The best forwards in the NHL last season were Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron. And not necessarily in that order.
There isn’t much disagreement as to the first two, but most hockey fans wouldn’t put Bergeron in the same class.
They’d be wrong.
In almost every aspect of the game – on offense and defense – last season, Bergeron not only held his own against Crosby and Towes, he beat them, sometimes decisively.
Everybody realizes Bergeron is a premier defensive player, but before we talk defense let’s consider offense. Last season in 5-on-5 play, Bergeron scored as many goals as Toews (19) and just one fewer than Crosby. Because Bergeron gets slightly less ice time than those two, his goals per 60 minutes are higher than both of theirs.
In terms of total points, Bergeron fares slightly worse, though his 2.27 points per 60 minutes are just a shade behind Toews’ 2.35 P/60 and within striking distance of Crosby’s 2.54 P/60.
That’s offense. Let’s look at some metrics that incorporate defensive performance, which has always been Bergeron’s strong suit. Because Corsi For % (CF%) reflects the percentage of shots taken by the player’s team relative to his opponent, it incorporates defensive play.
Nobody is better than Bergeron in CF%. At 61.2 percent last season (in 5-on-5 play), he was No. 1 in the league. Toews’ excellent 59.1 percent was good for eighth overall. Crosby only registered 53.0 percent (30th).
To be fair, CF% isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison because the Bruins and Blackhawks were much better possession teams than the Penguins. So Crosby’s CF% would have been brought down by his teammates’ performance.
To account for this factor, many in the hockey analytics community prefer a stat called “CF Rel%,” which measures each player’s CF% “Rel”ative to that of his team. Basically it reflects how much better (or worse) the player’s CF% was relative to his team’s average, thus providing a Corsi-based stat that more accurately reflects just the player’s own performance.
It turns out Bergeron’s CF% Rel stacks up even better than his straight CF%. At +9.69 (third overall), Bergeron was almost 10 points higher than the average player on a Bruins team that was one of the best in the league. Crosby’s CF% Rel was a very solid +6.93 (19th), with Toews at +5.33 (38th).
Finally, let’s look at another stat: WOWYs (With Or Without You). It measures the performance of a player by looking at whether other players produce more when playing with him or without him. Crosby and Towes have excellent WOWYs (to see their WOWY graphs, visit us at www.depthockeyanalytics.com). But Bergeron’s is jaw-dropping.
Although Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf also has to be in the running for best forward after finishing second in scoring and MVP voting last season, he doesn’t come close to Bergeron.
Using a simple average, Bergeron’s CF% WOWY was +10.1. In other words, on average his Bruins teammates had a CF% more than 10 points higher when playing with Bergeron vs. playing without him.
Getzlaf’s average was +0.8.
And look at what Bergeron did for teammate Zdeno Chara. Bergeron took one of the best defensemen of our generation and added a massive 8.7 points to his CF%.
The Department of Hockey Analytics employs advanced statistical methods and innovative approaches to better understand the game of hockey. Its three founders are Ian Cooper, a lawyer, former player agent and Wharton Business School graduate; Dr. Phil Curry, a professor of economics at the University of Waterloo; and IJay Palansky, a litigator at the law firm of Armstrong Teasdale, former high-stakes professional poker player, and Harvard Law School graduate. Visit us online at www.depthockeyanalytics.com