Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bergeron and the Selke

The Bruins winning the Cup brought a lot of attention to Bergeron and his irreplaceable role on the Bruins. One of his duties that he has been a master of in his entire career in the NHL is he defensive responsibility, which shine through even brighter under the defensive system the Bruins play. Bergeron's perfection of this system is one of the big reasons that the system is so successful and effective.

He and Chara are the core of the Bruins heart, and I see Bergeron as even closer to the heart because he was here longer, and I fondly remember his rookie season. Before his serious concussion, Bergeron was very offensively prolific. As he matured and his game grew more solid all-around, he no longer put up the impressive points of his first few seasons with the Bruins, and that was mainly because of how significant he is defensively. Being utilized in every important situation as he is has allowed other young scorers who may not be as dedicated to their defensive duties to move into the role of the goal-scorers.

Even so, Bergeron can still put up impressive numbers, but none of that is quite as obvious as, say, a 40-goal scoring Selke winner like Ryan Kesler.  No matter what Bergeron's stats are in the scoring column, he is head and shoulders above just about everyone else in the league when it comes to being relentlessly reliable in all three zones. Bergeron is clearly an elite two-way center, so how is it possible that, in his 8th pro season, he hasn't even been nominated once for the Selke? He shouldn't just be in one of the 3 finalists - he should be the hands-down winner.

Bergeron is certainly appreciated among his teammates and Bruins fans, and he has a reputation as solid and honorable, which he truly is on and off the ice. That's how he made the roster for Team Canada in 2010 (which was exciting beyond belief to see when it was announced!) without many fans even knowing who he is. They know now, though. He wasn't exactly an impact player on the gold medal winning Team Canada but he certainly was during the Bruins Cup run. Before, people had at least heard of him as a member of Team Canada but now anybody watching the Bruins maginificnet Cup run became increasingly familiar - and undoubtedly impressed - with Bergeron.

The biting incident with Burrows in Game 1 of the Finals has to be mentioned because of the commentary it generated about Bergeron. The quote that sticks out the most to me in regards to that 'incident' and the topic of Bergeron's reputation in general, came from an NBC or Versus commentator. He said something along the lines of how outraged a LOT of people were over Burrows disrespecting him like that because Bergeron is such a highly respected guy throughout the league. The way Bergeron handled that situation exemplifies that exact point. And the hockey gods indeed took notice - or maybe Bergeron's hard work generated these results without divine hockey intervention - because as the final score stood at the end of Game 7 as the Bruins poured off the bench, their gear flying in the air and littering the ice, screaming and hugging and celebrating, the final score of 4-0 meant that the 1st goal scored was the game winning goal...and Bergeron scored that goal.

Not only did Bergeron score the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in one of the most spectacular and unbelievable playoff runs any team ever had, but a lifetime of hard work and honest effort was recognized in the Silver of the Cup and the gold of joining the Triple Gold Club, arguably the highest most honor for a Canadian hockey player because joining that club means he had won the Stanley Cup, a gold medal at the World Junior Championship representing Canada, and a gold medal representing Canada at the Olympics. He had an 'A' on his sweater for two of those triumphs.

How can a player with such astounding accomplishments from his hard work and leadership qualities be as underrated as Bergeron has always been, and may still be? Many Bruins fans such as myself have been arguing for many years that Bergeron should at least be honored with a nomination for the Selke, and was pretty surprised when the finalists were announced and he wasn't on it, yet again. The nominations were based on regular season play, and Bergeron apparently just missed the cut, coming in 4th overall.

Given the defensive nature of the Bruins triumphs and the key role Bergeron played, he is without a doubt going to be a Selke finalist this season. The Bruins are the ultimate team, but the little things done by Bergeron that contribute to the superiority of the Bruins defense are more clear than ever. And he is on pace to continue puttnig up numbers that may not reach his career highs of his early years but are more than enough to prove he is one of the absolute best in the offensive zone and defensive zone, and that is the exact essense of the Selke trophy.

The criteria for the Selke trophy is pretty straight forward. The HHOF defines the award as one to "recognize the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game".

What makes a good defensive forward and Selke nominee? Being a good defensive forward means consciously accepting the extra hard work that a forwards defensive responsibilities require. Since it is more tiresome than playing the offensive side of things, and the rewards are obviously not as overt such as goal scoring, it means you have to be exceptionally strong mentally than your average forward. Bergeron is clearly mentally tougher than just about anybody else in the game as he has proven through his struggles with concussions and being one of the primary pieces of the Bruins team for several years before it culminated into a legitimate champion.

The Selke doesn't explicity require the winner to be a strong scorer as well. Since it's inception in 1977, the Selke trophy was awarded to players who put up similarly steady numbers (generally around and usually under 20 goals the season they won). It seems that the offensive aspect of the defensive-forward's legitimacy became a steady "policy" when Sergei Fedorov won the Selke in 1994, finishing with 56 goals and 120 points on the season and becoming the first player in NHL history to win both the Selke and Harte trophy in the same season.

Selke winners seem to generally be the strongest leaders (Bergeron: check), don't typically rack up lots of penalty minutes (Bergeron: check), are part of a team that is successful overall (Bergeron: check), and all around are honorable, respected, and successful players. Certainly Datsyuk and Kesler, the most recent Selke winners, fit that profile. I think Bergeron fulfills those traits just as well as the other men nominated, however, and each season that passes further proves that he is the most deserving of a Selke win. Bergeron's reliability in the face off circle and minutes logged on the penalty kill as well as the power play (the point on the power play often times) can be seen on paper as further evidence of Bergeron's deservedness. Kesler deserved it last year, but this year, I think, is Bergeron's year to win another piece of hardware.

As of today (Sunday, December 18, 2011), Bergeron is ranked 3rd overall in the league in Faceoff % (57.6%). He is 4th in the league in +/-, with a +19. He leads all Bruins forwards with average time on ice, and all Bruins players with average power play time on ice. He's tied for 2nd on the team with points (24), and tied for 1st with 18 assists. His recognition league-wide is also clearly on the rise: he not only made the All-Star ballot this year, but is currently 25th in votes among forwards, 1 spot behind Tyler Seguin. Whether or not he makes the All-Star Game's final roster, or any major end-of-the-season trophy nominations, it can be said with certainty that Bergeron's success is much more appreciated than ever, and will only continue to rise. 

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