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Elias Lindholm for Selke

His case might be better than you think

NHL: Preseason-Calgary Flames at San Jose Sharks Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Not the holidays, no, nothing like that, something even better. It’s the back half of the season, and you know what that means—playoff races tightening, deals being done, and talks about the awards season on the other side of the playoffs start to heat up.

Just over a week ago, the PHWA released their mid-term ballots for the NHL awards, and this has spurred a web of discussions around their rankings, personal rankings, slights, and the like all through the online ether. And because every site is a homer, the response to such rankings is natural, as well as predictable: “so why did you jerks leave my favorite guy off your list?” And while some Flames did receive some love therein (Mark Giordano for Norris and Rod Langway, Johnny Gaudreau for Hart, Sean Monahan for Lady Byng, Bill Peters for Jack Adams, and Brad Treliving for GM of the Year, *gasping breath* hello), we still have one question remaining—should Elias Lindholm be receiving Selke buzz?

If you listen to the local broadcast crew on the Sportsnet feeds, the answer seems a resounding yes, but the conversation may be localized, and that of something that your team’s regular broadcasters just say. So we’re here to investigate the veracity of these claims, that Lindholm has just as much a place in the Selke conversation as those big names.

But first, some ground rules:

We all know how the Selke nominations work by now, yes? That they’re just as much as nod to a player’s outstanding achievements in the single season in question as they are an acknowledgement of their prowess in this same category over the course of their career. That’s why we end up with the same names recycled on the ballots year after year.

That said, we’ll be taking into consideration certain of these “Selke lifers,” if you will, in this case, Patrice Bergeron (who’s on the PHWA’s list), and Anze Kopitar (excluded from the list but who won the award last year). In addition, we’ll be including, of course, Aleksander Barkov and Mark Stone, who make up numbers two and three on the PHWA’s list. And finally, to round out our list at an even six, we’ll add Sean Couturier, who was a finalist for last year’s trophy.

And just one more quick notes: we’re about to dive into a whole bunch of numbers but it’s going to be okay! Please stick with me and I promise there’s a fun reward at the end. Okay? Let’s get into it…

Wait wait wait. I have a question.

Yes?

I thought the Selke was pretty much always given to centers.

That’s a good point. Generally speaking, the Selke tends not the be awarded to wingers due to the perception of centers as taking on more of the defensive workload on a line (a perception which is, while a bit limited and dismissive, not incorrect). Should this immediately disqualify Lindholm? No. He is a natural center, and takes about half of the faceoffs on that top line, and has gotten a few brief looks bumped down to center the second line as happenings elsewhere in the lineup necessitated it. So, if we want to simplify, he’s sort of a center. If you squint your eyes and tilt your head a little bit. He’s not out of it. Good talk.


We also know by now that the Selke isn’t a trophy awarded expressly to the best defensive forward, but rather the best all around forward. Because, as they say, offense is the best defense, right? So let’s start by looking at some scoring numbers.

Points

Player 5v5 Goals 5v5 Primary Points 5v5 Points AS Goals AS Primary Points AS Points
Player 5v5 Goals 5v5 Primary Points 5v5 Points AS Goals AS Primary Points AS Points
Elias Lindholm 10 17 26 22 41 60
Aleksander Barkov 8 18 22 19 38 50
Mark Stone 14 26 29 22 42 50
Patrice Bergeron 8 16 22 16 30 44
Sean Couturier 11 18 24 20 34 44
Anze Kopitar 12 20 23 16 31 38

Looking at raw points on the season, across all situations, Lindholm leads the pack by a comfortable margin, but is also producing well at 5-on-5, only trailing behind Stone by three points. So it’s not as though Lindholm has been purely the product of playing on a prolific top power play unit and inflating his overall numbers with power play points. He’s been productive in all situation.

And then what about the more advanced stats? What do they tell us about the season that Lindholm is having? Well, here’s a stat: he leads that whole group in plus/minus with a +26 on the season, sitting at sixth in the league, well ahead of the next Big Name, in Mark Stone who sits at 49th.

Boom, done, end of story, mail it in.

Okay, fine, so we’re being a little facetious about that one. Plus/minus isn’t a stat that this reporter finds to be particularly weighty or helpful, but it shouldn’t be discounted for the presence of that sharp of a disparity, and also for the fact that this reporter has been in the room with PHWA members discussing their ballots, and making note of plus/minus as part of their ranking system. So there is that. But we’re going to dive a little bit deeper.

Shot Attempts

Player 5v5 CF% 5v5 RelT CF% 5v5 iCF/60
Player 5v5 CF% 5v5 RelT CF% 5v5 iCF/60
Elias Lindholm 56.42 5.09 10.62
Patrice Bergeron 55.28 6.64 16.32
Sean Couturier 53.81 7.81 12.65
Mark Stone 52.36 14.04 10.82
Aleksander Barkov 48.88 -3.85 10.41
Anze Kopitar 47.77 6.51 9.46

Scoring numbers like those don’t just happen on their own, and come largely as a result of strong territorial play. A player who individually and whose line tends to generate more shots than they allow will see reflective scoring results, as well as, of course, preventing the opposition from scoring many goals themselves. This is implicit, but we can’t really overstate the importance of this to a strong defensive forward. So, that said, it bears significant weight that the Flames are outshooting their opponents when Lindholm is on the ice at a more significant rate than when the Big Names are out there for their respective teams.

