Could be Bergeron's year for the Selke Trophy


Could be Bergeron's year for the Selke Trophy

UNIONDALE, NY Two years ago Pavel Datsyuk took home the Selke Trophy for the third time. Last season it was Vancouver center Ryan Keslers turn to accept the award for the best defensive forward in the NHL.

Coming off a Stanley Cup-winning season and enjoying his best offensive season since the horrendous concussion that nearly derailed his entire career, it would seem this year its Patrice Bergerons turn to accept a Selke.

All three of last years finalists for the award -- Datsyuk, Kesler and Jonathan Toews -- have struggled through injuries this season that have kept them from operating at their level-best.

Meanwhile Bergeron has been arguably the best two-way center in the NHL this season with good health, good defense and better linemates feeding him scoring opportunities. He hit the 60-point mark this season for the first time since 2006-07, and hes now put together back-to-back 20 goal seasons.

Most Selke winners also have to be productive in the offensive end to merit the kind of attention needed to win the award. Bergeron has been just that.

Those that know Bergeron best know the Selke Trophy is the most personally meaningful individual award he could win. Why? It all comes back to his pride in the defensive end.

Im just trying to do all the little details to help my team win. Even if not everybody sees it Im trying to help my team win every night. It starts on the defensive side and then it takes care of things in the offensive zone, said Bergeron. I havent really thought about the Selke. Its nice to hear because it means Im doing some things right, but all those individual awards come down to your teammates.

Last year was the ultimate prize that we won together. I wouldnt trade that any year for a Selke Trophy. Its nice because it means Im doing my job and I need to just keep doing that.

Bergeron finished fourth in the voting last season, and the admittedly difficult criteria can always confound the PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) voters trying to determine the best defensive forward in the league. Much of it comes down to face-off percentage, short-handed time on ice, plus-minus and other statistical minutiae, but perhaps the biggest factor going is simple reputation.

That can take years to build into an award-worthy attribute, and Bergeron is at that level while becoming one of the faces the NHL is trying to market to the public.

He was the focus of an NHL 36 special on the NBC Sports Network designed to underscore just how underrated a player Bergeron is. His teammates knew of his importance long before that, though. In the Bruins locker room, its a no-brainer: Bergeron's play has definitely been worthy of a Selke.

He always seems to be in the right position and he always makes the little plays game in and game out that a player of his caliber doesnt really have to make, said Chris Kelly, a great two-way center in his own right. Thats what makes him such a great player -- his attention to detail all over the ice. He pays attention with the same focus in all three zones on the ice.

To me hes the best two-way player in the game and I get to see him on a daily basis. Im a better player just for getting the chance to watch and play with him every day.

Theres also no denying the statistics are there for Bergeron. He leads the NHL in plusminus with a plus-35 mark heading into Sunday nights tilt against the New York Rangers, and hes achieved that mark with a pair of young wingers (Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin) alongside him for the majority of the year.

Customarily Bergeron and Co. gets the draw of shutting down the other teams best forward line, and that makes their plusminus numbers all the more impressive. Bergeron hasnt missed a game this season and has been at the heart of another excellent defensive campaign for the entire hockey club.

With our system theres no blowout out of the zone or cheating. Hes often the last one of the defensive zone, or the second-to-last one out, said Kelly. But he still manages to create a lot of offense in the system. Its a lot of skating. Hes working every single night. Its not like there are easy nights where hes cheating like some other guys in the league do that recognized a little more for their offensive numbers.

Joe Pavelski and Toews are the only two face-off men with a slightly higher percentage than Bergerons 59.2 percent success rate, but No. 37 has taken a much larger number of draws over the course of the season.

Bergerons 1,582 draws are nearly twice as many as Pavelski, and more than 400 above Toews total as the Chicago captain has missed time with a concussion suffered earlier this season. In fact nobody in the NHLs top ten in face-offs is anywhere close to the nearly 1,600 draws taken by Bergeron. Only Eric Staal, Jason Spezza and Tomas Plekanec have taken more face-offs then Bergeron this season with a much lower percentage of wins.

