Skip to content

Be like Patrice: Sizing up the Selke race after Bergeron's retirement

National Hockey League / Getty

Patrice Bergeron's departure from the NHL not only leaves quite the power vacuum in the Boston Bruins' roster, but it also creates a massive void in the race for the Frank J. Selke Trophy.

Let's be honest: Few would object if the league renamed the award recognizing the season's top defensive forward to the Bergeron Trophy in a few years' time. Bergeron was a Selke finalist for 12 consecutive seasons prior to his retirement and won the trophy a league-leading six times. Before Bergeron, no one else had captured the honor more than four times.

So, let's take a look at some of the names who could gun for the Selke Trophy with the top two-way center and future Hall of Famer no longer in the picture.

The Old Favorites 🙇

Mark Stone

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Stone is no stranger to the Selke Trophy conversation as a two-time finalist (2019, 2021). The highly respected captain of the Vegas Golden Knights would be a worthy successor to the similarly adored Bergeron, but two factors detract from Stone's Selke case.

For one, Stone is a winger. It's damn hard to take the Selke Trophy if you're not a center, evidenced by the fact that Jere Lehtinen was the last winger to win in 2002-03. Secondly, Stone has recently been plagued by back injuries and suited up for a combined 80 games over the past two seasons.

However, if Stone can stay healthy, there's no reason he can't find himself in contention for the Selke again, like he was in 2021. He put up 38 points in 43 games this past season - a respectable 72-point pace over a full campaign - and ranked fourth among all forwards to play at least 20 games in takeaways per 60 minutes (3.38). Stone, 31, also placed second among all forwards in defensive goals above replacement (7.5), trailing only Sam Reinhart.

Anze Kopitar

Juan Ocampo / National Hockey League / Getty

Since Bergeron began his reign of Selke terror in 2012, Kopitar is the only other player to win the award more than once (2016, 2018).

The Los Angeles Kings icon is still a two-way force despite being in the twilight of his playing days. He could've very well been named a finalist for the fifth time in his career in 2023 and still finished fifth in Selke Trophy voting, garnering a pair of first-place tallies.

Kopitar earned that recognition after registering 28 goals and 74 points in 82 games while pacing all Kings forwards in average ice time (20:18) for the 17th straight season. His offensive output in 2022-23 matches his point total from his first Selke-winning campaign and is his highest since 2018.

The 35-year-old veteran also proved he still isn't scared of putting his body on the line, ranking third among all forwards with 87 blocked shots while averaging 1:52 minutes of shorthanded ice time per game. In addition, Kopitar won 55.9% of his faceoffs (1,608 opportunities), good for the third-best success rate in his career.

The New Guard 🌟

Mitch Marner

Kevin Sousa / National Hockey League / Getty

Just like Stone, Marner may be hard-pressed to capture the Selke Trophy as a winger, but voters would be remiss to count him out solely because of his position.

The dynamic Toronto Maple Leafs star has made a point of bettering his defensive game over the past few seasons, and his growth is evident. Marner led the entire league with 104 takeaways this past campaign and ranked within the top 25 in average shorthanded ice time per game (2:17) among all forwards to skate in at least 20 games. Even more impressive, Marner tops the NHL with 43 takeaways on the penalty kill over the last three seasons combined.

Marner's offensive prowess is well-documented. The 26-year-old registered a career-high 99 points in 80 games while averaging the fifth-most ice time (21:17) among all forwards in 2022-23. Since his arrival in the league in 2016-17, his 554 points in 507 outings are the 10th most in the NHL.

His underlying numbers are also nothing to sneeze at, especially given his hefty workload. After seeing almost 1,150 minutes at five-on-five last season, Marner registered a respectable 2.05 goals against per 60 and 3.36 goals for per 60. He was dubbed a first-time finalist for the trophy this summer, and we foresee many more nominations to come.

Aleksander Barkov

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

After winning the award in 2021, Barkov has the unique honor of being the most recent Selke Trophy victor not named Bergeron.