It is, however, also worth noting that, when you strip out linemate effects from these totals—that is, look at the individual and relative to teammates numbers—Lindholm slips to the middle of the pack of our group of six. And this shouldn’t be surprising—the Flames are a talented team and Lindholm should receive some support from Gaudreau and Monahan in driving those positive on-ice figures.

Expected Goals

Player 5v5 xGF 5v5 RelT xGF 5v5 xGA
Player 5v5 xGF 5v5 RelT xGF 5v5 xGA
Mark Stone 37.24 14.01 29.16
Elias Lindholm 35.46 8.58 26.69
Aleksander Barkov 30.12 -2.82 35.14
Sean Couturier 29.72 1.57 28.63
Anze Kopitar 29.34 4.5 31.98
Patrice Bergeron 18.99 2.75 15.61

Relatedly, as positive results tend to be driven by winning in the raw shot volume battle, so too are they driven by a player’s ability to create high danger chances and limit them from the opposition, in turn. And this is another area where Lindholm grades out well, as he ranks second in Expected Goals For, behind just Stone. This suggests a distinct emphasis on generating more dangerous shots, while also being able to put a premium on shots coming from his own team’s crease. In this department, Lindholm and the Flames are only eclipsed by Bergeron and the Bruins.

And, as we continue to narrow our focus, what do we have to say about context?

Zone Starts

Player 5v5 Offensive Zone Starts 5v5 Defensive Zone Starts 5v5 Zone Start Rate
Player 5v5 Offensive Zone Starts 5v5 Defensive Zone Starts 5v5 Zone Start Rate
Anze Kopitar 218 352 38.25
Aleksander Barkov 262 327 44.48
Sean Couturier 242 300 44.65
Mark Stone 252 272 48.09
Elias Lindholm 300 230 56.6
Patrice Bergeron 233 172 57.53

If we take into consideration in which situations a player is generally deployed, that should color how we view the rest of his numbers. A player sent out for more offensive zone starts will have a better chance to generate offense, while someone sent out for more defensive zone starts will have to more immediately play defense, and have a longer route to generating offense. And that trickle down effect does make waves.

And, herein lies perhaps the most significant mark against Lindholm—when considering zone start rates, Lindholm falls towards the bottom of this ranking of our six players, with more than half of his starts coming in the offensive zone, suggesting that Bill Peters has done some sheltering of his line at 5-on-5. Should this immediately discount the rest of the work he’s done, to date? No. But it does force us to acknowledge than he’s had a slightly easier road to those results than some of his counterparts on this list.

But Madeline, you say, we’re not done here. We’re not quite ready to give up on this fixation on awarding the Selke to centers. This Flames top line has been little short of remarkable this season, so why aren’t we talking about Monahan? Is this the plot hole, piece that unfurls all that we’ve just worked our way through?

Not quite. The answer to this query of the snubbing of Monahan from this exercise is simple—the fact that he doesn’t kill penalties. So we can commend him for his work on the season, to be sure, but the penalty killing is a critical piece.

Penalty Kill

Player TOI Goals Points iCF CF%
Player TOI Goals Points iCF CF%
Mark Stone 68.2 1 1 14 21.17
Sean Couturier 122.22 2 2 16 16.82
Aleksander Barkov 98.65 0 0 6 14.67
Elias Lindholm 117.37 1 2 7 14.42
Patrice Bergeron 58.17 0 0 7 12.17
Anze Kopitar 99.57 2 2 7 9.68

And we’re looking at these numbers, but we should note, of course, it isn’t so much that generally penalty kill results are considered when looking at Selke candidacy as it is whether the player does or does not kill penalties. Because the idea is that a poor defensive player shouldn’t be killing penalties. Well… at least that’s the idea…

Anyway, Lindholm has also performed respectably on the penalty kill, earning the second most minutes of these six, and suppressing shots at about a middling rate, while tying for most in the group in points.

Aaaand, you’ve made it! That’s all of the numbers we have for you. Here’s your reward, as promised:

We just broke down a lot of good things that Lindholm has accomplished to date, but this may very well be the best thing he did all season. Just superb.

But back to the point at hand. We’ve just seen a lot of evidence that should work in his favor, and does it have us convinced that Lindholm should absolutely, unequivocally be the winner of this year’s Selke trophy? Well, not quite. But that also wasn’t the question. We came into this wondering if the work he’s done this season is deserving of having his name mentioned in the same breath as the perennial nominees, and the answer seems to be an emphatic yes. He tops a number of both these offensive and defensive categories, and even in those he doesn’t, he’s still right there in the mix.

It may not be enough for him to storm in and steal away the award for himself this year, and that’s okay. He’s still just 24 in his first season on a brand new team, just entering his prime. He has time. So it might be too late for this season, the names in the race are more or less fixed, but the sound work remains, and it certainly merits a nod of recognition in his direction.


All stats via Corsica.Hockey and NHL.com