For many years, nobody out side of the Anaheim fan-base even knew who Samuel Pahlsson was. No surprise there. Not many Ducks fans could tell you what kind of player he was either prior to the 2005-06 season.
Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 1996, Sammy was thought to be a goal-scorer like so many players that come from his home country of Sweden. A little smaller than what was the norm in the late 90s, he was traded to the Bruins, then acquired by the Ducks in 2000 after finishing 4 years with MoDo of the Swedish Elite League.
In the 2003 playoffs, Sammy (+10, 6pts) was paired with deadline acquisition Steve Thomas (+10) and Stanislav Chistov (+4, 4pts) on the Ducks fledgling Checking Line.
That line was key in shutting down the opposition and helped propel the Mighty Ducks to the Stanley Cup Finals versus the New Jersey Devils. In 2004, the Ducks acquired Rob Niedermayer to replace Steve Thomas. Moen didn't land on the Checking Line until 2005-2006, when Randy Carlyle took over for Mike Babcock as head coach. At the time, Moen was on the flailing 4th line, getting little ice time. From about November of 2005 you could start to see the power of that line combination. Almost like molasses on skates for the opposition. Through the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, the Ducks' checking line played an integral part in every win.
In four rounds of the 2007 playoffs, Pahlsson was on the ice for 15 Goals For, and 8 Goals Against at even strength. He only gave up 7 power play goals while on the ice in 21 games playing over 4 mins per game on the PK. Sammy scored the lone goal in Game 2 versus the Ottawa Senators. In all four series, the opponents top duos were separated by the end of the series (Gaborik-Demitra, D.Sedin-H.Sedin, Datsyuk-Zetterberg, Heatley-Alfredsson) in order to move them away from the Checking line and Sammy Pahlsson.
The Selke Trophy, awarded to the league's top rated defensive forward, is very tough to simply award to the player who is tops in any certain stat category. Often their skills do not show up on the stat sheets after a game. Using a website like Behind The Net, you can analyze many aspects of a player that do not fit into a typical stat category. Below are the top 3 candidates based on my informal analysis of the defensive breakdowns for forwards plus Pahlsson's line mates.
* John Madden (GP: 80)(Quality of Opposition: 0.14) (-23 on the PK, ATOI: 3.31)(GAON/60: 2.25, GFON/60: 2.51)
* Patrick Sharp (GP:78)(Quality of Opposition: 0.08) (-1 on the PK**, ATOI: 2.30)(GAON/60: 2.71, GFON/60: 3.43)
* Samuel Pahlsson (GP: 56) (Quality of Opposition: 0.18) (-19 on the PK, ATOI: 3.98)(GAON/60: 1.71, GFON/60: 1.22)
* Travis Moen (GP: 77)(Quality of Opposition: 0.16)(-19 on the PK, ATOI: 2.78)(GAON/60: 1.35, GFON/60: 0.80)
* Rob Niedermayer (GP: 78)(Quality of Opposition: 0.17)(-25 on the PK, ATOI: 3.58)(GAON/60: 1.42, GFON/60: 1.05)
**Due to his 7 short-handed goals!
Sammy's line mates Moen and Niedermayer have very comparable numbers (obviously). Neither of them though would even garner a mention in the Selke talks, let alone have a chance at winning it. The Quality of Opposition is a measure of the talent each player faces in a game. The smaller the number, the easier the opponent. And by easy, I mean they don't score much. Pahlsson leads the league among players who played in at least 50 games while playing with some of the least offensive teammates, especially Travis Moen.
Looking at the Goals For per 60 mins on ice (GFON/60) and Goals Against per 60 mins on ice (GAON/60) Pahlsson clearly is focusing on the defensive aspects of his game. In the high scoring East, Madden has more trouble keeping the puck out of the net, while on the defensively inept Blackhawks, Sharp is clearly giving up more goals while he is on the ice.
At the end of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007 if the Selke were to be awarded, there would be no doubt that Pahlsson would have won it. Not only did he play tough minutes every single game, he was often double shifted on the PK. He also played through a nagging sports hernia, an injury that would ultimately force him to miss the first 6 games of the season thus ending his consecutive game streak at 333 games (275 regular season, 58 playoff games).
In the end, the award is given by a vote of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Sammy's name is definitely more well known across the hockey universe after last season's playoffs. This year, the injuries to Pahlsson at the beginning and just after the midpoint of the season may prevent him from even getting a nomination. Patrick Sharp's stats are pretty phenominal compared to last year. Factoring all these stats in, it's hard to argue against one player or the another.