Editor’s note: Two years ago, the Bruins dominated the NHL’s annual awards night in Las Vegas, with Tim Thomas winning the Vezina, Zdeno Chara the Norris and Claude Julien the Jack Adams. Last year, Boston came away empty handed, but this year they have a chance to make a few more trips up to the podium between Chaka Khan performances. Over the course of the All-Star break, NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will look at the chances for several Bruins to bring some hardware home from Vegas after this season. In this installment, will Patrice Bergeron get the consideration he deserves for the Selke?
The Frank J. Selke Trophy is awarded each year “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.” So it’s more than a little ironic that it may have taken a recent offensive surge to finally get Patrice Bergeron some of the consideration for the award he’s long deserved.
Despite the league’s official description of the award, the Selke at times in recent years has seemed more like a reward for the best offensive player who happens to play a little defense, rather than recognizing the best pure defensive forward.
Pavel Datsyuk has won the last three Selkes, and while there’s no denying the excellent two-way play of the Detroit star, there’s also little doubt that voters were at least a little swayed by the 97, 97 and 70 points he put up in those seasons in addition to his backchecking and penalty killing.
Datsyuk is currently sidelined with a broken hand. He’s already missed 16 games this year, and that might just open the door enough for someone else to wrestle the Selke away from the Red Wings standout.
Could Bergeron be the one to do it?
He certainly has the numbers to build a case around. Bergeron leads the Bruins – the NHL’s top defense with just 2.14 goals against a game – and is tied for seventh in the league with a plus-21 rating. His 56.2 winning percentage on faceoffs is 12th in the NHL, and his 36 blocked shots is tops among Bruins forwards.
Bruins coach Claude Julien consistently uses Bergeron against the opponent’s top lines. But while in recent years Bergeron has focused primarily on that shutdown role, this season he has also reemerged as the club’s top offensive threat.
That resurgence began last season when Bergeron tied for the team lead with 52 points. That was still a far cry from the back-to-back 70-point campaigns he put up prior to suffering a severe concussion in 2007 that cost him most of a season and nearly his career.
It took him a couple years to get his game all the way back. In the meantime, the Bruins already had a top playmaking center in place in Marc Savard, and David Krejci had emerged as another scoring threat in the middle, allowing Julien to have Bergeron focus more on playing that shutdown role. It was a far different role than what Bergeron had played in 2005-06, when he scored a career-high 31 goals while centering Brad Boyes and Marco Sturm on Boston’s top line after the trade of Joe Thornton to San Jose.
“My role kind of changed the past couple of years,” Bergeron said after a recent practice. “That year I was more of a first-line, offensive type of player. Now I’m more of a two-way and I think that’s what the coaching staff wants me to do. I’m trying to do all the details and everything that comes with that.”
Still, this year Bergeron is proving even a defensive forward can produce plenty of offense. With Savard missing the start of year and now sidelined again with concussion issues and Krejci suffering bouts of inconsistency, Bergeron has emerged as the team’s top point producer once again.
He leads the Bruins with 16-24-40 totals in 50 games, and has really picked up his play in the last six weeks with 11-14-25 totals in 21 games in that span.
“I’m feeling good,” Bergeron said. “It’s nice to see the points getting there, but at the same time I feel like I’m always trying to bring whatever to the team in order to win, details that sometimes don’t show up on the scoresheet. I felt like I was doing that still. It’s nice [putting up points], but at the same time it’s about making sure you help the team as much as you can.”
Bergeron still contributes in all facets of the game. Of his 17:51 average ice time, 2:04 is spent on the penalty kill and 2:47 on the power play, and he’s chipped in three power-play goals, two shorthanded strikes and three game-winners.
It will still be an uphill climb in the Selke race. Datsyuk can’t be dismissed if he returns strong after his injury. Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler is likely the favorite after finishing second to Datsyuk the last two years, while Philadelphia’s Mike Richards and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews are among the other two-way stars building solid cases for themselves as well.
But if Bergeron continues to play this well for the rest of the season, he may want to keep his calendar clear for June 22 when the NHL awards will be handed out in Las Vegas, just in case.
On Thursday, Brad Marchand’s case for Calder Trophy consideration was examined.
Next up, Zdeno Chara was honored as the NHL’s best defenseman two years ago. Can the Bruins’ captain make a run at another Norris Trophy this season?
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