The Toews/Bergeron Battle: Two of This Generation’s Best Do It Again This Weekend

Going all the way back to the early days of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, I’ve always looked forward to the Blackhawks facing elite teams. The two future Hall of Famers have a tendency to elevate their games against the toughest competition, and that’s our pleasure to observe.

In the first couple weeks of November, we watched as the Blackhawks faced the Kings twice. Toews has seen a lot of Anze Kopitar in his career as Western Conference foes, especially during the days when it felt like one of the Kings or Blackhawks was representing the conference in the Stanley Cup Final every year.

Toews had a rough night at the dot in Chicago in the first meeting between the two teams. In the second game, Toews was incredible.

On Saturday in Boston, Toews gets another look at one of the truly great defensive forwards of this generation: Patrice Bergeron.

I would argue (heartily) that Toews and Bergeron have been the premier defensive centers of their era, and the numbers support my argument. What makes Bergeron so good? To Toews, it’s pretty simple: he’s just really good and works really hard.

“I don’t think what (Bergeron does) is any secret,” Toews said. “I just think he does a lot of things better than the top players in the league. I remember knowing he was a good all-around player and then watching him doing battle drills at the World Cup in 2016 and nobody could outwork him or take the puck away from him. He brings a lot of good qualities as a player together — he’s the complete player in a lot of ways.”

I went to NHL.com and sorted the number of players who have taken 15,000 faceoffs since Toews’ rookie season (2007-08). Only 16 names appeared, and five of those 16 — Ryan Kesler, Mikko Koivu, Travis Zajac, Tomas Plekanec and Ryan Getzlaf — are retired. Of those 16 skaters, the only player to win more faceoffs than Toews over the past 15 years is Bergeron. And the only player to have a better faceoff percentage in their careers than Toews (57.2) is, you guessed it, Bergeron (58.8).

In fact, only four players in the last 15 years have taken 20,000 faceoffs: Bergeron, Toews, Kopitar and Sidney Crosby (who we’ll see at the United Center on Sunday).

Three of those four players have won the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL (sorry, Sid). Bergeron has had the Selke Trophy in his grasp for the past decade. He’s won the award five times and finished the runner-up on four other occasions — including behind Toews (2013) and Kopitar (2016).

In 2013, when the Blackhawks faced the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, many believed Bergeron would have won the Conn Smythe if Boston had won the championship. He finished the postseason second overall with nine goals (behind Patrick Sharp) and won 61.5 percent of his faceoffs, by far the best in the playoffs.

Of course the Blackhawks won their second championship that June, and Patrick Kane (who also had nine goals in those playoffs) was awarded the Conn Smythe.

Toews’ second — and third — rings, and Bergeron’s four extra Selke Trophies, are the biggest differences between the resumes of Toews and Bergeron. Both players has won the Mark Messier Leadership Award and is a member of the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club.

They were teammates on Canada’s 2010 and 2014 Olympic rosters that won gold. And the Canada sweater is the only time either of these legends has worn a sweater other than that of the team that drafted them.

Over 19 impressive years in the NHL, Bergeron enters Saturday’s game three points shy of 1,000 in 1,233 appearances. He has scored 408 goals with 589 assists and is +264 in his career. That amounts to .331 goals/game and a .809 point/game rate in his career.

Over 15 seasons, Toews enters Saturday’s game with 862 point (362 goals, 498 assists) in 1,030 games. He’s +178 in his career. Chicago’s captain has scored at a .351 goals/game pace and produced at a .838 point/game rate over his career, both a little better than Bergeron’s career averages.

They’re both respected leaders on and off the ice as well. Having played with and against Bergeron for the better part of two decades, Toews appreciates what Boston’s leader brings to the ice every night and the impact he has on the success of the Bruins.

“[Bergeron] is definitely a special player,” Toews said. “He’s a character person and why he’s taken over the captain role on that team and been central to all the success they’ve had. Obviously they have some offensive weapons and great players that have come thru there like Zdeno Chara over the years. But Bergeron has been the centerpiece of that for a lot of years. I definitely respect him as a guy and a player… you have to raise your game when you’re playing against a player like that because you have to — you don’t have a choice.”

This specific season, Toews leads the entire NHL in faceoff percentage (min. 200 draws) at 65.4 percent. Bergeron comes into Saturday’s game ranked fourth at 61.8. Yet the two teams are in very different places in the standings. Boston hasn’t lost at home and has been the best team in the NHL over the first 5-6 weeks of the regular season. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are in the process of rebuilding and have been heading towards the back of the division in November after a decent start.

Bergeron considered retirement at the end of last year, but came back for one more run. Toews is in the final year of his contract and his future is still up in the air.

But, for 60 minutes on Saturday evening in Boston, these two legends will go at it one more time. We shouldn’t take these battles for granted because Toews and Bergeron are two of the best to ever do it in these Original Six cities.

written by

Tab Bamford has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks for almost two decades. He joined Bleacher Nation as the lead Blackhawks writer in May 2022. Tab is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and is the author of two books about the Blackhawks: "100 Things Blackhawks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" (Triumph Books) and "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter/X/Instagram/Threads at @The1Tab

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