Why Patrice Bergeron Couldn't Be Left Off the Canadian Olympic Roster

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Why Patrice Bergeron Couldn't Be Left Off the Canadian Olympic Roster
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With Patrice Bergeron bound for his second career Olympic tournament, one of the Boston Bruins’ ultimate sacrifices could be Team Canada’s gain in 2014.

His full-time employer, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, plainly understands that notion as well as anybody. As one of Steve Yzerman’s sidekicks in the Olympic team’s front office, Chiarelli was doubtlessly instrumental in ensuring Bergeron’s place on the final roster, linked here via the program’s official website.

Just as it is with minute-munching captain Zdeno Chara and goaltender Tuukka Rask, two of the other Sochi-bound Bruins, this could have deflating implications from a professional perspective come spring.

The other scenario would have entailed two-plus weeks to rest and recharge. Instead, Boston’s most vital defensive players at each position―from the crease, to the blue line, to the center circle―will pile an overseas excursion on top of this ongoing NHL season and last year’s drainer.

That, however, speaks with equal emphasis to the value that Bergeron’s presence will lend to the Canadian Olympians. While hardly as flashy as his fellow forwards, he packs a premium package with his two-way aptitude, leadership qualities, unwavering character and seasoning.

When it comes to assembling an elite roster for a premier international event, too much of a good thing becomes a detriment when it leaves too little room for other essentials. Keeping Bergeron after the final cut is one way in which Canada can guard itself against such an imbalance.

By bringing Bergeron on board with fellow all-around center Jonathan Toews, Yzerman’s staff made room for each of the last two Selke Trophy winners. Up to this point in 2013-14, Boston’s longest-tenured player and Chicago’s beyond-his-years captain have both looked like reasonable contenders for a second Selke.

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Entering Wednesday night’s NHL action, Bergeron is second only to Vladimir Sobotka on the league leaderboard with a 61.7 percent success rate in faceoffs. Toews is tied for 10th with a sound 56.8 percent, and the two are easily the top Olympic-bound Canadian centers at the dot, both in terms of past and present output.

In this department, Sidney Crosby is a distant third among his soon-to-be teammates at the moment, having raked away 51.4 percent of his draws.

Among his country’s 14 Olympic forwards, Bergeron trails only Ryan Getzlaf in terms of average nightly time on the penalty kill. The Anaheim striker presently devotes two minutes and two seconds of shorthanded action each game while Bergeron is a close second at 1:53.

Those 113 seconds make a full half-minute more than the combined total of nightly short-handed seconds for half of Canada’s forwards—Jamie Benn, Crosby, Matt Duchene, Chris Kunitz, Rick Nash, Patrick Sharp and John Tavares. Even Toews logs a full half-minute less of penalty-killing time each game with 1:23.

With those distinctions, plus the fact that he is nothing to sneeze at when it comes to playmaking and offense in general, there are few places where Bergeron could not fit in on the Olympic depth chart. In the event of an injury or something simply not working out on one of the lower lines, he can be the go-to reinforcement.

His day job is as a top-six pivot for the Bruins, but in the international ecosystem, he has the fabric of a checking-liner or an exceptional and willing fourth-liner.

“Willing” is an operative term there. It is no accident that Bergeron is now in his eighth season as one of Boston’s alternate captains, having started to hold that position in 2006.

Granted, that has yet to amount to a single day as the main captain, but it does speak to advanced leadership experience. His time wearing any letter of leadership exceeds the full NHL careers of Toews, Benn and Tavares, all of whom wear the “C” for their respective teams.

In that time, he has taken the full ride with his franchise from perennial playoff no-shows to perennial playoff title contenders.

The head coach who has overseen that resurgence, Claude Julien, will be an assistant on the Canadian staff, by the way. Depending on the exact situation, having a familiar face along the lines of Bergeron can make a difference in how Julien performs in his role behind the bench.

As a rare constant throughout the Bruins’ revolution, he has revealed himself as a crucial, intangible glue guy for teammates to follow and uphold a fastidious ambition for success.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

To a degree, Bergeron has done the same thing within his national program. He joins 10 other holdovers from Canada’s gold medal team in 2010, including such fellow established leaders as Crosby and Toews.

With Crosby, Getzlaf, Corey Perry and defenseman Shea Weber, Bergeron is one of five 2014 Canadian pucksters from both the 2010 Olympics and the 2005 World Junior Championships. The victory in the latter tournament halted what by Canadian standards was a lengthy eight-year championship hex in arguably the most memorable WJC in terms of competitive personnel.

The multitude of landmark experiences and the firsthand appreciation that comes with it only emboldens Bergeron’s worth in subsequent events, such as next month’s games in Sochi. It is no different than his role in Boston as one of the core players who helped the 2011 Stanley Cup champions translate an appetite for more to an appearance in the 2013 final.

The vocal, exemplary presence of a player with Bergeron’s stripes in that Sochi-based locker room can be part of a useful pick-me-up for celestial Olympic newbies such as Steven Stamkos and Tavares. In a worst-case scenario, his pure on-ice tools will be indispensable insurance at the dot, on the penalty kill and in the transition game.

For those reasons, it does not matter that his irreproachable scoring stat line of 10 goals, 15 assists and 25 points is dwarfed by all of his offensive colleagues. For the record, he is tied for 48th among all Canadian-born point-getters in the league.

There are 11 Olympic-bound Canadian forwards with at least 37 points so far in this year’s NHL action. If not for their respective injuries this past autumn, Nash and Stamkos would surely be in that range.

Translation: Canada should have it covered when it comes to firepower. That firepower, though, can only be at its hottest and strongest if all of its specimens can coalesce into a workable group of people.

Furthermore, the team will need to have the puck in its possession and off its own property in order to percolate and/or sustain the momentum it needs to reap results from its embarrassment of talent.

In that regard, Bergeron can and will help where many of his teammates are not necessarily ready to help at this stage in their careers.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com

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