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The Bergeron Injury: Why It's Bad, Not Catastrophic

Let us not mince words: Patrice Bergeron's concussion is a major blow to the Bruins.  Bergeron has played magnificently in the playoffs and, had he stayed healthy and the Bruins captured the Cup, would have been a prime candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy. 

With that said, something of a narrative has come forth from the Bruin blogosphere in the last couple days that the loss of Patrice Bergeron would doom the Bruins chances in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

I dissent.

Understand that Bergeron is an excellent player, and important to the Bruins.  He is not indispensable, however.  The Bruins have exactly two indispensable players right now: Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara.  Thomas has been the difference between a Stanley Cup contender and a fringe playoff team, and has been the team's MVP by a massive margin.  Chara playing half of every game makes the Bruins defensive corps look a hell of a lot better than it really is. 

As a thought exercise, subtract Thomas or Chara from the lineup.  Without Thomas, the Bruins fall back on Tuukka Rask, which admittedly is a pretty good Plan B.  But Thomas was historically good this year, and they needed every bit of his magnificence to get out of round 1, especially when Carey Price was playing incredibly well at the other end.  Rask is good, probably a top 10 goaltender, but he's not that good. 

Without Chara, how exactly does Boston replace the 30 minutes a night their captain gives them?  They can't give Dennis Seidenberg more ice time, and in any case, it's his pairing with Chara that's made Seidenberg look great in these playoffs.  Do you think all those aggressive chip-ins in the  that Seidenberg made to create a scoring chance happen with, say, Johnny Boychuk backing him up?  Odds are, Andrew Ference becomes Seidenberg's partner on the first pair, and thus gets a big boost in minutes, with Tomas Kaberle and Boychuk on the second pair, and Adam McQuaid and Steven Kampfer (both healthy, thankfully) on the third.  Yuck.  Boston's defensive corps was secretly not that great this year; the league's best goaltending made them look a lot better than they really were.  Subtract Chara and Thomas probably starts seeing 40 shots a night. 

The loss of Bergeron is unfortunate, in that he's precisely the guy you'd want out there checking Steven Stamkos or Vincent Lecavalier, since he can not only make their lives more difficult in the back half of the ice, but he can counterattack and provide offense.  Not every player can do that.  But, here's the question: how much better is Bergeron than the guy who will replace him in the lineup?  The dropoff from Thomas to Rask is immense because Thomas is a god, and Rask is merely an extremely talented mortal.  The dropoff from Chara to Kampfer/Ference is similarly immense, because Chara's really good and soaks up a ton of ice time.  Forwards play less, thus their impact on the game is less.  Chara is playing almost 10 minutes more per game than Bergeron this postseason.

It's not an exact measurement for several reasons (not the least of which is that Behind the Net stopped tracking GVT about 3/4 of the way through the season), but as a quick and dirty way of looking at things, compare Bergeron's GVT to Tyler Seguin's, since Seguin will more or less be Bergeron's replacement.  More realistically, I would expect Chris Kelly to man the second line, getting a little more ice time, and Seguin to play third line wing, with fewer minutes.  It's probably more correct to say that Bergeron's 20 minutes a game would be replaced by 7 extra minutes for Kelly and Gregory Campbell, with Seguin getting 13 minutes, but whatever, you get the idea. 

Over a full season, Bergeron was worth about 8 goals more than Seguin.  That's a big difference, right?  What a dropoff, Boston's screwed!

Well, no, not really.  During the regular season, the Bruins were 44 goals better than the Tampa Bay Lightning. If Bergeron misses the entire series, it will make Boston's job somewhat harder, but they remain a better team by a fairly good margin. Do not be distracted by the Lightning's sweep of the Washington Capitals; they were a fringe playoff team that was nowhere near as good as their record and are currently riding a 41 year old goaltender who's playing above his head.  Their leading goal scorer in the playoffs is a guy whose career high in points is 29.  Bottom line: Boston is a better team with or without Patrice Bergeron.  Tampa Bay might win the series, but the odds are against it.

If they make the Stanley Cup Finals, and play the Western Conference champion?  Well, let's just hope Bergeron is healthy by then.