If most players make the NHL by virtue of having more talent than their peers, most stay in the NHL only by adapting their game to a league where that talent advantage no longer exists. Such is the career arc of countless defensemen.
Rewind back to 2008-09's preseason, and Bruno Gervais was the club's projected #6-#7 defenseman. But the final quarter of a last-place finish that year left a glimpse of him excelling on the #1 pairing with Mark Streit. Was there more to Bruno than projected, or was this just another case of a #1 defenseman "babysitting" a weaker partner?
Fast-forward to Gervais' disappointing 2009-10 -- where 48% of his shifts were at even strength with Streit -- and the original projections sound pretty on the mark after all. It's common for fans to slag off Gervais (he was charged with 68 giveaways in 71 games), but let's be honest: NHL coaches would never have given him the opportunity if he hadn't shown the capacity for strong, sound play at this level -- which he even showed in brief spurts this season.
Still, repeated exposure to tough minutes tests his limitations: Gervais was minus-15 on the season, but in the 29 games where he logged 22 minutes or more, he was minus-17 alone. Meaning he was plus-2 in friendlier situations. [Follow past the jump for more.]
Simply, a good team does not rely on a Gervais for top-four minutes for long -- and Gervais logged the third-most minutes of Isles D-men behind Streit and Jack Hillen. The case is still open on whether he can consistently apply his skillset to be a reliable third-pairing guy who can move up when needed.
With one year left on his contract and several young defensemen (with frankly higher ceilings) pushing up from below, 2010-11 is the most pivotal of Gervais' career. Entering his age 26 season, he will need to grab an identity -- even if it's the kind of "#6-plus" identity that Freddy Meyer traded in for something far more interesting during the final third of 2009-10.
#8 / Defenseman / New York Islanders
Oct 03, 1984
1 year, $740,833 cap
3.35 (5-pt. scale)
Can he really hang with Streit?
Saddling your #1 defenseman with a lower-skilled, lower-upside partner is not unheard of. NHL teams have pulled it off before -- though more so in the pre-lockout age when mobility wasn't as important, and you could use a big banger as the bad cop on an all-world blueliner's side. Gervais isn't a banger, of course, and his decision-making and coverage when logging heavy minutes against tough competition is too inconsistent to trust him to be Streit's constant partner.
WIthout getting too far ahead of ourselves about a rookie, the contrast between unheralded Andrew MacDonald at Streit's side vs. Gervais in that same position was noticeable.
Various Numbers and Such
|2009-10 - Bruno Gervais
Gervais' second consecutive season of minus-15 sticks out, and you can play with the categories at Behind the Net to find multiple different measures (Rating here, Corsi QoC there) that show him not measuring up that well against the rest of the blueline. His GVT, a "value above replacement player"-type attempt to measure what a player contributed to wins for the season, has him 7th among Islanders defensemen (including the traded Andy Sutton). On the PK, his goals against per time spent was lower than everyone but Hillen and Brendan Witt.
Regardless, in terms of depth Gervais should certainly fall behind Streit, Jack Hillen, a healthy (ha!) Radek Martinek and MacDonald, and you could argue by their strong finishes that Freddy Meyer and perhaps even Dylan Reese offer more. Much depends on what Garth Snow does with the blueline this season -- the fan in me demands two serious additions -- but it's reasonable to think Gervais will slide into a more appropriate role next season, one that should highlight his strengths. With plenty more defensemen in the pipeline, for Gervais that's a necessity.
On the intermission show
We saw your mad chef skills
But baby you know culinary arts
Can't pay the hockey bills
For depth D-men in this league
It's either tread water or be tread
Making that adjustment
Is where careers come to a head
So grab that role, seize the day
Do the Freddy Meyer
And all the girls will swoon
For the hockey-playing master chef they desire
Here's where we vote and then split hairs (and share cheesy poems) in comments. Don't rate his season in comparison to say, Mark Streit; instead, issue a grade from 1 to 10 for how he performed relative to your preseason expectations.