Movements in the world of hockey Friday:
National Hockey League
FLORIDA PANTHERS-Agreed to terms with Jacques Martin, general manager, through the 2011-12 season.
Movements in the world of hockey Friday:
National Hockey League
FLORIDA PANTHERS-Agreed to terms with Jacques Martin, general manager, through the 2011-12 season.
Respected by veterans, adored by young players, worshipped by nerds, Patrice Bergeron might be the best defensive forward in NHL history.
Imagine taking the ice with two linemates. One is the guy you play with every day, your longtime friend, someone you know inside and out. The other is the greatest player of the past decade. It’s safe to say the first guy would have to do something spectacular to stand out more than the second.
Yet that’s what happened when Brad Marchand played with Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh Sept. 14 for a World Cup exhibition match between Canada and Russia. Halfway through the first period, Crosby threaded a pass to Bergeron, who darted between Dmitry Orlov and Artem Anisimov, dangled and roofed a laser of a backhand over Sergei Bobrovsky’s shoulder. Marchand had the privilege of playing on Sidney Friggin’ Crosby’s wing, but it was Bergeron dropping Marchand’s jaw.
“I was in awe,” Marchand said. “He was on another level, and I said that to him. He was like a man among boys. It’s a lot of fun to watch him play.”
Also enjoying the show that night was Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, whose Team Finland wasn’t even playing. When THN caught up with him at World Cup media day 24 hours later and brought up Bergeron, the first thing Rask asked was, “Did you see the goal he scored last night?”
Reactions like that are what make Bergeron unique. He may not be one of the NHL’s fan-favorite players, a la P.K. Subban, but Bergeron’s the fan favorite among the players. They look up to him. Even future Hall of Famers, talk him up like he’s James Bond. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara points out how good-looking Bergeron is. Rask calls him “a cool dude.” Pretty much every player points out how stylish he is. “He’s doesn’t force it,” Marchand said. “It’s just kind of a natural thing for him. He’s awesome. He’s French, so he knows how to dress. He’s got the cool car, nice house. He knows where to put his money and where not to, and he makes everything look good.”
That worship traces all the way back to Bergeron’s days as a teenage elder statesman at the 2005 World Junior Championship, when Canada fielded its greatest team in tournament history, featuring everyone from Crosby to Ryan Getzlaf to Shea Weber to Jeff Carter. Bergeron had already spent a season as the NHL’s youngest player but got an unexpected opportunity to suit up for the Canadian kids because of the 2004-05 lockout. His peers admired him for his professional demeanor, his two-way play and, yes, his style.
“I probably asked him about a thousand questions,” Crosby said. “He was great about it, and we’ve been friends ever since. I have a lot of respect for him, putting up with all my questions at a young age.”
At the NHL level back then, Bergeron was still the student, not the teacher. He credits Martin Lapointe, a rugged veteran winger with the Bruins, as the man who taught him how to be a pro. More than a decade later, though, it’s like Bergeron is back in the world junior dressing room. Fellow veterans respect him as a teammate and an opponent, and the young kids follow him around like he’s hockey’s Pied Piper. Bruins right winger David Pastrnak, 20, calls Bergeron “the best leader I’ve ever seen.” Buffalo Sabres center and Massachusetts native Jack Eichel, 19, trained with Bergeron for several weeks over the summer and relished the chance to be a sponge.
“A young guy like myself can learn a lot just from being around him,” Eichel said. “Hearing him talk, the way he carries himself, how hard he works. He’s on the ice after practice in August, bagging himself. It says a lot.”
It seems busting his tail doing all things hockey is all Bergeron thinks about. This is a man, don’t forget, who played through a broken rib, torn cartilage and a separated shoulder in the 2013 Stanley Cup final. He’s a fanatic of the sport, and not just because he’s an NHLer. His favorite off-season hobby is, uh, hockey. For years, he had an outdoor rink with an artificial ice surface on his property in Quebec City, Que., and hosted tournaments every weekend. He sold that house but still enjoys playing ball hockey with his buddies throughout the summer, albeit not this year with the Word Cup in the way. He has a designated shooting area at his new place, too.
The idol isn’t a role Bergeron asked for. As Pastrnak points out, Bergeron leads more by example than with a megaphone. But he’s still happy to pay forward what he learned from Lapointe.
“I try to be of any help, really,” Bergeron said. “I try to be there for them off the ice, to show my experience and tell them about things I used to do and that I’ve learned over the years. And it’s about on-ice stuff as well. I also don’t want to overdo it. They have to find and learn some stuff on their own. But at the same time I’m always there for them. It’s something I want to give back.”
The best way Bergeron does that is with his play, which is like one never-ending instructional video. “He's good in every area,” Crosby said. “He's reliable at both ends of the ice. He's got really good hockey sense. That’s what sticks out the most. Defensively he's tough to go up against, and offensively he can hurt you, so he's really an all-around player.”
