Patrice Bergeron earned his place among NHL’s greatest with elite two-way game

Boston Bruins legend Patrice Bergeron has called it a career after 20 years in the NHL. Bergeron retires as a top-100 player all-time in a number of categories, but leaving it at that would mean criminally underselling Bergeron’s greatness over the last two decades.

The No. 45 overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, Bergeron will go down as one of the biggest steals in draft history. Bergeron went on to play 1,294 games for the Bruins, winning a Stanley Cup and six Selke trophies in the process. Bergeron also ended his career as a top-100 player in every major statistical category.

Those are numbers that 99.9% of NHL players would kill to have, but they still don’t tell the full story of Bergeron’s impact. Throughout his career, Bergeron was an extremely consistent offensive contributor, but he never put up gaudy point totals.

Bergeron scored at least 20 goals 14 times, and he hit the 30-goal mark in six seasons, but he never scored more than 32 goals in a single season. Bergeron was a point-per-game player in just one season, even though he did come agonizingly close on a few more occasions.

When people inevitably look back on the box scores and point totals, it will be easy to miss what made Bergeron so special. That’s because it’s tough to fully quantify a player’s complete defensive impact, and that is where Bergeron really thrived. Bergeron launched himself to legendary status by becoming arguably the best two-way player in NHL history.

With Bergeron on the ice, there was a good chance the Bruins were going to create some offense. Their opponents, on the other hand, were going to do no such thing.

Throughout his career, Bergeron compiled a plus-minus of plus-289. Since 2003-04, which was Bergeron’s rookie season, only two players have a better plus-minus. Those players are Zdeno Chara (plus-303) and Brad Marchand (plus-290), two more Boston icons who shared a great deal of ice time with Bergeron.

To be fair, plus-minus can be a highly deceptive stat. Things like empty-net goals can tilt the number in one direction or another, but even just at five-on-five, Bergeron came out way ahead. According to Natural Stat Trick, Bergeron posted a career plus-237 with both teams at full strength. That means, on average, the Bruins outscored their opponents by 12.5 goals at five-on-five in each of Bergeron’s 19 seasons. Even with all the flaws of plus-minus, those numbers are tremendously impressive.

Finally, there are Bergeron’s six Selke Trophy wins as the best defensive forward in the NHL, including the two in a row he won to end his career. Bob Gainey, who won the award in the first four seasons it was handed out, is the only other player in the same zip code as Bergeron.

Defensive gurus Guy Carbonneau, Jere Lehtinen, and Pavel Datsyuk were only able to win half as many Selke trophies as Bergeron. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the award take Bergeron’s name at some point in the future.

Bergeron wasn’t always the most physically gifted player on the ice in his NHL career, nor was he one of the most feared offensive juggernauts of his era. Instead, Bergeron gained an edge by constantly being in the right place at the right time, and he will be rewarded with a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Bergeron was the ultimate 200-foot player, perhaps the best ever to lace up a pair of skates, and it might be a very long time before we see anyone else like him.

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