Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron might be the embodiment of the term ‘unsung hero.’ While universally praised by both national and local sports media, he has struggled to gain the type of ‘featured’ recognition enjoyed by several of the NHL’s top stars.
Bergeron is often overshadowed in Boston, as well. Hometown legends such as Tom Brady, David Ortiz, Paul Pierce and even teammate Zdeno Chara have more frequently been featured in the headlines. However, Bergeron has quietly compiled a great career on the ice. He has also earned an impeccable reputation as one of the region’s most generous and prominent public figures.
However, based on the level at which he has played so far this season, he is starting to get a bit of a push in the discussion for the NHL’s Most Valuable Player (MVP.) It might just get him those ‘headlines’ he so richly deserves.
A Case to Be Made
Bergeron scored his 26th and 27th goals of the season in the third period of the Bruins’ 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames Tuesday night at TD Garden. He’s now marked the scoresheet in 16 of his past 19 contests for 17 goals and 27 points. For the majority of this season, he consistently matches (and usually shuts down) the opposition’s top players each game. The Bruins are in contention for the Eastern Conference’s top spot. Bergeron’s play has been a major reason for that. In fact, Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill recently lauded Bergeron as ‘the best player in the NHL this season.’
Therefore, the question remains: Could Bergeron’s elite play be rewarded with a nomination for the Hart Trophy, which is given annually to the NHL’s MVP?
Bergeron arguably centers the best line in hockey, between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. He is the heartbeat of a Bruins team that has emerged as a true Stanley Cup contender. His presence in the lineup all but guarantees that he will be contributing points. Consistently, he has been one of the best defensive forwards, and one of the top possession-driving players in the entire NHL.
Seeing that there is nothing he does not do well, the case should be open-and-shut, correct?
A Cold Hart?
Despite Bergeron’s spectacular two-way play, history suggests that it still might be an uphill struggle for him to be awarded as MVP. Typically, the award is given to a top-flight, elite scorer. While Bergeron has enjoyed his most prolific scoring season thus far, he still does not rank among the league’s very best in this category. Bergeron has 51 points in 50 games, placing him 31st among NHL scorers. It should be noted that the Bruins center missed seven games earlier in the season, leaving him to play a bit of catch-up with the rest of the pack. This could sway the consideration of the voters. However, if voting history has been any indication, Bergeron would have to go on a torrid scoring binge that would bring him among the league’s top scorers.
Per ProHockeyTalk’s Adam Gretz, only five NHL forwards (that either won the MVP award or were in the top-three of the voting) finished the season lower than fifth in the scoring race:
Teemu Selanne, a finalist in 1997-98, finished eighth in the points race … but finished tied for the league lead in goals with 52
Alexei Yashin, a finalist in 1998-99, finished sixth in the scoring race
Mario Lemieux, the runner up in 2000-01, finished 29th in the scoring race … in a season where he only played in 43 games (this was his comeback season) and still finished with 76 points. He was the top point-per-game player in the NHL.
Jarome Iginla, a finalist in 2003-04, finished 16th in the scoring race but also finished in a three-way tie for the NHL goal-scoring lead
John Tavares, a finalist in 2012-13, finished 17th in the scoring race. He finished third in the goal-scoring race.
Warmth When Needed Most
Despite the aforementioned ominous history, Patrice Bergeron has earned the right to be considered as a Hart Trophy finalist. A four-time Selke Trophy winner (awarded to the NHL’s top defensive forward ), he has lit the lamp 30 or more times in a single season three times in his career. Bergeron is on pace to shatter his previous career high of 32 goals. The center leads the Bruins and ranks 10th in the NHL with his 27 goals this year — with 27 games remaining in the regular season.
Over the last two months, Bergeron has been a problem for opposing defenses He has scored 17 goals in his last 19 matchups. A four-goal performance against the Hurricanes (Jan. 6) and a hat trick against the Islanders (Jan. 19) have been among his most impressive to date.
However, Bergeron’s most impactful quality is his ability to place winning above any individual stat. Yes, he’s scoring goals at an eye-opening pace. More importantly, he’s scoring them at the most opportune time for the Bruins. So far this season, Bergeron has tallied five game-winning goals. That is good for first on the Bruins and fourth in the NHL.
Bergeron is proving that ‘value’ is not always based on stats alone. As in life, timing is everything. Like his Boston contemporaries (Brady, Ortiz, Pierce, etc.), Bergeron is contributing timely brilliance when needed the most. On Tuesday night, Bergeron gave Boston a lead that it did not relinquish. He scored just 1:15 into the third period to give the Bruins a 3-2 advantage. After the game, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, praised his star’s clutch performance:
“He’s been doing it for years, so there’s no surprise there. Good timing this year. Bergy is hot. He’s a shooter this year, and it’s finding the back of the net, so good for him. … Bergy, from that area of the ice, he’s lights out this year and getting rewarded for hitting the net, first of all, and putting it in a tough spot for the goalie to handle.”
A Team’s Soul
Based on his increased scoring totals, stellar all-around game and being the backbone of a championship contender, Bergeron has built a pretty good case for becoming the first Bruins player to win the Hart Trophy since Phil Esposito earned the accolade in 1973.
However, Bergeron is not buying into that talk, just yet.
“No,” Bergeron said when asked about potentially adding a Hart to his trophy cabinet. “It’s not something – it’s really something that I feel we’re in a team game and that’s all I’m worried about right now. It’s about staying focused, stay in the moment, it’s all about pushing ourselves to be a better team and nothing about the other stuff. I’m going out there and I’m trying to help my team every night and trying to push myself like I mentioned and be better. I think my linemates and my teammates are pushing me to do that and I need to carry that on I guess.”
Bruins fans have long known the gem they have in Patrice Bergeron. Regardless of the fate of his chances at a Hart Trophy, Bergeron is earning the respect from his teammates, coaches, and competitors. Most importantly, he’s helping his team win. He wouldn’t have it any other way. Everything else is just icing on the cake.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the National Football League and the National Hockey League. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC