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Top Scoring Defenceman

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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Comments

Flashtastick56's avatar

Bergeron has been a solid offensive defenceman in the past with very limited defensive skills.

The way he is playing, Marc-Andre Bergeron is a Norris Trophy contender.

These two statements don’t seem to make any sense together in arguing a candidate for the Norris Trophy

It’s pretty obvious that someone with “limited defensive skills” cannot be a contender for a trophy that is awarded to “the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”  They shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath with anyone that IS considered a contender.

He’s good offensively, but the Norris Trophy isn’t given to the best offensive defenseman.  It’s why Mike Green has never won the award.

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 11/06/11 at 03:48 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Mike Green has never been the defenceman who was worth the most wins to his team in any season.  I would argue that is why he never won the Norris Trophy.  He has however been the defenceman worth the second most wins in the league, hence he has been runner up twice.  Had he been the leader he likely would have won.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 11/06/11 at 03:52 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

We cannot accurately measure how many wins a player is worth

If it is unable to be measured accurately, how can it be taken into consideration?  It doesn’t make much sense to me.

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 11/06/11 at 03:56 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

And, why ignore the rest of my post?

My argument wasn’t solely “Mike Green didn’t win, so Bergeron won’t win.” 

Not even close.

It was, “If Bergeron has limited defensive skills, how can he even be considered a contender for a trophy that is awarded to the defenseman that demonstrates the greatest all-around ability at the position?”

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 11/06/11 at 03:59 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

Also, also…

Aren’t you a guy who puts an enormous amount of merit into things like offensive zone starts and the like?

So, wouldn’t a guy whose

playing time had been limited to offensive situations

be someone you would absolutely not consider a contender for a trophy that is “awarded to the defenseman that demonstrates the greatest all-around ability at the position?”

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 11/06/11 at 04:04 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Marc-Adre Bergeron can be considered a contender because Mike Green was considered a contender.  Mike Green was runner up twice.  That is being considered a contender.

If Marc-Andre bergeron or Mike Green were to be worth the most wins to their teams of any defencemen in the league then they should win the award.  Your nitpick If it is unable to be measured accurately, how can it be taken into consideration? is somewhat meaningless.  We cannot measure exactly how many wins a player is worth, but we can attempt to get an approximate measurement of it and we are aware that our measure is approximate.  I have written about this kind of measurement several times and i assume you have read about it.  The fact that we cannot do someting perfectly does not mean we should not even try.  The top defenceman is by definition the one who is worth the most wins.  We can argue about exactly who that is, but tht is the correct arguement to make and how to think about things.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 11/06/11 at 04:05 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

You are taking thing out of context now Flashtastic.

I said Bergeron’s even strength playing time had been limited in previous seasons.  not this one.  His playing time has increased this year and that is a part of the reason his scoring has gone up.

I don’t care what Bergeron did in other years when i am giving out the Norris this year.  Whether or not his playing tme was limited in 2009 means nothing the the 2012 Norris.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 11/06/11 at 04:07 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

Fair enough.

His even strength has gone up, you’re right.

2009-10:  11:54/game
2010-11:  10:50/game
2011-12:  16:47/game

He doesn’t play much on the PK, though.  Actually…like, never.

2009-10:  0:10/game
2010-11:  0:02/game
2011-12:  0:07/game

So…what about those offensive zone starts, there?  Are those a big part of your arguments only when they make your arguments look good?

And if you’re saying a guy who has 15 points and plays 19 minutes per game - basically all even strength and on the PP - is worth more wins than, say, a guy that has 13 points (in 13 games) and plays 27 minutes per game - 1:50 on the PK, 4:53 on the PP and 20:26 at even strength - than I’m gonna have to say you probably have no idea what you’re talking about.

Lidstrom, Letang, Keith, Chara, Pronger…all names that are much, much, much better candidates than Bergeron ever will be.

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 11/06/11 at 04:28 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Boy I sure hope that echoing Dakkster’s sentiment that Bergeron’s very limited defensive capabilities as the reason he’s been something of a journeyman and that I believe he won’t be able to keep up an offensive pace that is nearly enough to make up for those shortcomings when it comes time for voters to decide who the best all-around defenseman is can be considered hockey-related enough to not be deleted.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 11/06/11 at 04:38 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Flashtastick

It doesn’t matter whether a player plays on the penalty kill or not when the question is which forward/ defenceman or anyone else produces the most wins to his team.

If he produces wins on the penalty kill that is great, but it is unnecessary if he produces more wins elsewhere in his game.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 11/06/11 at 05:13 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

So someone that is good at one aspect of the game is more valuable to his team than someone that is good at all aspects of the game?  Are you saying that you would rather have a defenseman that is good offensively, but is “limited” at the title of his job description - defensemen…defense - instead of a guy that plays in every situation…and does so really well?

And I don’t see how a guy that is one-dimensional can be a greater contributor to a team than a guy who can do everything - unless, like JJ said, that one dimension is so spectacular you can overlook the lack of skill in everything else.

Bergeron’s start hasn’t been that, so the argument makes little to no sense.

What makes even less sense is that you said Bergeron was a Norris candidate. 

Look:

The way he is playing, Marc-Andre Bergeron is a Norris Trophy contender.

Right there.  That’s what you said in your post.

He is not.  Not even close.  The fact that you even typed that is laughable.

A guy that does not contribute to all facets of the game at his position cannot win an award that is given to the player than best exhibits the best all-around game at the position.  He’s not good defensively.  You said it in your post.

See?

Bergeron has been a solid offensive defenceman in the past with very limited defensive skills.

