As the regular season draws to a close, hockey writers must begin thinking about their ballots for the annual trophies that will be awarded to individual players. As usual, Bruins players should find themselves in the discussion.
Things can change in the next couple of weeks, but Zdeno Chara should be a favorite to win the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman. For the first time in his career, Tuukka Rask should be a finalist for the Vezina, though that's determined by general managers.
Not to be forgotten, however, is Patrice Bergeron, who once again should be a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, given to the forward who most excels defensively. Bergeron won the trophy in the 2011-12 season and was just narrowly edged last season by Jonathan Toews. (Bergeron received the most first-place votes, but Toews finished with 1,260 points to Bergeron's 1,250.)
Like last season, this figures to be a two-man race between Bergeron and Toews. They're both near the top of the league in faceoff percentage (Bergeron is third and Toews is sixth), plus-minus (Bergeron leads the league with a plus-36; Toews is 10th with a plus-29) and they're both having good offensive seasons.
Last season, Toews was seemingly able to eek past Bergeron thanks to superior offensive numbers. Toews had 23 goals and 25 assists for 48 points in the lockout-shortened campaign, while Bergeron had 10 goals and 22 assists for 32 points.
Toews has the edge in the points department again this season, with 28-39--67 totals to Bergeron's 23-28--51. Given that Toews is the superior offensive player, it will be interesting to see how voters weigh each player's credentials. The trophy is said to be about defensive play, but it's essentially become an award for best defensive player who puts up a lot of points. That's not a knock or a complaint, but just the way it is.
Claude Julien has coached both players, as he worked with Toews in Sochi as Team Canada won a Gold Medal in the Olympics.
"They certainly belong in that category, no doubt," Julien said. "No doubt. I've been close enough to both of them now to be able to give my opinion on that, and I, without a doubt, think both of those guys are very dependable players on both ends of the ice."
Another Bruin with a pretty good perspective on the race is Loui Eriksson. As a longtime Western Conference player and a one of the game's better two-way players, Eriksson understands and appreciates the Selke and its candidates rather well.
He sees the similarities between Toews, against whom he's played plenty over the years, and Bergeron. After all, Eriksson was Bergeron's linemate earlier in the season before concussions and the play of Reilly Smith changed that.
"He always does everything the right way," Eriksson said of Bergeron. "He's always in good position. He's just a great all-around player. He really deserves to get [the Selke]."
Added Eriksson: "He's really good at everything. Faceoffs, penalty-killing, power play, he's got a great stick. He has good awareness all the time, where he is on the ice."
Still, the biggest thing that could cost Bergeron in voters' mind is the fact that Toews puts up more points than him. Bergeron's better defensively and Toews is better offensively. When rushing to fill out a ballot -- and it's pretty easy to get a vote; you'd hope all PHWA members take theirs seriously, though Tyler Seguin's Selke votes over the years would suggest some don't -- a sportswriter will probably notice the offense before the defense.
The popular narrative -- and it's something that has been voiced by Julien more than once -- is that David Krejci could put up far more points than he does if he chose to be less of a two-way player.
That same logic applies to Bergeron, though a 25-plus goal season, which Bergeron should have this season, is nothing to sneeze at. Julien appreciates that Bergeron puts up his numbers the right way.
"I think in a lot of cases, you can look at some guys that are up there in scoring." Julien said. "You look at their plus-minus and you look at where their team is, and it just kind of gives you an idea of what's important in this game.
"That's our philosophy. I'm not preaching for anybody but ourselves here, and that's our philosophy and those guys have obviously bought into it. … It depends on what you want. Right now, we've got players that we've identified that are team-first people and that's what you want."
Then again, that logic also applies to Toews, making the Chicago captain's game all the more impressive. Though Bergeron's defensive prowess is unparalleled, Toews' ability to be an elite player in his own zone and put up what should be a 30-goal season makes his candidacy just as strong as Bergeron's. As such, it should be a close race again, and probably will be for years.