Its not unusual for Claude Julien to use Bergeron for nearly every big face-off within a given game, and then make the change once his reliable center has won the puck back to his teammates.

Thats exactly the kind of trait Selke Trophy winners are known for, and it's Bergerons bread and butter.

Given his numbers, and his undeniably growing reputation, there may be no better season for the two-way center to haul in the coveted Selke.

NFL teams being on the field for anthem is a relatively new practice

NFL teams being on the field for anthem is a relatively new practice

It’s a tribute to the NFL’s ability to drape itself in the flag that nobody even realizes that – prior to 2009 – players being on the field for the national anthem wasn’t even standard practice.

Regardless of where one stands RE: Colin Kaepernick deciding to sit out the “Star-Spangled Banner” one shouldn’t be misled into thinking this is a longstanding tradition Kaepernick is sitting out.

(For the record, I believe it’s his right to sit, stand or turn cartwheels, but the point he wanted to make about the oppression of blacks has now been hijacked and we’re in a loud debate about whether or not players have a right to express themselves).

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed this morning the practice began in 2009, adding, "As you know, the NFL has a long tradition of patriotism. Players are encouraged but not required to stand for the anthem.

Not that there aren’t those in the league who won’t try to have you believe that Kaepernick is bucking decades of tradition.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher spoke in terms that made it seem like his teams have been customarily standing for the anthem before games for a long time rather than it being just for the past seven seasons.

“I would be very, very surprised if I had one of our players do that, particularly because of the respect that we have shown, not only this year, but since our time in St. Louis and my time going way back for the national anthem,” Fisher said.

Fisher’s been in the NFL as a player and coach for 35 years. And – while it’s not only possible but likely that teams he’s been involved with have paid their respects during the anthem whether they were on display on the sidelines or not – the phrase “going way back” in this context infers a longer standing ceremonial approach to the anthem than really exists.

Players have been on the sidelines for then anthem prior to select games – Super Bowls, post 9/11 tributes, etc. and perhaps teams such as Fisher’s Rams, Titans, Oilers and Bears had their own customs that included routinely being on the field for the anthem. But it’s worth whispering into the hysteria that, “Hey, standing en masse just started seven years ago.”

Fisher also said, “We have an organizational philosophy that has been in place for a long time, with respect to the anthem. I think it’s a special event and it’s something that should be respected and that’s my opinion.”

I share that opinion. I don’t, however, share the opinion that seven seasons is a long time.





Belichick on Kaepernick: 'Not here to talk political commentary'

Belichick on Kaepernick: 'Not here to talk political commentary'

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick was asked on Monday if he had any comment on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his decision not to stand for the national anthem in order to make a political statement. The Patriots coach declined.

"We're really focused on what we do, getting ready for the Giants, improving out football team," Belichick said. "Not here to talk about political commentary, ideology and all that."

Belichick grew up in Annapolis, Maryland and around the Naval Academy, where his father spent more than 30 years as a coach and scout. He has been very open about discussing his ties to that program in the past, and Tom Brady has said that Belichick has taken time out in meetings to educate them on the meaning of Veterans Day and Memorial Day. 

Getting into a discussion about Kaepernick's decision, however, was clearly not something that Belichick felt was in his best interest Monday.

Felger: What’s holding Jimmy G back? Not Brady, but Belichick

Felger: What’s holding Jimmy G back? Not Brady, but Belichick

Other than allowing Tom Brady to pee on his territory, I wonder what the Patriots accomplished on Friday night when it came to their quarterback situation. It didn't feel like much.

Really. What was established? That Brady is maniacal about his job? That he's also really, really good? That Jimmy Garappolo isn't? That he's still well behind the starter? Didn't everyone, most notably Bill Belichick, know all those things? 

