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Marian Hossa should have broken Selke Trophy center bias

Mark Stone came in second in the Selke voting this season, but the award should have gone to Hossa long ago.

Chicago Blackhawks v Ottawa Senators
Marian Hossa, formerly of the Chicago Blackhawks
Getty Images

Mark Stone came in second in Selke Trophy voting, awarded to the best defensive forward in the NHL. He’s the first wing to be a finalist since Jay Pandolfo of the New Jersey Devils placed third in 2007. The problem is, Marian Hossa existed, and was never a finalist for the award, coming in the top 10 twice, and once in the top 5, despite nearly a decade of defensive dominance.

It’s hard to describe just how important Hossa has been to hockey in Chicago. He came to Chicago in the summer of 2009 after back-to-back Stanley Cup Final losses then played a key role in bringing three Stanley Cup championships to the Blackhawks. If he doesn’t come to Chicago, it’s likely those Cups don’t either. He was like Chicago’s version of Kawhi Leonard, a mercenary brought in to accomplish one task, and boy did he. But there was one thing Hossa did better than anyone else in the Blackhawks’ forward corps from 2009 until he was forced to retire in 2017 — play defense. Yet he was never honored for it.

From 2007 up until now, the award has only been given to centers, and centers were the only ones nominated. Part of the Selke equation in that time is probably faceoff percentage — it certainly made appearances in the NHL Award’s highlight reels for Selke nominated players, appearing time and time again as part of Patrice Bergeron’s reasoning for winning. Seven centers won the award in those 15 years, including the Blackhawks’ own Jonathan Toews, as well as Bergeron (four times), Anze Kopitar (twice), and Pavel Datsyuk (three times in a row).

Hossa didn’t take many faceoffs. And yet, there were seasons when Hossa outplayed Kopitar and Datsyuk, and even in the year Toews won, Hossa was arguably the better defensive force. As much as Stone was deserving this year, having been better defensively than either of his fellow nominees (Bergeron and winner Ryan O’Reilly), there is a year that Hossa definitely should have won.

During the 2008-09 season when Hossa was with the Detroit Red Wings, he lost to his then-teammate Datsyuk, who won his second straight that season. Except, Hossa was better in his own end. And with how much voters like to shake things up at the NHL awards, voting for Datsyuk a second straight year was likely influenced by his seventh-best faceoff percentage amongst those who took more than 1000 faceoffs.

Yet Hossa allowed fewer goals per 60 than Datsyuk at both even-strength and on the penalty kill. He also allowed fewer expected goals than Datsyuk at both defensive strengths, and allowed fewer high-danger chances. That’s all while facing about the same level of competition and having a higher relative expected goals against percentage.

There’s also this:

Datsyuk and Hossa had about the same season. And yet, the thing that pushed Datsyuk over the edge was his faceoffs. And now, Stone came in second for the Selke, without being a faceoff genius. Stone won just 45.2 percent of his 62 faceoffs, which is... unimpressive.

There’s also the 2015-16 season of Kopitar and the 2012-13 season of Toews. Here’s how the important stats break down between Hossa and Datsyuk in 2008-09, Hossa and Toews, Hossa and Kopitar, and Mark Stone and the 2018-19 Selke winner, O’Reilly.

Defensive Metrics

Player 5v5 TOI 5v5 Goals Allowed 5v5 GA/60 5v5 Expected Goals Against 5v5 xGA/60 5v5 xGF% 5v5 HDCA 5v5 HDCA/60 5v5 HDCF% 5v5 HDGA 5v5 Offensive Zone % 5v5 TOI weighted by competition PK TOI PK GA PK GA/10 PK xGA PK xGA/10 PK xGF% PK HDCA PK HDCA/10 PK HDCF% PK HDGA PK oZS% PK ToI QoC Takeaways Giveaways Penalties Drawn Faceoff Rank Game Score Per 60 Relative Expected Goal %
Player 5v5 TOI 5v5 Goals Allowed 5v5 GA/60 5v5 Expected Goals Against 5v5 xGA/60 5v5 xGF% 5v5 HDCA 5v5 HDCA/60 5v5 HDCF% 5v5 HDGA 5v5 Offensive Zone % 5v5 TOI weighted by competition PK TOI PK GA PK GA/10 PK xGA PK xGA/10 PK xGF% PK HDCA PK HDCA/10 PK HDCF% PK HDGA PK oZS% PK ToI QoC Takeaways Giveaways Penalties Drawn Faceoff Rank Game Score Per 60 Relative Expected Goal %
0809 Datsyuk 1071:40:00 37 2.07 30.87 1.73 56.15 145 8.12 53.82 19 55.74 30.09 132:46:00 18 1.35 10.65 0.8 16.28 30 2.26 23.08 8 4.48 45.92 89 50 30 7 4.11 2.85
0809 Hossa 935:10:00 29 1.86 27.7 1.78 56.84 121 7.76 53.99 16 54.18 29.9 82:00:00 7 0.85 4.15 0.51 31.26 10 1.22 44.44 2 23.08 43.07 40 34 33 N/A 4.35 3.82
1213 Toews 663:43:00 16 1.45 18.49 1.67 61.23 83 7.5 63.11 9 55.97 29.87 66:34:00 4 0.6 3.53 0.53 34.49 11 1.64 50 1 15.15 45.22 56 16 20 2 4.35 13.26
1213 Hossa 519:01:00 9 1.04 14.35 1.66 60.63 67 7.75 62.78 5 57.82 29.82 55:45:00 5 0.89 3.22 0.58 30.88 8 1.43 55.56 2 12.9 45.01 48 14 7 N/A 3.22 9.15
1516 Kopitar 1210:36:00 36 1.78 39.19 1.94 56.12 177 8.77 58.74 14 53.71 29.36 174:31:00 19 1.09 20.52 1.17 6.01 62 3.54 7.46 6 1.58 50.57 43 45 25 16 3.1 2.99
1516 Hossa 832:09:00 23 1.66 30.18 2.18 52.11 143 10.31 50.86 13 60.65 29.92 99:49:00 16 1.6 12.69 1.27 14.69 36 3.6 20 7 3.33 46.97 44 25 16 N/A 2.03 3.28
1819 O'Reilly 1190:43:00 37 1.86 42.38 2.14 55.3 197 9.92 56.03 31 47.95 30.1 163:48:00 13 0.79 18.12 1.1 10.46 49 2.99 15.52 5 0 53.51 94 33 22 5 2.96 2.26
1819 Stone 1176:34:00 51 2.6 43.13 2.2 57.71 204 10.4 58.11 30 53.06 29.2 85:55:00 10 1.16 7.79 0.91 22.69 23 2.67 42.5 6 0 50.42 122 62 24 N/A 2.86 12.27

Hossa had better defensive stats than Toews, and was better on the penalty kill than Kopitar. It’s easy to argue Hossa was better than Datsyuk with similar levels of competition. The votes should have been there, and yet, Hossa was never a finalist for the award he always deserved most. He’ll likely go down as the greatest player never to win the Selke, the award’s version of Brad Park.

Besides his fantastic number of takeaways, nothing sets Stone apart from O’Reilly anymore than it does Hossa away from his competitors. Hossa didn’t allow the goals Stone did this season, and was great at making sure the crease was clear.

This is not to take away from Stone’s spectacular season. He had one of the best defensive seasons by a wing ever. It’s just that... well... that qualifier includes Hossa. If the rule that faceoffs (help) win the Selke was going to be broken, it should have been for Hossa, one of the finest two-way forwards of all time. In summary, both guys should have won the Selke.

Hossa’s influence is thus seen in a forward that’s not a center finally getting nominated. But the center bias has continued, despite there being a significant number of defensively-talented wingers now existing in the NHL. Even the wings that were nominated, like Mitch Marner, aren’t exactly the finest defensively.

There is a long, extensive list of wings who had better numbers than players who finished in the top 10 in Selke votes simply for being a forward. Marcus Foligno deserved more than just one fourth place vote. Teuvo Teravainen deserved more votes than his center Sebastian Aho. Reilly Smith deserved more votes than William Karlsson.

And yet, these forwards got very few, if any votes. The center bias in Selke voting is real, but it should have ended with Hossa. Stone is the closest a wing has come to winning the award since Jere Lehtinen did in 2003, but that run should have ended a decade prior.

Hossa and Stone are just two of the excellent defensive wingers robbed of an award for the best defensive forward. Until those deserving wingers are nominated, either change the description of the award to best defensive center or change how the award is chosen.

Stats from Natural Stat Trick, Corsica, and Evolving Hockey