Patrice Bergeron didn’t deserve the Selke this year


Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron
photo: Getty Images

It’s an unwritten law in the NHL. If Patrice Bergeron is upright, has average mobility and plays 50+ games, he will win the Selke Trophy for the league’s best defensive forward. And it’s not easy to argue against, given that Bergeron has been the smartest player in the league for a decade or more. But once a player has been anointed best defensive forward and is seen as a testing dynamo who scores, it’s hard for him to lose that. There’s not much Bergeron can do now that he won’t be seen as the best forward in the league who’s also picking up a ton of points (and scoring has always played a role in that accolade, which is pretty silly). Pretty much the only thing he could do is retire, which is rumored to be Option after this season.

But Bergeron’s career has evolved. For most of his career, Bergeron was a marvel, starting an overwhelming number of his shifts in the defensive or neutral zone and then handing the game to the offensive zone. They could put Bergeron in any situation, and every Bruins coach knew he’d land the puck on the right end of the ice. That was back when the Bruins had talented, more one-dimensional centers like Marc Savard or David Krejci that allowed Bergeron to focus more on, or just scoring, goals. Bergeron was the Swiss army knife.

During the first nine seasons of Bergeron’s career, his starting offensive zone percentage for his shifts was 40.6, 41.1, 47.0, 41.3, 44.1, 36.8, 39.9, 38.4, and 40 ,1. This role is pretty much the “dungeon shift,” something you’d saddle a third or fourth line center with and their only job would be to harass the other team’s best center and make sure they didn’t score. If this player ever crossed the red line, he was worthy of trumpets and rose petals. The Bruins have asked Bergeron to do that and then also produce at least like a high-end second-line center. Which he did, because he’s a first-choice Hall of Famer.

However, over the past six seasons, when Krejci’s powers waned somewhat, Bergeron has been used as a true center of the first line. His offensive zone starting percentage hasn’t fallen below 56 percent in the last six campaigns, and four times he’s exceeded 60 percent, as he has this season. His main job was to work with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak to punch a hole in the world through goals.

Because it’s still Bergeron now and he’s starting most of his shifts in the offensive zone now, the puck stays there. His metrics are absolutely dominant. His Corsi percentage, the number of attempts at net the Bruins score on the ice versus the number they give up, tops the league at 66.0 percent. That leads by three full percentage points! His expected goals percentage also leads the league at 69.6. His Corsi against per 60 minutes of equal time is also the lowest in the league, as is his xGA per 60.

So if the argument is that it doesn’t matter where he starts, he’s preventing tries and chances against the Bruins’ net, and thus that makes him a great defensive player, fine. The name of the game is stopping goals and scoring them, and you do that by stopping chances and creating them, and Bergeron does that. But he doesn’t have to do that by playing almost as much defense as he used to. Charlie Coyle is now being asked to do most of the dungeon shifts.

That doesn’t mean that Bergeron is never in the defensive zone these days. He’s still taking 20 defensive zone draws per 60. But he’s also taking 32 offensive zone faceoffs per game, which leads the league. His defense is based on not being in his own zone at all, which is a valuable ability. Does that make him a great defender at this point? He could probably still do it if the Bs needed it, but he doesn’t now.

If Selke is really about rewarding forwards who play defense, introduce Florida’s Mason Marchmant, who starts less than half his shifts in the offensive zone and ranks 2nd and 4th in Corsi and xGA. Or Marcus Foligno from Minnesota, who starts 45 percent of his shifts in the ozone zone and is still third in xGA. They play a lot more defense and are called on to do it a lot more than Bergeron.

Bergeron will win the Selke, and rumors that he might be retiring will only fuel this as hockey writers look to bid him a farewell. It’s a reasonable choice, but most voters won’t know why. You’ll just see Bergeron win a lot of faceoffs, score goals and play on the PK and think it’s the normal Bergeron season. This season was long gone. If the idea of ​​the Selke Trophy is to highlight someone who does the work we don’t notice, then Bergeron, great as he is, isn’t.

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