by PuckStopsHere on 11/06/11 at 02:37 PM ET
It is the first weekend of November and the top scoring defenceman in the league is Marc-Andre Bergeron. He is a journeyman defenceman who at age 31 is on his sixth NHL team. His career best to date has been 35 points, but he 15 points so far in 13 games this season. This success is a bit of a surprise and is probably not sustainable at this level, but a lot of it can be explained due to the circumstances in which he is used.
Bergeron has been a solid offensive defenceman in the past with very limited defensive skills. As a result his playing time had been limited to offensive situations. This season his even strength playing time is up from about 10 minutes a game in the past few seasons to more than sixteen minutes a game. He is succeeding with this increased playing time, while in the past his defence had made him a liability in many of these situations. Some credit goes to defensive improvement as Bergeron is better defensively than he was a couple years ago, but a lot goes to the Tampa Bay Lightning system, which appears tailor-made for a player like him.
When coach Guy Boucher took over in Tampa Bay last season, he brought in a “1-3-1” system. This has one forward deep in the opponent’s zone forechecking. Three players (the other two forwards and a defenceman) who stay back into the neutral zone to try and trap the opponent’s in their defensive zone by blocking their routes out of the zone and trying to force a turnover. The final defenceman is a defensive stopper who is kept back as a last line of defence in event of a breakout. This allows room for an offensive defenceman to succeed as the more offensive of the defenders in the 1-3-1 system. I had figured that 2009 first round draft pick Victor Hedman was the best bet to fill this role, but so far it has been Bergeron.
The way he is playing, Marc-Andre Bergeron is a Norris Trophy contender. I wouldn’t consider him the leader at this point, that is Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but in principle if he keeps playing at this level he could win. I have long argued that the most logical way to give out the Norris Trophy is to give it to the defenceman who is worth the most wins to his team. We cannot accurately measure how many wins a player is worth, but it is a way to think about the problem. Bergeron’s offence is worth more to his team than any other defenceman’s offence has been worth to his team this year. While his defence is not leading to any wins, in his current role, it is also not costing his team. If this continues, Bergeron would have to produce more wins with his offence than any other defenceman does with his offence and defence together. This is a possible scenario if Bergeron can maintain his better than point per game scoring rate (which I think is unlikely).
Marc-Andre Bergeron is a good offensive defenceman who has struggled defensively in the past. This has limited his ice time and bounced him around the NHL. In the Tampa Bay system he has been able to succeed. He has done exceptionally well so far. Bergeron is currently on pace for a 95 point season. He leads the NHL’s defencemen in scoring. I doubt he will keep up that pace, but if he does he will be in the Norris Trophy race.
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