The case for Niclas Bergfors

If you’re like me, you might have gone and looked through the list of forwards at Behind The Net to find a few of the guys who performed well with good Corsi and Fenwick numbers but did not produce much due to low shooting percentages. One of the names among the many that pops up is that of Niclas Bergfors.

You would then go to NHLNumbers.com, see that Bergfors is a restricted free agent, and wonder if the General Manager of your favourite team would have the stones to give an offer-sheet to the former #23 overall pick, or possibly offer up a roster player in a trade to Dale Tallon and the Florida Panthers, owners of his rights.

TALLON FAIL?

And then, you get word Saturday night that Tallon, for whatever reason, did not qualify Bergfors in the next of a long line of questionable moves the former Blackhawks General Manager has made in his short tenure with the Panthers. After coming off a 21-goal rookie campaign splitting time between the New Jersey Devils and the Atlanta Thrashers, Bergfors scored 11 goals in 52 games with the Thrashers last season before getting traded to Florida. From there, something happened, and, as a result, Bergfors will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Bergfors scored a single goal in the 20 games he played with the Panthers, with an absurdly low shooting percentage of 1.1%. Upon looking through Bergfors’ statistics with the Panthers, it becomes clear that they did not quite know how to use him. Despite averaging a positive Fenwick number adjusted for zone starts (I crudely make one defensive zone start worth .6 of a Fenwick point) in his 20 games with the Panthers, Florida was reluctant to do anything but protect his shifts.

On the road, where defensive zone starts mean more because the coach doesn’t know who the opposition will send out, Bergfors started 71.2% of his shifts in the neutral or offensive zones. To me, Florida didn’t get enough of a look at Bergfors as a defensive player, which makes sense why they would base their decision on whether to retain Bergfors by looking at his offensive numbers.

With a shooting percentage of 1.9% with the team (and a career average of 10.1% before his trade to the Panthers) it became clear that a patch of bad puck luck is what caused Bergfors’ offensive slump. His PDO (on ice shooting percentage plus on ice save percentage at even strength, a measure of a player’s luck) was 981, which was actually higher than it was in his rookie year (978). This is a player who has not had the bounces go his way, and it might cost him a million bucks this summer.

What all of this means is that Bergfors is a prime candidate for a team to scoop up a forward to fit in as a third-liner and possibly move into a top six role once his stick progresses towards a more sustainable shooting percentage. Granted, his average shot distance was on average two feet further from the net (33.8) in 2010/2011 than it was in 2009/2010 (31.5) when he put up 21 goals, but, as a young player, that is correctible, and the two feet doesn’t account for such a large drop in shooting percentage.

If your team needs a cheap forward, Bergfors is one that fits the part, with potential to surprise.