The truly elite players are the ones who can play -- and excel -- in any situation. The ones who are used not only when their team needs a goal, but also when it needs to prevent a goal.
The St. Louis Blues' David Backes, Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings are just those kind of players, and for that reason they have been named as finalists for this year's Frank J. Selke Trophy, an annual award given "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game."
The winner is selected by a vote of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, and will be announced at the 2012 NHL Awards Show, June 20 at the Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas.
Besides his team-high totals of 24 goals and 54 points, Backes led Blues forwards with an average ice time of 19:59 while posting a plus-15 rating. He started just 46 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, the second-fewest of any Blues forward who played at least 10 games, but finished 52.4 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, meaning he was able to turn defense into offense better than any player on the team. He also led all NHL forwards in advanced metrics website Behind the Net's Quality of Competition rating, meaning the players he skated against had the highest average plus/minus rating.
He led the team with 226 hits and all Blues forwards with 72 blocked shots, while his 50 takeaways were second on the team. He won just 48.6 percent of his faceoffs, but took the most on the team at 1,353.
The Blues were the League's best defensive team, allowing just 1.60 goals per game. Much of that had to do with goaltending, but the team allowed a League-low 26.7 shots per game, meaning skaters like Backes had a big role in that defensive excellence.
In addition to finishing second on the team with 64 points, Bergeron was at his best in the faceoff circle, finishing second in the League by winning 59.3 percent of his draws. He was especially strong on faceoffs while shorthanded, winning 53.5 percent of his faceoffs while killing a penalty, and he led Bruins forwards in shorthanded ice time at 1:48 per game. He also took 34.6 percent of all Boston faceoffs, the sixth-highest percentage of any player in the League.
He led the League with a plus-36 rating, and did it while playing 18:34 per game and picking up just 20 penalty minutes. He also led all Bruins forwards with 67 blocked shots and 55 takeaways. And among forwards who played at least 30 games, his 1.73 on-ice plus/minus per 60 minutes at even strength was third among all NHL forwards -- he was on the ice for 66 goals for and 34 goals against at even strength.
Datsyuk is a perennial contender for the Selke, and with good reason. Besides scoring at leat 65 points for the seventh time in the last eight seasons, he was 10th in the League in faceoffs, winning 56.2 percent, while taking 32.0 percent of all Red Wings faceoffs. He was third among all League forwards with 97 takeaways. Datsyuk was second among the team's forwards in average ice time per game at 19:34, but had a plus-21 rating and just 14 penalty minutes, the fewest of his career. He also played 1:13 per game shorthanded.
And according to Behind the Net's QoC, Datsyuk faced the second-hardest competition among Red Wings players, behind only defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.
He had his three-year Selke win streak snapped last year when Vancouver's Ryan Kesler won it. If Datsyuk wins his fourth Selke, he would tie Bob Gainey for the most in history.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK