SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers made some team history on Friday, thanks in large part to their captain.
The NHL announced that Sasha Barkov was the 2020-21 winner of the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded annually to the player voted as the NHL’s best defensive forward.
This is a big deal for the Panthers and for Barkov, long viewed as one of the most underrated players in the game due in part to his playing for a franchise rarely in the limelight.
It appears that for both the team and its captain, those days are now a thing of the past.
“I got more messages than I did for my birthday,” Barkov said through a smile.
On Saturday, Barkov sat down in front of his computer and spoke to the media on Zoom for the first time since Florida was eliminated from the playoffs by Tampa Bay earlier this month.
Barkov is back in his native Finland, already getting into his offseason routine and looking ahead to what he hopes will be an even better year next season.
“I started working out already, a little bit at a time, not too crazy,” he said. “Preparing myself for getting better for the next season.”
While Barkov and his Panthers teammates were crushed after their early postseason exit, there are still plenty of positives to take from a very successful 2020-21 campaign.
Winning the Selke Trophy, one of the ‘big ones’ among the NHL’s annual hardware collection, is something that deserves quite a bit of fanfare.
It’s the first time that Barkov has won the award, and the first time a Panthers player has been bestowed the honor.
“This recognition of Sasha’s ability stands as a testament to his growth as a player and as a leader,” Panthers General Manager Bill Zito said in a statement released by the team. “The Florida Panthers organization is tremendously proud of our captain’s achievements. The Selke Trophy is synonymous with sacrifice, and over the past eight seasons Sasha has demonstrated time and again that he is willing to do what it takes for the team to succeed.”
Barkov, 25, finished ahead of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron and Vegas’ Mark Stone in voting, which was conducted by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Florida’s Finnish forward who is well-known for his exceptional two-way game appeared on 92 of the 100 ballots cast, earning 62 first-place votes for 780 voting points.
“It feels great just to be nominated for this trophy,” Barkov said. “I’ve always considered myself a two-way player and this the biggest honor you can get as a two-way player, so I’m really thankful and honored.”
He is also now just the fifth player in NHL history to have won both the Selke Trophy and the Lady Byng Trophy, which Barkov was awarded in 2019. The other four players on that list are Pavel Datsyuk, Ron Francis, Anze Kopitar and Ryan O’Reilly…so pretty good company.
“It feels unbelievable. This is one of the biggest honors I’ve had in my life and in my hockey career,” Barkov said.
It was a stellar season for Barkov, who finished with a team-leading 26 goals in 50 games and accumulated 58 points (26-32-58) while also leading the team in shots (176), takeaways (39), even-strength goals (18) and even-strength points (38).
No Florida player was on the ice more than Barkov this season. He led all Panthers players with 1,046:52 of total ice time.
“You want to be good every game. You want to do the right things every game, starting with game one, until the end,” Barkov said. “I had ups and downs, but pretty much the whole season I was consistent.”
To hear Barkov talk about his season, it’s clear he was pleased with the way he performed. And he should be.
But Barkov is a true professional, and he is well aware that at just 25 years old (he’ll be 26 in early September), his best hockey should still be in front of him.
That’s why he’s already back to work, already looking ahead and focused on how both he and the team can improve when next season arrives.
“I know I need to get better. I can get better,” Barkov said. “I know what I need to work at to get better for next season. It’s a big honor (to win the Selke), but I want to keep getting better.”
Florida’s captain wasn’t the only member of the team who received some recognition for what they achieved last season.
Zito, Florida’s first year GM, is a finalist for the Jim Gregory Award, which is presented annually, “to the general manager who best excelled in his role during the regular season.”
Montreal GM Marc Bergevin and Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders are the other two finalists. The winner will be announced on Monday.
Panthers bench boss Joel Quenneville was a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy, presented to the league’s best head coach, but finished third in the voting behind Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour and Minnesota’s Dean Evanson.
“Seeing (Coach) Q nominated for the Jack Adams, and then Bill (Zito) nominated for GM of the Year, that shows you that we did something right this season,” Barkov said.