Among my ten bold predictions for the 2020-21 season posted in January, I noted that Mark Stone would lead the Vegas Golden Knights in scoring (some of the other predictions can be ignored, mind you). By the end of the regular season not only did the captain outpace the rest of the team by 10 points (21 goals, 40 assists), but he finished second – and 10th in the NHL – with a plus-28 rating and tops among all Vegas forwards in ice time (19:04 per game).
If not for remarkable seasons from the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews (at least until the playoffs), Stone might have a compelling argument for the Hart Trophy. Instead, as announced on Sunday, he is among the three finalists for the Selke Trophy, putting him in a position to win his first award since he was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 2015.
Stone joins Vezina Trophy nominee Marc-Andre Fleury as the Golden Knights who will be vying for postseason hardware when the winners are announced during the Stanley Cup Semifinals and Final.
You could argue that Stone is overdue for the award that recognizes the NHL’s best defensive forward. Although he has finished top-five in voting for the last four years, the closest he has come to winning the Trophy was in 2019, when he finished a distant second to St. Louis Blues star Ryan O’Reilly. This season, however, he is the on- and off-ice leader of a team that finished just behind the Colorado Avalanche in the standings.
Winning the award won’t be easy, given the competition that Stone is up against. Patrice Bergeron and Aleksander Barkov are also two-way anchors for successful playoff clubs.
With no disrespect to Mr. Selke, the award might as well be named after Bergeron. The Boston Bruins captain already has his name etched on the trophy four times, and a fifth win would push him past Bob Gainey for the all-time lead. At 35, he remains highly effective as a shutdown centerman, as demonstrated by his career-best 62.2% face-off percentage this season.
The 25-year-old Barkov is a former Lady Byng winner, but he is still building his Selke resume with two top-five finishes in voting before this season. The Florida Panthers star produced similar offensive numbers to Stone (26 goals, 32 assists) while also upping his face-off percentage (54.9%), shot blocks (37), and hits (31) from last season despite playing fewer games.
Unlike other NHL awards, evaluating the Selke candidates is far from cut and dry, which makes this year’s race hard to handicap (from, “The definition of a Selke winner: From Aleksander Barkov to Mitch Marner, the way we judge forwards’ defense is changing,” Shayna Goldman, The Athletic, 04/29/21). If we look only at defensive ability, Bergeron may, indeed, be in line for number five. But a two-way player must have an offensive element to his game, and Bergeron’s 48 points are well behind Stone and Barkov, even if he did outpace Stone in goals (23 to 21).
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Without being bogged down by defensive metrics or by the award’s specific definition, all three candidates are incredibly valuable two-way assets to their team. Only one, however, led their team in scoring this season, just as only one helped the Golden Knights reach 82 points in 56 games. In a race among well-deserving candidates, all of whom will likely earn a Selke before the end of their career, this should be Stone’s year.
I may be a Leafs fan at heart (I’ve witnessed their highs and lows first-hand as a Scotiabank Arena employee), but I’m also a veteran freelance sportswriter who loves a good story. And there’s been no better story in hockey over the past few years than the Vegas Golden Knights. I’m excited to be covering the NHL again on the Golden Knights’ beat.