**This article was written by Sheng Peng of FearTheFin.com. Sheng covered the Golden Knights in 2017-18 and a portion of 2018-19 before moving to San Jose to cover the Sharks. You can read all of Sheng’s work here.**
By Sheng Peng
It’s supposed to be the award for best defensive forward.
But left winger Nick Foligno knows he’s never going to win the Selke Trophy.
Foligno quipped, “I switch to center and maybe have a chance at it.”
That’ll help. Since 2008-09, just four wingers have finished in the top-six in Selke voting: Ryan Callahan was fourth in 2012, Marian Hossa was fifth in 2014, Max Pacioretty was sixth in 2015, and Mark Stone was sixth in 2017. Stone is also a finalist this year, the first winger to be so honored since Jay Pandolfo in 2007.
(This is ignoring David Backes, listed as a right winger, who finished second in 2012, and Henrik Zetterberg, listed as a left winger, who finished second in 2008. Both took over 1,000 faceoffs in their respective Selke finalist campaigns.)
The last winger to win the Selke was Jere Lehtinen in 2003.
What’s supposed to be a recognition for best defensive forward has become a centers-only club.
Hockey Hall of Fame journalist Michael Farber has voted on the Selke since “the time that Bob Gainey was winning it.” He offered, “Maybe if Mark Stone wins, that’ll restore a little bit of balance.”
Gainey, a left winger, won the inaugural Selke Trophy in 1978. Then he took the next three.
In fact, wingers like Gainey, Craig Ramsay, and Dirk Graham accounted for six of the first 14 Selke winners.
Farber pointed to three key reasons.
First, Gainey was a singular player.
“Anatoly Tarasov called Bob Gainey the perfect hockey player. He didn’t make mistakes,” Farber recalled.
Tarasov knew a special player when he saw one. He’s credited with establishing the Soviet Union as a dominant international hockey power in the 1950s.
Second, Gainey played in a different era. A defense-first forward stood out in an era where Marcel Dionne could score 135 points and finish 29 points behind Wayne Gretzky in the scoring race. This is exactly what happened in 1980-81, the last time Gainey won the Selke.
Farber noted: “The game, look at the ’80s, wasn’t what we have now. Quite often, there’d be a three-on-two one way, three-on-two the other way. Teams traded chances.
“So the emphasis on defensive hockey and the role of the centerman wasn’t the same that it is now.
“It’s much tighter. If you do give up odd-man rushes now, you make your coach apoplectic.”
Finally, Gainey played in an era when forwards, wingers included, were often used as “shadows.” That means a defensive player was assigned to follow the opposition’s top scorer all around the ice.