Thursday, 2 July 2009

Selke: Builder and Shadow

We've taken a look at a few trophies that have centered around the offensive side of the puck. We've covered the Norris Trophy which goes to the best all-around defenceman in the regular season. We've also talked about the Vezina Trophy that goes to the best goaltender in the regular season. But what about the guys who shadow the scoring threats? What about the forwards who drop in front of a point shot and risk life and livelihood? For those great defensive forwards, the NHL hasn't forgotten them. In amongst all the offensive trophies is the Frank J. Selke Trophy, "awarded annually to the National Hockey League forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game". While there is less glitz and glamour associated with this award, the guys that have won this award have been just as important to their teams' successes as the guys putting pucks in the net. So how did the Selke Trophy come to be? Who is this Frank J. Selke? Is there anything interesting we should know about the trophy?

Francis Joseph Aloysius Selke was born in Berlin, Ontario on May 7, 1893. Berlin, in case you're wondering, is now Kitchener, Ontario. Selke was a hockey player, but he enjoyed the administrative side of hockey. By age 14, he was managing the Iroquois Bantems hockey team. Five years later in 1912, he was coaching the Berlin Union Jacks junior hockey team in the Ontario Hockey Association. By 1915, Selke had led the Union Jacks to their first OHA Final. By 1919, Selke had reached the pinnacle of junior hockey in Canada when he coached the University of Toronto Schools, a private secondary school in Toronto, to a Memorial Cup Championship.

Selke bounced around in junior hockey, but victories continued to follow him. By 1929, Selke had helped the Toronto Marlboros to another Memorial Cup Championship. With the Toronto Maple Leafs owning the Marlboros junior team, Selke's success was noticed by Leafs' owner, Conn Stafford Smythe, and was hired to be Smythe's assistant. Selke was a key factor in raising funds for the building of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931. When Smythe was sent over seas to serve in the Canadian military during World War II, Selke was appointed as acting manager for both the Maple Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens. Ownership was so impressed with Selke during his time as the man in charge that they requested Selke remain in his position after Smythe returned.

The first major strain on Selke's and Smythe's relationship came when Selke traded Frank Eddolls to the Montreal Canadiens for Ted Kennedy in 1943. Eddolls was a favorite player of Smythe, and he was angry that Selke hadn't consulted him first before making the deal despite Smythe being overseas with the military still. Upon his return, their relationship was frosty at best. After Selke wouldn't support Smythe in his bid to become the President of Maple Leaf Gardens, their working relationship was essentially over. Selke resigned from his position with the Leafs in May of 1946.

Selke wasn't out of work for long, however. By July of 1946, Selke was hired as the manager of the Montreal Forum, and soon became the General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens. Selke was taking over a Canadiens team in some financial trouble, but he began building the Canadiens from the ground up. He went out and created an excellent farm system, covering most of Quebec and reaching as far west as Manitoba. He also signed a number of players to bolster their current line-up in an effort to draw fans.

While results weren't immediate, the dividends paid off in spades. In 1953, Selke won his first Stanley Cup with the Canadiens, led by played like Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach, and Jacques Plante. By developing his extensive farm system, players like Jean BĂ©liveau, Henri Richard, Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, and Doug Harvey made their way to the Canadiens dressing room and helped Les Habitants to five consecutive Stanley Cup Championships from 1955-60. Selke's hard work at the start of his career with the Canadiens was producing amazing results.

Selke was getting older, being 67 when the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1960. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in that same year as a builder. Frank J. Selke finally hung up his coat and tie after the 1963-64 season at the age of 71, turning the team over to Sam Pollock. He was a member of nine Stanley Cup-winning teams - three with the Maple Leafs and six with the Canadiens.

It took some time, but the NHL honoured Mr. Selke with a trophy in 1978 to be given annually to the best defensive forward in the NHL. Also, the QMJHL created the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 1969 to be given to the most gentlemanly player in the QMJHL during the regular season.

Mr. Selke passed away in 1985 at the age of 92 in Riguad, Quebec. Upon his passing, the QMJHL's Frank J. Selke Trophy was renamed as the Frank J. Selke Memorial Trophy to remember the work that Mr. Selke did. In 2003, Frank J. Selke was honoured posthumously as a builder by Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2003 due to his second passion of horse racing.

So there's a little history about the man behind the trophy's name. The first recipient of the Frank J. Selke Trophy was Bob Gainey in 1978. Gainey was a part of the Montreal Canadiens dynasty of the 1970s, and was a key piece of the Canadiens' success as he routinely shadowed the opposition's best player. Here are some of the more interesting facts about the Frank J. Selke Trophy:

  • Bob Gainey won the Frank J. Selke Trophy the most times since it was first awarded in 1978. He won the Selke for four consecutive years, from 1977 until 1981. His four consecutive trophies is a record, and his four Selkes in total is also a record.
  • Behind Gainey are former Canadiens-and-Stars forward Guy Carbonneau and Stars forward Jere Lehtinen. Both Carbonneau and Lehtinen have won the award three times. Only Lehtinen is still active so there's a chance he could tie Gainey.
  • The Montreal Canadiens have won the Selke Trophy a total of seven times, although only two players have won the award in those seven occasions. Detroit is second with six Selke wins, and Dallas is third with three Selke wins.
  • Of the six Selke wins by Detroit players, they have the best representation with four different players winning the award. Sergei Fedorov won twice, Pavel Datsyuk won twice, and Steve Yzerman and Kris Draper have won once.
  • The only player in NHL history to win both the Hart Trophy, as regular-season MVP, and the Selke is Sergei Fedorov. He turned the trick in 1993-94. No player has won the Art Ross and Selke in the same year.
  • In terms of positions, the best chance to win a Selke Trophy comes if you play as a centreman. Centremen have won 22 Selke Trophies, while left wingers have won five times and right wingers have won four times. Bob Gainey was the first left winger to win. Boston's Steve Kasper was the first centreman to win, earning his in 1982. Chicago's Dirk Graham was the first right winger to win a Selke Trophy, doing so in 1991.
  • In total, there are 13 teams represented on the Selke Trophy. No team west of Dallas has won a Selke Trophy. The Northeast Division and Atlantic Division have four teams on the Selke Trophy each. The only team missing from the Northeast thus far is the Ottawa Senators, while the Atlantic Division hasn't had a winner from the New York Rangers. The Northwest Division has no winners thus far, the only division without representation.
  • Sergei Fedorov was the first player not born in Canada to win the Selke. He did it in 1994. Fedorov, Pavel Datsyuk, and Jere Lehtinen are the only non-Canadian players to have won the Selke. There has not been an American-born player who has won the trophy yet.
As much as goal-scoring and offence is viewed as glamourous in the NHL, the defensive side of the puck also gets noticed when it comes to the hardware given out. While the winners of the Selke don't always light up the scoreboard, it's their selfless play that keeps other teams off the scoreboard as well.

Sometimes, the best offence needs a great defensive forward to compliment the guys putting pucks into the cages. And it's the Selke winners who always seem to be great leaders as well.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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