Let's look at the Florida Panthers captain's body of work. During his Selke-winning season in 2020-21, the Cats controlled a hair under 60% of the goals and 61% of the expected goals with Barkov on the ice at five-on-five. He put up similarly strong numbers in 2021-22 while putting up 88 points in 67 games and was named a finalist for the second straight year as a result.

The Panthers struggled during the 2022-23 regular season, and Barkov's underlying statistics dipped slightly, but Florida still controlled play at five-on-five with the center off the bench, outscoring opponents 53-40. He also notched 78 points in 68 contests while eating up a ton of ice time (21:13 overall, 2:06 shorthanded), which was enough to earn him eighth place in this year's Selke voting.

Barkov's notoriously high hockey IQ makes him one of the game's most intriguing defensive forwards, and if the Panthers' miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final translates into a strong 2023-24 regular season, there's no reason he can't regain his status as a Selke Trophy finalist.

Nico Hischier

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Hischier was a first-time finalist and runner-up for the Selke Trophy this past season, and for good reason.

The New Jersey Devils captain reached new heights in goals (31) and points (80) while playing in all but one game during the 2022-23 campaign. That increased offensive output was coupled with an increased two-way presence. Hischier set new career highs in blocks (61) and takeaways (64) while averaging 19:17 minutes of ice time per contest.

Hischier also enjoyed a larger role on the penalty kill and led all Devils forwards in shorthanded ice time per game (2:06). Thanks in part to the Swiss center's progress, New Jersey boasted the league's fourth-most effective penalty kill after ranking firmly in the middle of the pack in 2021-22.

Good things happened for New Jersey with Hischier on the ice: The Devils outscored opponents 61-39 at five-on-five while dictating just under 60% of the expected goals and 57% of the shots. At 24 years old, Hischier has plenty of room to grow and can force himself into Selke contention for years to come.

Elias Lindholm

Derek Cain / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Lindholm fully erupted onto the Selke scene after finishing the 2021-22 campaign at a bonkers plus-61 while amassing 82 points in 82 games, but he ended up losing the hardware to - you guessed it - Bergeron.

Sure, the Calgary Flames were freakishly good that year - Johnny Gaudreau was a plus-64 - and Lindholm may never post numbers that gaudy again, but that doesn't entirely diminish his Selke cred. He's made it onto the Selke ballot in four out of his five seasons in Calgary, including a pair of 10th-place finishes in 2019 and 2023.

Calgary had a difficult go of things this past season, but Lindholm was still his usual solid self, registering 64 points in 80 games. He also won a career-best 55.7% of his faceoffs while ranking seventh in faceoff opportunities (1,538) and sixth in wins (857) league-wide. The Flames controlled more than their fair share of goals (53%), expected goals (55%), shot attempts (56%), and shots (55%) at five-on-five with Lindholm on the ice.

Lindholm's future with the Flames is up in the air - we could see him as a solid successor to Bergeron in Boston - but if he remains in Calgary, the team will need to put a better product on the ice in order to vault him back onto the Selke shortlist.

The Oft-Overlooked 🤫

Joel Eriksson Ek

Bruce Kluckhohn / National Hockey League / Getty

It's hard to name a player who is more overlooked and underrated in the Selke Trophy race than Eriksson Ek, who, surprise surprise, put together another responsible, steady campaign in 2022-23.

The Wild center yet again spent the bulk of his ice time matching up against other teams' top lines, and those minutes were extremely fruitful for Minnesota. The Wild controlled just under 56% of the goals with Eriksson Ek on the ice at five-on-five, which was the best rate out of all Minnesota forwards to play at least 500 minutes. What's more, Eriksson Ek racked up 44 takeaways while committing just 14 giveaways despite his tough assignments.

The 26-year-old enjoyed a career year offensively this past season too, amassing 61 points (23 goals, 38 assists) in 78 contests while averaging 19 minutes of ice time per game, including just over two minutes of shorthanded ice time. Sure, that offensive output isn't as eye-popping as some of the other players on this list, but it's impressive that he produced at that rate while matched up against such quality competition.

