Say What?!? - Feb. 12
Say What?!? - Feb. 12
“What does it mean? We don’t know, but Jay will address the situation later on today."
- Calgary coach Bob Hartley on the rationale for the team signing goalie Joey MacDonald.
“What does it mean? We don’t know, but Jay will address the situation later on today."
- Calgary coach Bob Hartley on the rationale for the team signing goalie Joey MacDonald.
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.”
Marc Bergevin and Kevin Cheveldayoff.
NHL GMs usually have a longer leash than the coaches they hire. But eventually every GM ends up on the hot seat himself. Here are five who could use a strong season to take some of the heat off.
We're a week into the NHL season, which is nowhere near enough time for any reasonable person to start talking about anyone's job being on the line. Luckily, we're hockey fans and reasonable has nothing to do with it, so let's get to the speculation.
Usually when we talk about hot seats, we look at the league's coaches. After all, as the old saying goes, they're hired to be fired, and as Todd Richards found out last year, it doesn't take too many losses at the start of the season to cost a coach his job. But today, let's aim a level higher. NHL GMs tend to have a little more job security, and most get at least a few years to show progress before they come under fire. And when things get bad, they can often offer up their coach as a scapegoat first. But through all that, at some point, the buck stops with the boss.
Plenty of GMs around the league are probably safe no matter what happens. Guys like Jeff Gorton and Peter Chiarelli have only been on the job for a little over a year. Dean Lombardi and Stan Bowman both have a handful of Stanley Cup rings to ward off any criticism. And John Chayka can't legally be fired due to child labor laws. But others are facing more uncertainty.
I've already singled out on GM for hot seat honors – in Sportsnet's preseason predictions, I chose Chuck Fletcher as being on the shakiest ground, given that the Wild were old, expensive, hadn't made a conference final under his watch and had already fired their coach. I won't pick on him again today, so here are five more GMs who could use a strong season to take some of the heat off.
Jarmo Kekalainen, Blue Jackets
On the one hand, you could argue that Kekalainen hasn't been given enough time in Columbus. He's only been on the job since February 2013, and while that actually puts him in the upper half of the league's GMs in terms of seniority, it's still less time than you'd ideally give a GM.
On the other hand… well, how much time have you got? The Blue Jackets haven't won a playoff round under Kekalainen (or anyone else), and they missed the playoffs in each of the last two years. The roster is clogged with bad contracts. Kekalainen made a controversial decision at the draft, grabbing Pierre-Luc Dubois instead of Jesse Puljujarvi. And he's already played his coaching card, having replaced Todd Richards with John Tortorella around this time last year.
Add it all up, and the Blue Jackets are under plenty of pressure to get off to a good start this year. Instead, Tortorella is telling the media that they're not even close. That's not a good combination, and you have to wonder how long it might be before president of hockey ops John Davidson gets the urge to clean house and start all over again.
Garth Snow, Islanders
Remember when Islanders' owner Charles Wang shocked everyone by firing Neil Smith after less than six weeks on the job, then replaced him by promoting the team's backup goaltender to the GM's job? It was one of the most bizarre front office moves in NHL history, and we all had a good laugh while wondering how long Snow would last before Wang replaced him with a popcorn vendor.
As hard as it is to believe, that all happened over ten years ago, and Snow is now the fifth longest serving GM in the league. And he's done a good job, building around John Tavares and putting together a decent young team while weathering off-ice distractions like changes in the ownership ranks and a move to Brooklyn.
But while the Islanders have been good under Snow, they've yet to be great, winning just one playoff round and heading into this season well back of the Penguins and Capitals in most Metro power rankings. Most GMs who get a decade at the helm are expected to accomplish a bit more than that, and even given the limitations Snow's had to deal with, you wonder how long he can last before expectations will climb. Remember, Wang isn't calling the shots anymore, and the new owners have talked about wanting a championship.
Snow hasn't changed coaches since 2010, so he may have that option available if things go bad. But at some point, you'd think he'll need his Islanders to look like true Cup contenders at least once.
Jim Benning, Canucks
Hey, you knew we couldn't have an early-season doom-and-gloom post without finding room for the Canucks.
Strong start aside, the Canucks were widely picked to be one of the league's worst teams, even though they don't seem to think they're rebuilding. That puts Benning in a rough spot if things go bad, especially given his previous comments about how quickly things could be turned around. Signing a veteran free agent to a long-term deal and trading picks and a top prospect for immediate blueline help only cemented the idea that Benning believes he has a contender right now.
That doesn't seem completely fair – you get the sense that the "win now" attitude in Vancouver could be driven from ownership more than the front office – but that's life in the NHL. It's possible that the Canucks surprise us all with a playoff season, at which point Benning can laugh at all the doubters. But if they miss the postseason, or even end up scraping the cellar, then that rebuild will need to come eventually. And the history of GMs of bad teams being allowed to stick around for the cleanup process isn't a very long one.
Ken Holland, Red Wings
Wait, that can't be right.
Ask any fan outside Detroit to put together a list of the five best GMs in the league, and there's a good chance that Holland's on it. Since taking over the Red Wings' job in 1997, he's won three Cup rings and led the team to the playoffs each and every season. He's a fixture in Detroit, and the idea of him being on any sort of shaky ground seems unfathomable.
And yet, here we are. This year's Red Wings aren't expected to be all that good; they have a shot at extending their playoff streak, sure, but nobody is calling them Cup contenders. Several key players are nearing the end of the line, and while the team has some decent young talent ready to play bigger roles, there's not enough there for a full-scale youth movement. The franchise no longer seems to be the destination it once was for big-name talent, and there's a realistic chance that they'll head into a new arena next year with the worst team they've had in decades.
Is all of that Holland's fault? Hardly, although he hasn't helped matters by continually throwing big contracts at questionable veteran free agents every summer. But at some point you wonder if the Red Wings don't decide that it's time for a change in direction, much as they did a year ago when they walked away from Mike Babcock after he'd spent 10 years behind their bench.
All that said, the idea of Holland actually being fired still seems far-fetched. But could there be pressure for him to step aside, perhaps into a more senior or advisory role, while allowing the organization to transition to some new blood? For the first time in nearly two decades, a change could start to make sense.
Marc Bergevin, Canadiens
There are different kinds of hot seats. There's the kind where you've lost the confidence of your ownership, at which point it's really only a matter of time until you're packing up your office. That doesn't seem to be the case in Montreal, where Geoff Molson has always had Bergevin's back, at least publicly.
But then there's the kind of hot seat where the team's fans lose faith and start to turn on you. Sometimes, you can ride that out, but at some point the calls for your head can get tough to ignore. Perception matters, and if it looks like the customers aren't happy with the direction the product is going in, management can eventually be left with no choice but to make a change.
It's fair to say that Bergevin fits firmly into that second category. Granted, this is Montreal, where everyone's seat is already lukewarm on the day they're hired. But after a bizarre offseason that included the controversial P.K. Subban trade and Bergevin's continued insistence on sticking by Michel Therrien, the GM might not fare especially well in a vote of no-confidence among the fan base.
Of course, Carey Price can fix all of this by getting healthy and playing like a Hart candidate again. But if the Habs struggle at any point this season, calls for change are going to come in loudly. You'd have to think that Therrien would be the first on the block, and Bergevin might have no choice but to make a coaching change. But either way, he'll be under a spotlight all season long – even more than usual in Montreal.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
Marty Turco, Brendan Morrison and Mike Legg were on hand to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the 1996 University of Michigan NCAA championship team, and the trio put on a show for fans during the shoot-to-win contest.
The half-ice, shoot-to-win intermission contest has become a fixture of arenas across the globe and is a major part of in-game entertainment for hundreds of teams each season. No matter how many times the contest is played this season, next season or any time in the future, though, it’s going to be near impossible to match the performance put up by three notable University of Michigan alumni.
Friday night at Michigan’s Yost Ice Arena, members of the 1996 NCAA championship-winning team gathered for a 20th anniversary celebration of their accomplishment, and beyond being celebrated for their successes on-ice, a select few members of the team took part in the intermission shoot-to-win competition, known as the Score-O. Those members were former NHL goaltender Marty Turco, former NHL center Brendan Morrison and Mike Legg, he of Michigan lacrosse goal fame.
However, in order to make things a bit more difficult, the trio shot from between the defensive zone circles. Turco stepped up first and set the tone for a seemingly impossible performance from the trio:
One of the three scoring from that position on the ice, OK. That’s believable. So when Turco put his shot home, it was exciting enough. For Morrison to follow it up would have been hard to fathom, but we’ll give it to ‘B-Mo’ considering he netted 200 goals and 601 points during a nearly 1,000-game NHL career. His odds of scoring from that position are probably better than that of a fan chosen at random. What really boggles the mind, though, is that Legg scores and does so in lacrosse-goal fashion.
Who would have thought, nearly 20 years after scoring one of the most memorable goals in hockey history, that we’d be talking about Mike Legg scoring another “Michigan Goal”?
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Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.
The top two picks from the 2016 draft aren't the only rookies worth talking about. Here are our picks for the most impressive performances from players other than Matthews and Laine.
The 2016-17 NHL season may become known as the Year of the Rookie. It's still very early days, but there are a number of first-year players playing big roles, and impressing in big ways.
A total of 29 teenagers began the season on NHL rosters, and two of them already have scored hat tricks. Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine went No. 1 and 2 in the 2016 draft and so far they've not disappointed. Matthews made headlines by scoring four goals in his first game, and Laine bested Matthews on Wednesday by scoring three goals in a Jets win over the Maple Leafs.
But they're not the only rookies worth talking about. Here are our picks for the most impressive rookie performances so far -- from players other than Matthews and Laine.
Zach Werenski has carried over the momentum from his dominant AHL playoffs, in which he stepped in for his first pro action right out of the University of Michigan. He played seven regular season games for Lake Erie and was a crucial reason why it won the Calder Cup. Now he seamlessly has transitioned to the NHL with the Jackets, already playing major minutes and toiling on the top power play. He has been an elite prospect since even before the Jackets drafted him eighth overall in 2015, so none of this is a fluke. Werenski is a stud and a legit Calder Trophy candidate. Or, he at least would be in a non Matthews/Laine year. (Matt Larkin)
He’s ninth in rookie scoring, the third-highest scoring first-year player on his team, and currently sits second-last among freshmen in plus-minus, but Mitch Marner is everything the Toronto Maple Leafs could have hoped he’d be, and more. Auston Matthews scored four goals in Toronto’s first game this season, but there were large swaths of that game when Marner was the best player on the ice. His skill level is breathtaking. There have been shifts where he has controlled the entire ice surface. And when you have that kind of skill, it’s only a matter of time before the numbers start coming. Some players are rushed into the NHL, but not Marner. There would be nothing, absolutely nothing to be gained by sending him back to junior hockey. The kid is where he belongs. (Ken Campbell)
The acquisitions of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers marked two big steps forward for the Florida Panthers’ blueline, but it’s the development and play of Mike Matheson that has impressed most early in the season. Matheson, 22, spent the entire 2015-16 campaign in the AHL after finishing up three years at Boston College, and the 2012 first-rounder has come a long way in one short pro season.
Averaging more than 20 minutes per game, Matheson looks more than capable of handling a top-four role in Florida, and his offensive instincts have been on display early. His opening-night overtime assist was a thing of beauty and he’s scored in back-to-back games against top Eastern Conference competition. Maybe this could have been seen coming, though, after Matheson was named top defenseman at the 2016 World Championship with a remarkable two-goal, six-point performance in 10 games with Team Canada. (Jared Clinton)
Travis Konecny was so far off the Calder Trophy-race radar, he wasn't included in Bovada's pre-season odds. But he's looked perfectly capable of sticking in the show after his first four professional games. Konecny jumped straight from junior to the Flyers this season, and is already getting important minutes on the second line with Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. He's yet to find the back of the net, but he has four assists in his first four games, and is averaging over 15 minutes of ice time per game. And the goals will come. The 2015 first-round pick scored 23 goals in 31 games last season after being traded from Ottawa to Sarnia. If he continues to get put in a position to contribute offensively, there's no reason to believe he won't. (Ian Denomme)