Matt Kalman, editor of Bruins Annual 2011-12 for Maple Street Press, asked me to do a statistically-based piece on Patrice Bergeron this summer. What you'll read below and in the following parts of this series is available in their fine product (under the lengthy title "Price point: As his extension kicks in, Patrice Bergeron could prove even more valuable). It's reprinted by permission here at Hockey Prospectus.
When you see an 18-year-old playing in the NHL, you expect it to be a can't miss phenom, a future franchise player like Sidney Crosby or John Tavares. Yet, when Patrice Bergeron entered the league in 2003-04 as its youngest player, it was quite a surprise given that he had been drafted only 45th overall (second round) the previous June.
But the Bruins weren't misguided with their lightning-quick promotionBergeron's 0.6 point per game production would have been a nice start for any rookie, let alone a relatively unheralded teenager.
Bergeron has since blossomed into a two-way force and spiritual leadernot to mention Stanley Cup Finals heroin the eight years since he made the jump from major junior hockey directly into the NHL. The Bruins, who had been paying him $4.75 million annually, thought highly enough of Bergeron to lavish him with a three-year, $15 million contract extension.
In Bergeron's first three seasons for the Bruinsunder head coaches Mike Sullivan and Dave Lewisthe Quebec City native established himself as a great all-around forward, settling in at a near-elite 0.9 points per game. He was a deadly finisher on the man advantage (31 power play goals) and averaged over two minutes of penalty-killing time.
But then came the concussion. Viciously driven into the boards by Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones on October 27, 2007just 10 games into his fourth seasonBergeron missed the remainder of the 2007-08 campaign amid concerns of the potentially career-threatening injury.
Thankfully, Bergeron returned in sound health at the beginning of 2008-09. And when the 23-year-old centerman suffered another concussion in late December, he bounced back after a comparatively short absence of 15 gamesa great sign. Since then, Bergeron has played in more games in each successive season: 64 in 2008-09, 73 in 2009-10, and 80 in 2010-11. It's as close to a clean bill of health as you get playing in the NHL. And at a cursory glance, Bergeron has continued where he left off. He seems to be the same fine player he was at the beginning of his career, as demonstrated by solid 52-point and 57-point outputs over the past two campaigns and a career-high plus-20 rating in the 2010-11 championship season.
But is that conclusion really accurate? Has Bergeron truly remained the same player since returning from injury at the start of the 2008-09 season? Because while many of his numbers look the same, some have notably changed.
Take this one for instance: he scored 33 power-play goals in his first three seasons (229 games) vs. a mere four power-play goals in his last three seasons (217 games). That's going from scoring a power-play marker once every seven games to scoring one every 54 games. No small difference. So what in the world has happened?
We've already concluded that it doesn't seem to stem from any lingering injury effects. Nor does it make sense to be a case of suddenly diminished skills
after all, we're talking about a talented player in his mid-20s. So what option does that leave?
The most obvious remaining choice is a change in usage under current head coach Claude Julien. So let's examine some of Bergeron's statistics to find out if the talented pivot isn't being non-optimally utilized on the man advantage. If the answer is yes, it's actually good news for Boston, believe it or not. There could be a significant untapped resource for providing more goal-scoring production (Bergeron is signed through 2013-14) sitting on the Bruins roster, waiting to be taken advantage of.
In Part 2, we'll dissect the Boston's power play over Bergeron's tenure with the Bruins.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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