Eriksson Ek has found his name on the Selke ballot in each of the last three campaigns, including a fourth-place finish in 2020-21 and a ninth-place finish last season. It's about time he gets recognized as a finalist.

Anthony Cirelli

Mark LoMoglio / NHL / Getty Images

Cirelli is "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" when it comes to the Selke Trophy. He's appeared on every single voting ballot for the hardware dating back to his rookie season in 2018-19, but, like Eriksson Ek, he's never carried the mantle as one of the three finalists.

The Tampa Bay Lightning pivot essentially came into the league ready to bother opponents' star players with his two-way prowess. He owns an unreal career takeaway-to-giveaway ratio of 229-to-90, and he's only 26 years old. Even in his first NHL season, Cirelli saw ample time on the penalty kill, and his 11 shorthanded goals since 2018-19 are the second-most in the NHL over that span.

Cirelli's 2022-23 debut was delayed until December due to shoulder surgery so he was only able to appear in 58 games, accruing 11 goals and 29 points. His underlying numbers remained strong, with the Bolts controlling 61% of the goals with him on the ice at five-on-five. Cirelli also led all Lightning forwards in shorthanded ice time per game (2:21), and the team's penalty kill improved from a success rate of 77.8% to 80.6% when he returned.

Due to Cirelli's history, it feels like it's just a matter of time until he earns his flowers from the voters. He's gotten close, with a fifth-place finish in 2021-22 and a fourth-place finish in 2019-20.

The Up-and-Comers 📈

Elias Pettersson

Jeff Vinnick / National Hockey League / Getty

The 2022-23 NHL campaign will likely be looked back on as the season Pettersson began to show his chops as a bona fide star in the league.

The Vancouver Canucks center grew by leaps and bounds on both sides of the ice. Pettersson posted a career-best 102 points (39 goals, 63 assists) in 80 contests, shattering his previous high of 68 points. He also finished the season as a plus-16 while averaging 20:33 minutes of ice time per game, which is an impressive feat given Vancouver's lackluster goal differential of minus-22. In terms of five-on-five play, the Canucks outscored opponents 65-53 with Pettersson on the ice and were outscored 139-104 with him on the bench.

He also led all Vancouver forwards in average shorthanded ice time (1:48) and added some excitement to the team's NHL-worst penalty kill with a league-leading five shorthanded tallies and nine points - eight of which came after the midway point of the season.

Pettersson, 24, had more points than this year's trio of Selke Trophy finalists and finished seventh in voting, but he'll likely have to improve in the faceoff circle to boost his odds of taking home the hardware. He won just 44.3% of his draws in a career-high 997 opportunities in 2022-23.

Noah Cates

Rich Graessle / National Hockey League / Getty

A position switch during your rookie season doesn't sound like a recipe for success, but that was the case for Cates in 2022-23.

A natural winger, the Flyers youngster was forced to play center with Philadelphia stretched thin down the middle, thanks in part to another back injury for Sean Couturier. With 38 points in 82 games, Cates didn't impress with eye-popping offensive numbers (adjusting to a new position can do that to a player), but he did emerge as a strong two-way forward on a struggling squad.

Cates finished the season at a team-high plus-3 while averaging just under 18 minutes per contest. Out of all the Philadelphia skaters to see 500 minutes of ice time at five-on-five, he was one of three players to own a goals for rate above 50%. Cates also paced the Flyers and the rookie field with 60 takeaways and ranked third among all forwards in defensive goals above replacement (6.8).

The 24-year-old placed 15th in Selke Trophy voting as a result of his efforts. His performance didn't go unnoticed by his teammates either, with Travis Konecny drawing comparisons between Cates and Couturier, who won the Selke in 2020. Cates' role remains to be seen with Couturier expected to re-enter the mix in 2023-24, but he's shown he can handle some tough assignments and can join the Selke conversation if he keeps it up.

(Analytics source: Natural Stat Trick, Evolving-Hockey)

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox