On Tuesday night in Las Vegas, the annual NHL Awards show will reward the best players in the 2013-14 season. The Blackhawks have two players who are finalists for two awards apiece: Jonathan Toews is up for his second consecutive Frank J. Selke Trophy, given to the NHL's best defensive forward, and the Mark Messier Leadership Award, while Duncan Keith could win his second James Norris Trophy, awarded to the league's best defenseman, and the NHL Foundation Player Award for his charitable efforts.
chicagoblackhawks.com caught up with Blackhawks radio analyst and 1986 Selke Trophy winner Troy Murray to talk about the award finalists.
Duncan Keith won the Norris Trophy back in 2010, and he's back with his second nomination this year. How would you compare this campaign for him against that one?
When you look at Duncan Keith now against where he was in 2010 when he won the Norris Trophy, I think he’s a more experienced, wiser hockey player today. You look at the team’s success and what Duncan means to the Blackhawks, and you can see what an important piece he is on this team. His first step, his stick positioning and his puckhandling are as good as anybody’s in the National Hockey League.
You look at the other candidates, [Boston’s] Zdeno Chara and [Nashville’s] Shea Weber, all three have different assets available to them. Chara is so big and so strong, and Weber is kind of a blend of strength, size, shot and a physical dimension to his game. But when I look at how Duncan supports what the Blackhawks do, especially with their quick puck movement, and the way that he’s been able to shut down some of the league’s best forwards with his quickness and speed, it's even better than what you saw in 2010. He’s got a more experienced approach and has a better idea of what to do on the back end.
Not a lot of people are disagreeing that Keith deserves to be in consideration for the Norris, but some have pointed out that often Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya were deployed against other teams' top lines rather than Duncan and Brent Seabrook. Is that notable at this level, or is the talent in the NHL just so good that the step down from defending the first to the second line isn’t that steep?
I see the ability of Joel Quenneville to look at his defensive pairings and understand the assets he has on the back end: If he plays Hjalmarsson and Oduya against the other team’s top line, that gives him the ability to utilize Duncan and some of his other talents to the team's benefit. The depth on the blue line is a really good thing to have, and it allows you to use them in a lot of different situations. Keith and Seabrook have played against the other teams’ top lines, and they have done it for years, but using other defenders allows you to use them in different situations, and I don’t see that as a knock on Keith or Seabrook in any way, shape or form. It’s just a great opportunity for a coach to see what he has and best use [them] within the team structure.
You mean specifically on the offensive end?
I think so. If you look at the numbers over the years, Keith has the ability to play a more offensive role, and Seabrook has that big shot. If you focus solely on what Duncan does defensively, you miss everything that he can do on offense. If you utilize another pairing as the shutdown role, that frees up Keith to play more of a two-way game; other players in the NHL don’t necessarily have that ability.
Let’s talk about an award that you are very familiar with: the Selke. No one doubts Jonathan Toews’ credentials, but you have also gotten to see a lot of the other two finalists, Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, because of their postseason series against the Blackhawks. What do you think about this race?
This is a really interesting race for me, in terms of what you have here. All of these players are very adept at the faceoff circle, so that’s kind of a wash. And you have to look at the ability of all of these players to play in key defensive situations; there’s no hesitation on the part of any of their coaches to put these players out in critical situations.
You know that Bergeron is one of the best overall players—you have no doubt when you see Boston’s strength down the middle, and that’s something that makes his team very successful. Then you look at the matchup from this year’s Western Conference Final, with Toews and Kopitar facing off, you saw the ability of Kopitar to be that all-around player. He’s stepped up in a major role and opened some eyes, and he was a big factor why the Kings won two Cups in three years.
If they were only focused on solely their defensive play and not focused on being all-around players—and I think all three are among the best all-around players in the league—I think these guys might be able to elevate their defensive games even more, which is incredible.
The Selke is an award that’s changed a little bit over the years—for the most part, only a center will win, and few wingers are even named finalists. For instance, a lot of people point to Marian Hossa as a guy who should be in the Selke conversation, but doesn’t often get that buzz.
The award has come from the days of Bob Gainey, who basically dominated for years as the best defensive player in the game [as a left wing], but it’s moved to the center position now because that’s the forward position that gets most focus in the defensive zone. But if you look at where a lot of the Selke finalists’ strengths lie—winning faceoffs, for instance—the people voting for these awards focus on different things. Even the Norris Trophy is no longer just who is the best defensive defenseman; it’s now the best two-way defenseman. All of these awards have expanded their criteria from what they originally were.
The Mark Messier Leadership Award is a little different, since it’s hard to quantify leadership, or evaluate what each nominee means to their team, but how have you seen Toews’ growth as a leader since he got the "C"?
I’m a little biased in this regard, since I don’t see the other nominees, [Anaheim’s] Ryan Getzlaf or [Los Angeles’] Dustin Brown, on a day-to-day basis. I don’t get to see how they handle the media or handle adversity, the way that they are inside the locker room, or the way that teammates relate to them, so I can really only speak on Jonathan’s behalf in that regard.
Growing up with Mark—I played with him in juniors, and his father was my coach—I have a really good understanding of what Mark Messier was all about and why he was one of the best leaders to ever play in professional sports. He stepped up on the biggest stages and took responsibility, and to have that accountability put on your shoulders rather than someone else's, I think all of these players do that. Mark was a guy who led by example, but when he stood up in the locker room, you just knew there was something there that made him very unique and special.
But when you see Jonathan Toews on a regular basis, and how this team has been able to succeed on a very high level, you start with the leadership inside the locker room. The way that Jonathan approaches the game, and his ability in key situations to be “the guy,” is special. He’s not a vocal guy inside the locker room, but like a lot of great leaders, when he speaks, people listen. That’s one of the biggest criteria for this category, and why he has the opportunity to win the Messier award.
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