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Why Patrice Bergeron is the NHL’s most underrated superstar

Patrice Bergeron isn’t on the highlight reel very often, but that’s because he’s paved his way to superstardom by being the NHL’s most complete player. And this season, he’s playing better than he ever has before.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Patrice Bergeron isn’t the kind of player who scores with much flash. He’s not the biggest, he’s not the fastest, and he doesn’t make the highlight reel often. But he’s the best full ice player in the NHL, and that alone is enough to consider him a star.

What’s most impressive about Bergeron’s game, which is the most complete of any player in the NHL, is he does everything against the NHL’s best. While other stars – your Sidney Crosbys and Alex Ovechkins, for example – get prime, offensive zone minutes, Bergeron makes his living working out of the Bruins' zone. And 2014-15 has been another season where Boston’s two-way dynamo has impressed.

When looking at Bergeron’s numbers, you can’t get too obsessed with his point totals. Sure, he’s never broken the 75-point plateau, and his career best numbers came in 2005-06 when he tallied 31 goals and 73 points, but that’s not what Bergeron’s game is about. He’s a shutdown center, and he’s the best in the league at it.

While there’s often an argument over which center is the more complete player, Bergeron or Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews, the answer is definitively Bergeron, especially when it comes to defending. Bergeron won the Selke last season, and there’s little chance he doesn’t win the award in 2014-15.

The 29-year-old Bruin is consistently one of the best players at driving play, and, though some may choose not to believe in advanced statistics, his underlying numbers show he’s doing it in the most difficult of ways.

Of all the centermen in the NHL that have played 500 minutes at 5-on-5, only 12 that have a Corsi For of 50 percent or higher – none of which put up the point totals or have the possession numbers of Bergeron – take a higher percentage of defensive zone starts than the Bruins' star center. For the sake of comparison, Toews, an incredible player in his own right, is 99th on the same list. What’s more impressive than that, though, is Bergeron’s Corsi For percentage of nearly 60 percent at that situation.

And if advanced statistics aren’t your thing, take into consideration that Bergeron has scored 10 goals and 23 points at 5-on-5. That’s the 14th best total of all pivots to play 500 minutes, ahead of players like Jason Spezza, Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin. Even for those who aren’t satisfied by Bergeron’s defensive tools have to respect that he’s barely trailing Crosby, Nicklas Backstrom and Steven Stamkos for output at 5-on-5.

What's shocking about Bergeron, especially this season, is the rate at which he gets legitimate scoring chances. While he may not have as many goals as former teammate and current Dallas Stars winger Tyler Seguin, he’s got only two fewer even strength scoring chances. If it weren’t for a shooting percentage that has dipped 33 percent from last season, Bergeron would likely be in the goal-scoring race. And imagine if he started more shifts in the offensive zone.

But he’s not just creating opportunities for himself, either. When it comes to scoring chances at 5-on-5, the Bruins are almost unstoppable when Bergeron is on the ice. Bergeron’s on-ice scoring chance percentage is nearly 61 percent, according to War-On-Ice. That’s almost unthinkable when you factor in just how often he’s starting the play in his own end.

If the percentage is hard to visualize, this should help: when Bergeron is on the ice, the Bruins have had 119 more scoring chances than the opposition. Before Tuesday night’s games, that was the best mark in the entire league. Now, only Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman sits ahead of Bergeron. If that doesn’t blow your hair back, consider that only nine players in the entire league per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time allow fewer scoring chances against than Bergeron.

So, no, Patrice Bergeron won’t be on the highlight reels night in and night out, and he won’t be winning the Hart Trophy this season. But Bergeron, for his play in all three zones, is one of the league’s superstars, if not its best player this year.


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