That all-around ability has helped Bergeron win three Selke Trophies as the NHL’s best defensive forward. It’s helped him earn major roles and gold medals on two Canadian Olympic teams. It’s helped him win a Stanley Cup with the 2010-11 Bruins. It’s garnered the adoration of the NHL’s player population. Bergeron has never been a sexy name among the fans, however, rarely if ever mentioned in the same breath as Crosby or Alex Ovechkin or Patrick Kane. That’s likely because he sacrifices some offense to play a 200-foot game. The only stat categories he regularly dominates are faceoff percentage and plus-minus. He’s never topped 32 goals or 73 points. Marchand said Bergeron could easily be a 40-goal, 80-point player if he concentrated on offense more.
The way fans interpret the game is changing, though. We live in the advanced stats era now. Players who generate and suppress shot attempts at elite levels, also known as possession drivers, are gaining new levels of notoriety, especially when the analytics crowd is a vocal minority, proficient with social media. Our resident fancy stats writer, Dominik Luszczyszyn, said Bergeron “is basically God to the nerds.” Analytics website corsica.hockey tracks possession numbers dating back to 2007-08 and, over that nine-season span, Bergeron ranks top-five in Corsi percentage among forwards with 3,000 or more minutes. Factoring in Corsi relative to teammates, Bergeron cracks the top four. He’s the only player to rank top-four in both categories. He’s neck and neck with Pavel Datsyuk for the unofficial title of the greatest possession player since people started tracking the stats.
“Things generally tend to go very well whenever Bergeron is playing, and that applies to when he’s off the bench versus when he’s on the bench, or when his teammates are playing on a line with him or when they’re not on a line with him,” said corsica.hockey creator Emmanuel Perry. “Everything just seems to go when Bergeron is playing. That can be faulty logic if you’re looking at a few games or just one season, but when you sustain that sort of impact over your entire career, the way Bergeron has, and also when you break free from the pack and distance yourself that much, it’s very evident that he’s what makes things go.
Few players in NHL history have rivalled Bergeron’s ability to drive possession, actually. There’s a case to be made he’s the greatest defensive forward ever. Bergeron’s three Selkes tie him with Datsyuk, Guy Carbonneau and Jere Lehtinen for second-most all-time. Carbonneau won his third Selke at 32, Datsyuk at 31 and Lehtinen at 29. Bergeron won his third at 29, and he’s 31 now, fresh off a second-place finish in the 2016 vote. When asked if he knew who holds the Selke record, Bergeron nodded. He has Bob Gainey, the man with four Selkes, on the mind. Gainey is widely regarded as the gold standard for defensive forwards, but how would he compare to Bergeron if we applied modern statistics? There was no Corsi or Fenwick in Gainey’s era, which spanned from 1973-74 to 1988-89. The best we can do is evaluate him using hockey-reference.com’s defensive point shares. The formula is downright headache-inducing to laypeople like us, so here’s a simplified version: it factors in a player’s position, the league goals-per-game rate of his era and his plus-minus cross-referenced with a team’s goals for and against to create an approximation of defensive impact. “Point shares” refer to how many points in the standings the player was responsible for. Gainey gained 18.1 over 16 seasons for an average of 1.13. Bergeron has gained 21.2 in 12 seasons for an average of 1.77.
Bergeron thus measures up quite nicely to Gainey, who is, of course, in the Hall of Fame. Bergeron only has the one Stanley Cup to Gainey’s five, but Gainey played on one of the greatest dynasties in sports history with the late ’70s Canadiens. Bergeron has the Olympic resume and is a better offensive player than Gainey ever was. His body of work is starting to look Hall-worthy, and he has plenty of good years left. Hockey researcher and history Iain Fyffe has developed ‘The Inductinator,’ a system that predicts Hall of Fame berths, and he believes Bergeron must catch Gainey in Selkes to have a shot.
“Just to be in the mix of that, in the talk, is a huge honor for me,” Bergeron said. “Bob Gainey is a legend of the game. We’ll see what happens. There are some amazing two-way forwards that are always there and giving me competition. I’m trying to play my game and see what unfolds.”
Capitals right winger Tom Wilson talks about his first big purchase and who his favorite player growing up was.
What was your welcome to the NHL moment?
“My first NHL game was in the playoffs. I got called up from junior to Hershey, then called up from Hershey to Washington. I was in the coach’s office, and they told me you’re playing tomorrow night against New York for Game 5 (in 2013). Before the game I was standing in the hallway and a couple guys said ‘Hey, it’s the same sport, don’t overthink it.’ You could hear the crowd from the tunnel, it was a pretty crazy experience.”
Who was your favorite player growing up?
“I was a Leafs fan when I was really young, so a guy like Mats Sundin…I had a Darcy Tucker jersey. Steve Yzerman, too.”
What's the best thing about being an NHLer?
“Coming to the rink every day and being with the guys. It’s so fun in Washington. Last year, we were winning and it’s a great group of guys, so it’s a blast.”