You don’t even say he’s good at the one part of the game you’re trying to say he’s good at:  offense.  You say he’s “solid.”

His offensive start has been good, but there’s no way he can be or will be considered a Norris candidate this year, or ever.

And if you’re trying to tell me he’s worth more wins to his team than guys like Lidstrom, Letang, Pronger, Keith, Chara or Weber…I’m not going to listen to you, because if you think that way, it’s clear to me that you’re delusional.

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 11/06/11 at 05:45 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

So someone that is good at one aspect of the game is more valuable to his team than someone that is good at all aspects of the game?

The answer to this question is sometimes yes and sometimes no.  Most often it is a no.  It is possible that a player is so dominant in the one aspect of his game that he is worth more wins to his team than the player who plays a more balanced game.  I am arguing that Bergeron is close enough to this line to consider him among the top defencemen so far this season.  At this point in the year he us a Norris Trophy candidate.

if you’re trying to tell me he’s worth more wins to his team than guys like Lidstrom, Letang, Pronger, Keith, Chara or Weber

So far this season, I would argue Kris Letang is the only defenceman on your list that has been worth more wins to his team than Marc-Andre Bergeron.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 11/06/11 at 05:51 PM ET

Avatar

Though experiment time:

Let’s pretend that, suddenly and without warning, Joel Quenneville decided to give Nick Leddy all of Duncan Keith’s minutes in all situations. Duncan Keith was then given the role of second-pairing offensive specialist, with a reduced workload (19-20 minutes per game) in a strategic scheme heavily weighted toward offense.

My guess is that Duncan Keith would put up a ton of points in that role. He may even (individually) produce more “wins” for his team by playing 20 minutes of crazy good offense instead of 25 minutes of more balanced, grittier, harder work against tough opposition.

But the team would be worse off, because Nick Leddy probably can’t handle the tougher role. Keith might be “worth” a little more in his new role than his current one, but Leddy would be “worth” a lot less, and the team would suffer.

Pretty much every player would benefit from playing easier minutes with better teammates against worse opposition, but not everyone can get those cushy assignments. Teams are deployed in order to maximize the value of the whole, not individuals.

There’s nothing particularly special about M-A Bergeron. He’s a pretty good offensive defenseman, maybe even great, but probably not the best in the world at it. His defense is, at best, “acceptable.” So far this season, he is thriving in a role that caters to his skillset and producing points.

But I can’t help but think—throw any gifted offensive defender (Visnovsky, Lidstrom, Letang, Keith, Doughty, Yandle) into that exact same role, and you’d probably get similar results. Give them only 19 minutes per game, in a role heavily tilted toward offense, and they could probably match or better Bergeron’s stats.

That’s why I struggle with a “wins-based” analysis of the Norris race. It’s kind of like using plus-minus to determine who the best players are. Bergeron has had significant success within his role, but his role is very much the product of the system and the teammates. His innate skills are not elite, but he has found a niche where he is very valuable—and perhaps more importantly, he is not needed by his team to operate in any other capacity than the niche that maximizes his own personal skills. While other players are called to take greater responsibility (and may struggle, at times, to succeed with the increased load), Bergeron is not.

I’d rather give the award to a great player, who has demonstrated superior ability and played well (with some struggles) in a tough role, than a mediocre player who put up a billion points popping second assists to Steve Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier. Even if the mediocre player is worth more “wins” on his own, the great player is probably corporately worth more “wins” to his entire team, by taking more responsibility and allowing his teammates to thrive with increased opportunities.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 11/06/11 at 06:37 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Sven

I would agree that a player succeeding in a tough role is worth more than a player who would put up similar (offensive ?) numbers in an easier role.  That player in the tough role is worth more wins to his team.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 11/06/11 at 06:42 PM ET

Avatar

Of course.

I’d agree with you that Bergeron’s success in his new role has aided the Lightning substantially. He’s clearly their most valuable—not necessarily because he’s their “best” in the traditional sense, but because they have no other blueliners even in the same league offensively.

But I’d also say this: swap out Letang and Bergeron (and put Letang in Bergeron’s role), the Lightning probably improve or stay the same while the Penguins get worse. You could probably say the same for Edler, Karlsson, Lidstrom, etc. and their respective teams.

I don’t think Bergeron has elite offensive skills that greatly outpace those of his NHL peers. I think Bergeron is the right player in the right place at the right time. He has all the skills to succeed in his spot, and none of the skills that would make his coach think he should be given any added responsibility ahead of his more defensively reliable teammates.

That’s why I hesitate to name him as a Norris candidate, even though his value to his team is indisputable.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 11/06/11 at 07:22 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

But I’d also say this: swap out Letang and Bergeron (and put Letang in Bergeron’s role), the Lightning probably improve or stay the same while the Penguins get worse. You could probably say the same for Edler, Karlsson, Lidstrom, etc. and their respective teams.

I am not arguing that Bergeron could play Letang’s role as well as he does or that Letang could play Bergeron’s role as well as he does.  I am arguing that it is that if Bergeron keeps up his current pace (which I doubt he will) then he will be a Norris trophy contender.  He has been one of the defencemen who has been worth the most wins to his team so far this year.  He is not the defenceman who has been worth the most wins so he is not the Norris Trophy leader.

At the same time I would argue that Corey Perry may have won the Hart Trophy last year but he would not have done so in Frans Nielsen or Manny Malhotra’s role last year.  That doesn’t mean Nielsen or Malhotra were serious MVP candidates.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 11/06/11 at 07:30 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 11/06/11 at 03:37 PM ET

This is a really good argument.

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 11/06/11 at 07:35 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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