That may be a question with an obvious answer, but for argument's sake let's take a walk here. The Selke trophy is described in wonderfully non-specific terms as going to "the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game."
There was a time when that meant the best "shadow" type of defensive forward -- the guy whose role was to shut the other team's top dog down -- but over time that transitioned from the Gainey/Ramsay/Carbonneau years to time that looked at offensive forwards who don't bleed goals against. That's not to take anything away from current three-time champ Pavel Datsyuk, who is arguably the best all-around forward in the game, period.
But the trend in Selke winners -- at least when a Red Wing scoring center wins it -- has obscured the sort of "unsung" nature the award once had. For debate's sake, there's also the matter of how important a player is on the penalty kill unit, which is arguably the most important "defensive aspect" of the game.
So when looking at who takes the honor within the Islanders, who should be considered?
Of course. At 2:59 per game he logs by far the most PK time on the team. However, Nielsen no longer strictly takes the assignment to play against the opposition's best -- the John Tavares line was exposed to that more and more this season, leaving Nielsen's QualComp figures very close to that group.
The big difference though is that while Tavares and his linemates face that competition and give up more goals against than they score, Nielsen and Michael Grabner stand proudly above water. And that's with them being put out for defensive zone faceoffs far more than the Tavares line, which was the line that gobbled up the O-zone draws. Right now, if you had an imaginary game of 12 Nielsens versus 12 Tavareses, Team Nielsen would come out on top.
It's tough to separate Grabner's work from Nielsen's, because Nielsen was "doing what he do" before lightning bolt Grabner came along. But Grabner sure made his life easier.
Not just at even strength, but on the PK, as Grabner grabbed more and more PK ice time (for a seasonlong average of 1:31) the two made a devastating pairing, with NIelsen scoring seven shorthanded goals and Grabner notching six.
And here's the crazy thing: As noted in our case for Grabner as Calder winner, Grabner could very well have been the most effective peanlty killer in the league in 2010-11. His Corsi at 4-on-5 was off the charts, league-wide (minimum: 1:00+ PK time per game), and in his PK duties he was actually on the ice for as many shorthanded goals for (seven) as powerplay goals allowed (also seven).
But just to open the field more, we'll go a bit old school with this. As noted in Zenon Konopka's report card, no Islander -- by a large margin -- was put out to win more defensive draws and PK faceoffs than Konopka. He even took a full 138 more shorthanded draws than Nielsen. And Konopka averaged 1:31 of PK time per game over a full 82-game season.
Konopka is no all-zone shutdown guy (particularly not with the linemates he usually had), but no question he did the dirty work. In the traditional Selke sense he had more of a defensively focused job. Of course, the results (minus-14, ugly Corsi) predictably come along with that.
For old time's sake... When bad things happen to the Islanders, I look for reasons that might explain why. But nobody defends them as well as beloved ol' "he didn't have a chance on that one" Butchie.
I asked the regular LHH authors for their votes on various team trophies. Here's what they had on the matter of Islanders Selke, 2010-11:
Frans Neilsen.The increasingly-sung centerpiece of the Islanders' shutdown line, who has long been the main force in making his teammates better and his opponents worse (as measured by relative Corsi, QoC and QoT). Has been finally garnering a little notice around the league as a whole for his efforts.
I'm going with Nielsen on this one. The biggest reason for the choice is that Nielsen played that defensive role all year long and performed most of it with inferior linemates (especially in the beginning of the season). Nielsen drew the toughest assignments through the losing streak, led the team in shorthanded goals, led the team in cheapshots against, and made every linemate he's had better when they were on the ice together. He had a career high in points, horrible zone starts, great Corsi numbers and more ice time than Grabner.
Nielsen and Grabner are the perfect ingredients for each other though, and I look forward to them being together through a training camp and a full season together with Kyle Okposo. Next year, I see the potential for Grabner to overtake Nielsen for my Selke vote, and it was close, but Nielsen is my guy right now.
Grabner. Grabs had to prove he wouldn't be a liability in order to get ice time. As great as he was as an offensive threat, his quality play on the defensive side is what allowed him to be an offensive threat. There have been plenty of fast skaters in the history of the league, but very few of them had the ability to play as much PK as Grabs.
And you, fine LHH readers? Who's your pick?