The Frank J. Selke Award is given to the NHL forward who most demonstrates a high level of proficiency at both ends of the ice — responsible in his own zone, productive in his opponent’s. Boston Bruins center iceman Patrice Bergeron has won three of the last five Selkes, effectively taking the torch from Pavel Datsyuk as the league’s best two-way forward.
Bergeron is not going to win the Selke this year. It’s not because he’s shirking responsibilities on defense — he’s a plus-1 on a team that can’t score — he has simply stopped being productive on the other end. More than a quarter of the way into the season, Bergeron has just eight points (four goals, four assists). But point production doesn’t tell the whole story — Bergeron is actually having a very good season. He just can’t seem to put the puck into the other team’s net.
Among NHL players who’ve taken more than 400 faceoffs this season, Patrice Bergeron’s 58.6 win percentage ranks fourth. His Corsi For Percentage of 63.1 percent — a score above 50 implies a player’s team controls the puck more than 50 percent of the time that player is on the ice — is the best in the league among skaters who take a regular shift. His Fenwick For Percentage of 62.4 percent — Fenwick is another proxy for a team’s puck possession against a given player’s ice time — is third only to his linemates Brad Marchand (63 percent) and David Pastrnak (62.7 percent). And yet despite downright sterling possession metrics — faceoff percentage included — Bergeron is scoring at a historically low clip.
Bergeron’s eight points in 23 games is good for an anemic .35 points per game — not great for a guy who’s used to scoring points in three of every four games he plays (entering the 2016-17 season, Bergeron had notched 618 points in 820 games). Somewhat bizarrely, linemates Marchand and Pastrnak are each having historically great seasons. Marchand is on pace to notch around 70 points — this would be a career high — and Pastrnak is on pace to tally close to 50 goals, which would shatter his previous high of 15. How is it that the wingers of the Bruins’ top line are each scoring at a hellacious pace while their centerman is struggling to find the stats sheet?
It’s not like Bergeron isn’t getting his shots. Entering this season, Bergeron had averaged 2.8 shots per game for his career — in 2016-17, he’s taking 3.5. (It’s hard to tell exactly where those shots are coming from because, somewhat confoundingly, no one is doing a great job of keeping up-to-date shot charts, but it’s hard to imagine that Bergeron, who’s a centerman, is taking the bulk of his shots from outside his preferred slot/high slot region.) Bergeron’s four goals on 80 shots is good for a career-low shot percentage of 5. For reference, he entered the 2016-17 season with a career shot percentage of 10.3. While that’s not the shot percentage of a world-beating sniper, it’s still pretty damn good.
Bergeron’s shots-per-goal ratio is necessarily up, too. He usually scores on every 9.9 shots he takes — this season, that number has swelled to 20. His power-play scoring percentage is also down from last year — 25 percent this season vs. 37.5 percent from last. He scored more than a third of his 32 goals in 2015-16 on the man advantage but is only on pace to net just under four on the power play this season.
Something is amiss. But what?
Part of Bergeron’s scoring dearth might be because of hot goaltending. In the seven games, Bergeron has taken five or more shots and not scored, opposing goalies have a combined save percentage of .931. Take Jake Allen’s .909 and Robin Lehner’s .921 out of the mix, and that combined save percentage rises to .940. If that were an individual goalie’s stat line, it would be good for the third-best mark in the NHL. Some of Bergeron’s drought must be related to the quality of goaltending he’s faced — and some of it could just be due to that beast the hockey gods call “puck luck.”
The law of averages and his historical performance and his league-best possession metrics all dictate that Bergeron will right the ship. But the Bruins go as their alternate captain goes, and for a team that’s struggling to score this season — they rank 23rd in goals scored per game — it’s imperative for Bergeron to right that ship sooner than later. Otherwise, they risk missing the playoffs for a third consecutive year, which is something that hasn’t happened since a dismal stretch between 1959 and 1967 saw them miss out on postseason hockey for eight straight seasons.
Some second-year guy named Bobby Orr helped end that eight-year slide in 1967-68. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they don’t currently have the second coming of Orr in their system. For now, it’s on their beloved alternate captain to start appearing on the stats sheet.