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.