You heard it here first, folks: Patrice Bergeron is the luckiest man in hockey right now.
Now, I know that may sound callous considering the concussion battles Bergeron has waged and won, but I’m sure he has put those behind him and would like everyone else to as well. I will.
I’m not suggesting Bergeron isn’t a good player; he’s a very useful two-way center and the second-best skater on his NHL team, which currently sits 18th overall. I’m also not a grump who believes good teams can’t have role players. To wit, Canada’s 1998 loss in the semifinal to the Czechs in Nagano was not Rob Zamuner’s fault.
Canadian coach Mike Babcock was quoted on THN.com Monday saying, “(Bergeron is) very dependable without the puck and he’s a good faceoff guy. And that could free up (Crosby).”
Of course, Babcock also noted that one practice does not a lineup make, “so don’t get too carried away with things.”
Bergeron is versatile. He kills penalties, plays the power play and is capable of blanketing the opposition’s best forwards. Versatility is a big bonus when trying out for a team and a hallmark of a good player.
And I know intangibles count for a lot in hockey – heck, last week I touted Alexandre Burrows as an injury replacement for Ryan Getzlaf based largely on Burrows’ intangibles. Faceoff ability, versatility, dependability and drive to succeed are all important aspects of Bergeron’s makeup and reasons why he was included on Canada’s Olympic entry.
They must be. Because looking at his numbers, things aren’t so pretty.
Bergeron is one of the NHL’s best faceoff men, ranking eighth-best in the league in faceoff win percentage and tops among Canadian Olympians. But five of his Games teammates – and 15 Canadians overall – have actually taken more draws. So he’s really not taking too many faceoffs during his 18:43 of average ice time (36th among all Canadian forwards).
Heading into the Olympic break, Bergeron’s 12 goals and 37 points is good for 100th in league scoring, 51st among Canadians; his minus-1 rating is 406th , tying him with such luminaries as D.J. King and Mark Popovic; and his seven power play points were good for an eighth-place tie, on the Bruins.
Bergeron’s numbers are so bad that his inclusion on one of Canada’s top-two scoring lines and, even on the team itself, has been summed up by many – including, it would seem, the coach – to be the result of supposed chemistry with Sidney Crosby.
You see, the two played together at the 2005 World Junior Championship during the NHL lockout. Bergeron was plying his trade with the American League’s Providence Bruins that year and had already played an NHL season and a World Championship tourney. He led the WJC in scoring with five goals and 13 points in six games; Crosby, his younger linemate still playing junior, finished with six goals and nine points. Bergeron’s total also bested those of Ryan Getzlaf, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin during the tournament, so it’s no small feat.
But what many have failed to mention is that Canada’s entry that year is widely considered the best Canadian junior team ever. Canada outscored its opponents 41-7 en route to an undefeated tournament and the gold medal; 16 of those players are now NHL regulars.
After career-best seasons of 73 and 70 points following those world juniors – totals Crosby and Joe Thornton have already bested through 61 games this year – Bergeron’s development hit a wall after the crushing hit from behind by Philadelphia’s Randy Jones cost Bergeron all but 10 games of the ’07-08 season. While he’s on track for his best post-concussion season, Bergeron’s .69 points-per-game average places him 58th among Canadian NHLers, not exactly an Olympian total.
Dependability away from the puck is something I expect out of every Canadian Olympian and Crosby, Thornton and Jonathan Toews are all in the NHL’s top 20 in faceoffs won; Crosby leads the league in the category and the three have winning percentages of 56.7, 53.5 and 56.7, hardly a huge drop from Bergeron’s 57.4. With that being the case, I’m left to wonder just what to expect from Bergeron.
So while I’m not trying to pick on Bergeron and hope for nothing but the best for him during the next two weeks and the rest of his hockey career, it almost seems like Steve Yzerman et al included Bergeron because of what he might be able to do, not because of what he’s done this season. That’s what the Canadian brain trust specifically said it would not do when making decisions.
Yes, he’s versatile and all those things previously mentioned, but let’s hope Bergeron doesn’t become the next player Canadian hockey fans blame if things aren’t all golden for the home team in Vancouver. Because you know he’ll be one of the first places people look, what with him being the luckiest man in hockey right now.
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