious about using stats to determine the winner, they'd just consult the Heavy Lifter Index.
As evidenced by the fact that Sergei Fedorov is the only player to ever win both awards, most voters feel the Hart and the Selke do not represent the same type of player. The Hart is frequently given to a top-scoring forward or a goalie who gives his team a disproportionate chance of winning.
As a matter of comparison, let's take a look at the last 20 seasons of Hart and Selke award winners on a macro level, comparing them using GVT. Only forwards who won the Hart were included (sorry Jose Theodore, Chris Pronger & Dominik Hasek). The comparison was completed using career average GVT and 3-year peak GVT. Obviously, the career average category won't be overly useful for comparing players like Kesler versus Mark Messier, given that the former is at the peak of his development while the latter played past his prime. However, each group will have players who have lived out full careers and some who are still active. GVT can definitely be skewed more to the players who put up big counting stats and won't account for the difficulty of minutes played, but it's the best metric we have for comparing the value of a player's performance across eras. In order to differentiate between the different types of Selke winner, defensive forwards were defined as scoring less than 0.75 points per game.
The players shaded in blue are those considered to have won based on being more pure defensive forwards while the rest are considered to be two-way talents, capable of dominating at either end of the ice. That's not to say the defensive group can't score, only that their talents in that end are not elite. It's interesting to see that either the voters for the Selke change their criteria for several years at a time or the talent level available to vote on changes with the strategic approach of the game for that era. The numbers in brackets show how many times the player won the award in the last 20 seasons.
The peaks for Hart Trophy winners are incredible, but the real difference with the Selke winners appears to be the career average. It may be that players with such elite offensive skill don't see their production deteriorate over the length of their career the way defensive ability does. However, this is a pretty small sample size to make that assumption.
In terms of GVT, it appears that the Hart-winning forwards are superior to the Selke trophy winners. Not only are their peak years worth more goals and therefore wins, but their career average worth is higher as well.
We can also see that there are clearly two groups of Selke winners, those with elite offensive skill (2-way Selke Winners) and those who specialize mainly in the defensive end. The two-way players like Kesler and Datsyuk carry almost twice the value of the defensive specialists such as Draper, Madden and Dirk Graham.
That said, knowing that GVT doesn't take situational stats into account, it's fair to say that the Selke winners have provided their performances under the most difficult of circumstances. Hart winners, on the other hand, would be thought of as more offensive. As an example, take a look at the last two winners of each award below:
At first glance, the chart makes me question how Kesler won the Selke over Datsyuk. However, the comparison of Kesler to Henrik Sedin shows the difference between two award winners from the same team. Sedin benefits from much easier minutes and should therefore be expected to put up better results. By proxy, we assume this for all Selke finalists, but obviously it could be skewed given the way Kesler essentially played third line difficulty this season. He should be sharing the Selke with Manny Malhotra.
While GVT clearly favors the Hart winners, we'll have to settle for comparing ice time difficulty in a future post.
Ryan Popilchak is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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