Could Brad Marchand or Loui Eriksson join Patrice Bergeron among Selke finalists?

Scott McLaughlin
March 09, 2016 - 10:58 am

Loui Eriksson is having a season worthy of Selke Trophy consideration. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Patrice Bergeron should be a lock to win his fourth Selke Trophy in the last five years. He remains the best defensive forward in the NHL by pretty much every measure, and it’s really not even that close. He’s second in the league in relative Corsi, and he’s doing it while facing opponents’ top lines every night, starting far more shifts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone, and playing in front of a defense that isn’t exactly loaded with good puck-movers. Simply put, he drives possession and flips the ice better than anyone in the NHL.

Bergeron is such a clear-cut frontrunner that the most interesting Selke discussion from a Bruins perspective isn’t whether Bergeron will win the award. It’s whether the Bruins will have two of the three Selke finalists, because Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson both deserve consideration.

Now, you may be wondering how a team that ranks 19th in the NHL in team defense could possibly have three Selke candidates. But that’s the wrong way of looking at it. What you should be wondering is how much worse the Bruins would be if they didn’t have three of the best defensive forwards in the NHL.

The case for Marchand is similar to the case for Bergeron. Marchand is also one of the league leaders in relative Corsi (he’s third right behind Bergeron at plus-7.98 percent), he also faces a high quality of competition, and he also starts far more shifts in the defensive zone than offensive zone. That all makes sense considering Marchand spends 80 percent of his 5-on-5 shifts with Bergeron.

The question, of course, is how much of Marchand’s success is simply due to the fact that he plays on Bergeron’s wing. The easy answer is that Bergeron and Marchand help each other -- we have years of evidence that tell us they both do better when they’re together. But we also have years of evidence that tell us Bergeron lifts Marchand more than Marchand lifts Bergeron. That’s no different this year -- they have a 55.5 percent Corsi in 708 minutes together, with Bergeron at 50.5 percent in 187 minutes apart and Marchand at 46.5 percent in 173 minutes apart, according to HockeyAnalysis.com.

Still, there’s no denying that Marchand is a very good two-way forward. He’s a big part of the Bruins being able to turn defense into offense when his line’s on the ice, and he’s one of the best penalty-killing forwards in the NHL -- he’s second in the league in shorthanded goals, tied for first in shorthanded points and first in shorthanded relative Corsi among forwards who average more than a minute per game on the PK.

On the surface, Eriksson doesn’t appear to have as strong a case as Marchand. His Corsi isn’t quite as good, his assignments aren’t quite as tough in terms of zone starts (Eriksson is closer to 50 percent) and quality of competition (although he still faces tough competition), and he doesn’t have the shorthanded points (although he’s still a very good penalty-killer).

But keep in mind that Eriksson doesn’t play on a line with Bergeron -- only 13.5 percent of his 5-on-5 ice time this season has been with Bergeron. He doesn’t have the best possession player in the world helping him out like Marchand does.

Instead, Eriksson is generally the one driving possession the most when he’s on the ice, and he’s very good at it. The 12 players Eriksson has played the most with at 5-on-5 all have a better Corsi with him than without him, and some are dramatic differences. David Krejci’s Corsi-for percentage jumps by 5.6 points when he’s with Eriksson, Matt Beleskey’s by 9.3, Kevan Miller’s by 3.9 and Dennis Seidenberg’s by 14.2, according to HockeyAnalysis.com.

This is where a stat called delta Corsi (or dCorsi) can come in handy. It measures a player’s Corsi impact compared to what would be expected from a player based on his zone starts, competition and teammates, among other factors. Eriksson ranks eighth among forwards in dCorsi impact at plus-97.7 for the season, compared to sixth for Bergeron (plus-100.4) and 26th for Marchand (plus-70). (It should be noted that dCorsi does not update regularly, so the numbers are a little outdated. They still give us a pretty good idea of where guys are, though.)

Obviously if we’re going to suggest Marchand and Eriksson deserve Selke consideration, we need to look at who their competition is. Let’s start with the usual suspects. Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar have been the other two finalists with Bergeron each of the last two years. It’s pretty safe to assume both will receive strong consideration again this year.

Kopitar has a good case once again. While his plus-2.71 relative Corsi and plus-5.3 dCorsi may not jump off the page, it needs to be noted that he plays on a Kings squad that is by far the best possession team in the NHL, so it’s going to be tougher for him to have great relative rates because he’s surrounded by other great possession players. He still ranks fifth among forwards who have played at least 40 games in straight Corsi-for percentage. All four players ahead of him are his teammates, but Kopitar is the one who gets the toughest defensive assignments of any Kings forward (although still not as tough as Bergeron and Marchand, simply because the Kings don’t start nearly as many shifts in the defensive zone).

There is a case to be made against Toews this year, though. The Blackhawks captain has an offensive-zone start percentage of 54.9 percent, as the Blackhawks’ bottom six forwards are the ones who get the most defensive-zone starts (Toews still faces the highest quality of competition, though). Toews’ plus-1.15 relative Corsi and plus-15.2 dCorsi are good, but they’re clearly a notch below his usual numbers from the last four or five years, and they’re nothing that puts him among the league leaders.

There are other guys who deserve consideration as well. Based on every metric we’ve been looking at, three in particular who stand out are Sean Couturier of the Flyers, Jordan Staal of the Hurricanes and Frans Nielsen of the Islanders. All three do a great job of driving possession while getting tough defensive assignments.

Ultimately, the biggest thing working against Marchand and Eriksson when it comes to Selke consideration could be that they’re wings. The Selke tends to be dominated by centers, especially recently -- the last full-time wing to be a finalist was Jay Pandolfo in 2007, and the last to win it was Jere Lehtinen in 2003. That’s understandable considering centers generally have more defensive responsibilities than wings. Still, voters should at least give Marchand and Eriksson a look assuming they finish the season strong.

All stats from war-on-ice.com unless otherwise noted. Below is a usage chart for each of the Selke candidates we've mentioned. Please note that quality of competition here is relative to this group, so being near the bottom does not mean that player faces easy competition -- no one here does.