By: Nathan Anderson | Follow me on Twitter @nathandrsn
It is that time of the year again. The regular season is winding down, and the playoffs are approaching, but for folks in Boston, there is another yearly event that has become part of our hockey fandom calendars. Every spring, we start analyzing the stats and making our case for why our captain, Patrice Bergeron, should win the Selke Award for the league’s best defensive forward. Bergeron has finished in the top three of Selke voting every year since the 2011-2012 season, ten years in a row.
For the last four seasons, however, there has been something extra on the line for Bergeron. When he won the award in 2017, it was the fourth Selke of his career. For those who are not aware, four Selkes is the all-time NHL record. Until 2017, it was held by Bob Gainey alone, but Bergeron now holds that record with him. For that reason, each season since then, the big question has been if Bergy is going to finally break the record and stand alone in the NHL history books. It has not happened yet, though, despite what some of us feel.
With some admitted bias, the question has started to creep into my mind (and I’m sure I’m not alone): Are the NHL writers intentionally keeping him from breaking the record? It just seems too strange to be a coincidence that a guy who won this trophy four times in six years and has not dropped off much (if at all) has not been able to win the award one more time in the last four seasons. This doubt was only added to when writer Mark Lazerus publicly announced that he completely left Bergeron off his ballot last season. I was baffled, as were many others, and for the first time, I wondered if Bergy would ever get his record-breaking fifth award.
With all that said, as I mentioned, it is that time of the year again. So, let’s take a look at the stats this season and see if this might be the year that Bergy finally gets to claim his much-deserved record. First of all, I think the easiest stat to look at is plus-minus. Of course, that does not tell the whole story, but it is kind of the foundation stat, for lack of a better term. It is the most basic metric of a player’s overall two-way contribution. As of April 26, Bergeron is a +21 through 79 games, of which he played in 71. That is a good start for our analysis, but the Selke is a complicated award, so let’s take a look at some more complex stats.
What this chart shows us is the expected and actual goals above replacement (GAR) that Bergeron contributed to the Bruins as of April 21, 2022. For most people, these stats may not hold much value because it is hard for us to conceptualize these statistics. It is not as common as points, goals, or assists, for which we know what the different benchmarks are. What we can see is that Bergeron’s offensive GAR is between three and six, and his defensive GAR is almost nine. Thankfully, Evolving Hockey gives us an easy way to evaluate what that means. In the upper right corner, we see that Bergeron ranks in the 99th percentile for his defensive GAR.
This next chart shows us something similar. It standardizes Bergeron’s goals for per 60 minutes (GF/60) and goals against per 60 minutes (GA/60) against the rest of the league. It may be a solid four years since I took a statistics class, but what I certainly remember is that a z-score up near three means that you are in the very top tier. Aside from the charts, even in my short time back, I can tell that Bergeron’s defensive presence is felt in every game. Even if it is something as simple as being clever enough to use his skate to kick a puck loose while tying up an opponent so his teammates can start a breakout, Bergeron stands out above his peers.
If there is some kind of conspiracy to keep Bergeron from owning the record himself (and I truthfully do not think there actually is), maybe it is time to give up that fight. Bergeron continues to show year after year that he is a top defensive forward, and eventually, the writers have to recognize that like they used to, right? I know I’m biased, but if I had a vote, Bergeron would certainly be my pick this year.