In other words, by playing Brady as much as they did, the Pats ‎proved almost nothing in Carolina. They certainly didn't do anything to get Garappolo closer to being ready for Arizona on Sept. 11. The only thing they accomplished was to scratch Brady's insatiable itch, and they have to hope they didn't set Garappolo back in the process after his worrisome, deer-in-the-headlights  performance. 

Please note: I don't blame Brady for asserting himself. We all want him pushing his way on the field and staking his claim. It's obviously part of his makeup and what has made him the greatest ever. He's just doing his thing. Competitors compete. Got it.

I do blame Belichick, though. It's his job to keep Brady at bay and put Garappolo in the best position to succeed come the regular season. He didn't do that. Instead, Friday felt like a waste of time. I thought the priority was Garappolo and the Cardinals. I thought the point was for him to face a good defense, work through his growing pains, gain some confidence and assume some leadership of the team. 

But Brady's presence stood in the way of that. The 16-year veteran led the team out of the locker room and to the pregame coin flip. Brady carried himself like a pouty teenager in the high school cafeteria while Garappolo was on the field and then refused to even look at the kid off it. Those sideline meetings with the quarterbacks and Josh MdDaniels were almost comical. Whatever was on those tablets just couldn't have been that mesmerizing. I mean, did Brady even acknowledge Garappolo all night?

On the field, Brady played at least two series too many many. After he threw his ridiculous touchdown to Chris Hogan on his second possession, Brady should have been in the showers. He actually should have been back home in Brookline. But he played two more series, and by the time he trotted out on the field for the fourth possession I started muttering to the television. What are we doing here? When even the Kraft Productions broadcast team, hardly a bastion of second-guessing, expressed surprise that Brady was still in there, I knew I was on to something. I was almost rooting for that interception down the seam and could barely stifle a ``serves you right'' when Brady took a sack on his final snap.

Then, Garappolo came back and was even more rattled than he was before Brady's stint, a tough trick given how unsure of himself he looked all night. Attention should now turn to Garappolo's mental toughness, because it was sorely lacking in Charlotte. We'll see if he has any going forward.

But let's also be fair. Garappolo is in an impossible position. Everyone, including probably Brady himself, is going to hold him up to No. 12. I've even heard a rumble that Brady doesn't believe Garappolo knows the offense as well as he should. Watching Friday it's easy to understand why. Every time Garappolo faces a blitz, it feels like the first time. Get rid of the ball already. But next to Brady, no one is going to know the offense as well. No one is going to care as much. No one is going to try as hard. That's why Brady is Brady. Whoever the next guy is, he's not going to match it. No one is going to be as good. It's an unattainable standard.

Belichick did Garappolo a disservice by allowing that difference to be thrown in his face on Friday. Worse, he took away valuable snaps that should have been used to get him ready for the Cardinals.

On the bright side, it turns out drafting Garappolo and putting him in this position is one of the best things Belichick has ever done for the Pats. Because it's turned Brady into a even bigger lunatic than he was already. Garappolo was drafted to push a legend -- `We're better off being early at that position than being late at that position,'' said Belichick on draft night -- and so the legend is pushing back. Sucks for Jimmy.

Watching Friday, I couldn't help but wonder if Garappolo is cooked here. Brady has too much good football left and isn't going to allow Garappolo to gain any footholds. So be it. Because I root for underdogs, I am now a Jimmy Garappolo fan. 

Here's hoping he plays well next month and ultimately lands somewhere else down the road with a nice payday and a decent chance of success. Because it's obvious Brady is a million miles away from allowing it to happen here.

In the meantime, I would advise Garappolo to stop sniffing around Brady on the bench like a puppy dog. Brady was clearly ignoring him, and Garappolo wasn't going to learn anything there. Brady ain't playing the teacher. If I were Garappolo, I'd try and get outside Brady's orbit.

Screw him, Jimmy. You're on your own. It's between you and the coaches and your teammates. Do whatever you can do to play better. It's the only thing that matters. Stop watching Brady and start watching more film.