What's your favorite road city?
“California is always fun when you go out with the boys. You get to go to L.A. and San Jose, you stay on the beach – that’s definitely a frontrunner.”
What advice would you give your 13-year-old self?
“When the timing is right, you got to give it your all. Getting into the league as such a young player, I realized that when you have your chance you have to make the most of it. You play under-17s, everyone’s watching. Then you go to an under-18 tournament and all the scouts are there. You can’t take one off because you can get your name crossed off pretty quick. So go out and give it your all. You can’t take any games off, because it could come back to bite you.”
What was your first big purchase?
“A Jeep SRT. That was pretty cool, buying my own car.”
The Washington Capitals sniper is on pace for another 50-goal season, and he could realistically become the 20th-highest goal scorer of all-time by the time the campaign ends.
Alex Ovechkin entered the season having won four straight Rocket Richard trophies as the league’s top goal scorer, and it doesn’t appear as though he has any intention of falling out of the running for the hardware in 2016-17.
Though he’s three goals off the league lead right now, the always-lethal Ovechkin, 31, showed exactly why he’s chasing down his fourth-straight 50-goal season. Breaking into the Rangers’ zone Saturday night, Ovechkin went one-on-one with New York defenseman Marc Staal and made a quick move that spun Staal almost completely around.
Ovechkin’s first move, a toe-drag to the inside, made an already-pivoted Staal commit to turning to his left, at which point Ovechkin pushed the puck back to the outside and wasted no time letting go of a blistering wrist shot that beat Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist over the blocker:
Ovechkin’s goal was his third in five games and puts him on pace for 49 on the year, and if ever an early season pace was accurate — or even selling a player short — it would be Ovechkin’s current scoring rate. Only four times in his 11-year career has Ovechkin failed to reach the 50-goal plateau, and one of those “down” years was a 46-goal campaign in 2006-07.
If Ovechkin can reach the 50-goal plateau this season, he’ll finish the 2016-17 campaign with 575 career goals, which is an almost unthinkable 12-season total for a modern-era player. Ovechkin will also be rocketing up the all-time goal scoring ranks this season, too. By the time he nets his 542nd goal, Ovechkin will become the 30th-highest goal scorer of all-time, and netting a 575th goal would put Ovechkin in 21st all-time.
Including this season, Ovechkin has five years remaining on his 13-year deal, and if he continues his career pace of 48 goals per season over these next five seasons, he’d have netted 765 goals before he reaches free agency. The only players who Ovechkin might not be ahead of on the all-time scorers list by that point are Jaromir Jagr, Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky.
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Teams that don't want to lose a goalie for nothing in the expansion draft will try to make some big moves this season.
The NHL expansion draft slated for June 21 is generating speculation over which goaltenders could hit the trade block. As per the draft rules, teams can only protect one goalie. That could prompt some GMs to move a netminder via trade rather than risk losing him for nothing in the draft.
The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports some teams are already having discussions among each other about moving goalies. He notes Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins are already considered possible trade candidates. He expects there could be more.
The draft rules also state players carrying no-movement clauses must be protected unless they agree to waive them. Bishop, 29, and Fleury, 31, have those clauses in their respective contracts.
Bishop is also eligible for unrestricted free agency following the expansion draft on July 1. Currently earning $5.95 million this season, the cost of re-signing him could prove too expensive for the Lightning. It's also assumed they prefer to protect promising (and more affordable) Andrei Vasilevskiy, who begins a three-year contract in 2017-18.
Despite Bishop's clause, he could be willing to waive it for the right team. On Sept. 2, he told Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times he thought a trade to the Calgary Flames last June was close, but the Flames opted instead to acquire Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues.
After losing the starter's job to Matt Murray in the 2016 playoffs, Fleury was also the subject of trade chatter in June linking him to the Flames. His no-movement clause covers him against demotion to the minors and provides him with expansion draft protection. However, he also carries a modified no-trade clause listing 18 preferred destinations. That could provide the Pens an opportunity to trade him and protect Murray in the expansion draft.
The Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets could also consider trading a goalie before the March 1 trade deadline, or prior to the expansion draft in June.
With Petr Mrazek considered the Wings' starter, veteran Jimmy Howard could be available. His $5.91 million annual cap hit, however, could prove difficult to move. The Stars, meanwhile, could try to move Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi.
The Senators could part ways with Craig Anderson or Andrew Hammond. The Flyers must decide between Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. The Canucks could peddle Ryan Miller if Jacob Markstrom proves ready this season for full-time starter duty.
The Islanders are currently carrying Jaroslav Halak, Tomas Greiss and J-F Berube. The Jets have two promising youngsters between the pipes in Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, plus veteran Ondrej Pavelec is now in the minors.
Some of these clubs could also attempt to swing a deal with Las Vegas to ensure their unprotected goaltenders aren't selected. A trade offering up another player, a prospect or a draft pick could prove enticing to Vegas GM George McPhee.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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