Entering his sixth season, few people who follow the NHL know a lot about Blues center Jay McClement and how he's one of the elite defensive forwards in the league. We hope to change that starting today.
Right here, right now St. Louis Game Time is declaring its intent to lobby for "Silent" Jay to win the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded every year to the best defensive forward in the NHL. Obviously he's not going to speak up for himself and the team hasn't been proactive in preaching the McClement gospel, so we have to. And Blues fans, you'll have a role too. It's a movement. Get on board now, or get the hell out of the way as we convince NHL writers who should win the award.
The inescapable truth is that McClement is the most important penalty killer in the NHL. For two straight seasons he has logged more ice time shorthanded than any forward in the league. Last season he spent 306 minutes and 53 seconds on the penalty kill, fourth most in the entire league. The next forward on the list is Jordan Staal at 274:48. That's more than 30 minutes difference. That averages out to 3:44 a game, only 20 seconds less a game on average behind league leader Willie Mitchell. Correspondingly, he led the league in shorthanded faceoffs taken and won. His play propelled the Blues to the No. 1 ranked penalty kill in the league.
At even strength, he also managed to have an even plus/minus despite playing against the top offensive players in the strong Western Conference on a nightly basis. But none of that is sexy for Selke voters. And that's why we're talking about this the first day of the season.
By looking just at the NHL stats, McClement will never finish higher than 16th in the voting (his finish last year despite getting two first place votes). He doesn't rack up a lot of hits or blocked shots (who has the time when defensive positioning is in your DNA?). He's pretty far behind the league leader in takeaways. He doesn't have a lot of offense to go with his defense (he scored 11 goals last season). That's why more and more writers are talking about going beyond the stats to award the trophy, even at The Puck Stops Here at Kukla's Korner.
The Selke Trophy is one that voters have a problem picking. Even if you believe the best player won, it is quite amazing that a quarter of voters did not pick the eventual winner in their top five. When you start looking deeper at the results there are even more problems. The fact that the winner had a significant reduction in his penalty killing time and his quality of competition makes it look as though he won on reputation and not on actually watching him play this season. Pavel Datsyuk won the last three Selke trophies. The first one was earned and the next two were won on reputation. He has become less of a top Selke candidate each year of his run as his use in defensive situations has been consistently declining during that time.
And there you have it. Datsyuk, who regularly scores 30 goals or more and almost always leads the league in takeaways with more than one and a half per game, is known as a top defensive player and wins on that reputation. Rod Brind'Amour won the two seasons before that - they were two of the best offensive seasons of his career. The last real true defensive forward to win it was Kris Draper right before the lockout. Nothing positive can be said for that.
So this year, we're going to spread the word. He's like the Blues' Secret Weapon (something we're probably ripping off from Mike Shannon and Jose Oquendo, but that was more than 20 years ago). But don't take our word for it. Listen to the Blues.
"A lot of guys kind of play themselves out of the league because they think they deserve more," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "But Jay is very determined to prove that he's one of the best defensive forwards in the game. You could definitely make an argument that he's deserving of the Selke."
Of course you could also listen to the biggest McClement fan not related to him, our own Average Joe.
"Basically, McClement is a steady hand who is the furthest thing from flashy. He shows up, takes a ton of faceoffs, and smothers other forwards. When he's on, you rarely hear his name on the broadcast -- you also rarely hear the other team's top player mentioned."
So we're going to make some signs saying "Vote for Jay!" available for fans at certain games. We're going to keep a page here on the site dedicated to just stories about McClement and his defensive play. We're going to ask the folks on Twitter to bug the broadcasters to talk him up, especially the games we distribute the signs. We're going to ask you fine folks to inundate the chats by Jeremy Rutherford and John Kelly to see if they support Silent Jay for the Selke. We're going to ask you all to bug the opinion shapers across the league like Bob McKenzie and Greg Wyshynski and John Buccigross and others to make sure we spread the word about McClement's defensive play. It's grassroots, baby. We're changing the world, one mild-mannered, defense-obsessed Canadian forward at a time.
Granted, the Selke is one of the more oddball trophies (it's better than the Lady Bing), but only one player with the Blues (others like Doug Gilmour, Rod the Bod and Guy Carboneau won with other teams) has ever won the thing (bonus Schrutebucks for the first to say who it is) and we think it's high time to double that total.
So if anyone who has a vote for Selke should read this...VOTE FOR JAY! And in the comments, any other suggestions about how we can get the campaign off the ground are appreciated.