The New York Islanders - along with every other NHL team and many other businesses - have temporarily suspended operations due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organizations have strongly advised the public to practice self-quarantining and avoid close contact and crowds to limit the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather in a virtual space and talk about old hockey players.
As long as the Islanders are on pause, we’ll run this series to give folks a place to chat, reminisce, and generally relieve the stress of the times.
This is why it’s fun being friends with Mike Leboff. I texted him the other day just to see how and he his wife were doing throughout this whole thing and within 30 seconds, we were talking about old Islanders. And the name that came up was Marc-Andre Bergeron.
Bergeron (or MAB, as he was mostly known in hockey twitter circles), was the kind of player lots of teams needed, but also felt they could live without. He played for seven teams in his NHL career and was seen as a go-to guy for goosing a flagging power play.
That was why the Islanders traded defenseman Dennis Grabeshkov (okay...?) to Edmonton for Bergeron and a third rounder. the diminutive defender had gone from undrafted free agent to a solid contributor for the Oilers, which for Edmonton probably means he was compared to Paul Coffey at least once.
Edmonton was the place he may have had his greatest success, putting up 33 goals and 55 assists in 189 games, some of them in these Todd McFarlane-designed jerseys. He was a darling of the early #fancystats set, piling up huge corsi and puck possession numbers for the team that was the epicenter of that movement. He only had two seasons below 50% corsi and would finish his career with a 52.5% mark, which is pretty good for a guy who wasn’t an All Star.
Islanders GM Garth Snow made the deal prior to the trade deadline in 2007 specifically for Bergeron’s slapshot and passing ability with the man advantage.
“This trade addresses our need for a quality offensive defenseman to improve our power play,” said Islanders general manager Garth Snow. “Marc-Andre is an excellent point man, a very good skater and a solid competitor. We like the fact that, at 26, he’s just entering his prime. With Bergeron, Bruno Gervais, Freddy Meyer and Chris Campoli, we now have four young defensemen who can really move the puck.”
Let that defensive core sink in for a second...
In 23 games as an Islander immediately after the trade, he had 21 points on six goals and 15 assists. He played in all five games, and had one goal and one assist, in the Islanders’ loss to Tampa Bay in the 2007 playoffs. You may more clearly remember another Islanders-Oilers trade from the same season.
Here’s a sampling of what Bergeron was capable of. (It’s called the ULTIMATE Tribute video but the video quality is anything but. Bergeron started playing in the early 2000’s, which didn’t seem like that long ago. This looks like it was shot through an old dirty supermarket lobster tank.)
In season two, he wasn’t nearly as productive, picking up only nine goals and nine assists in 46 games. All told, MAB was an Islander for only 69 games across two seasons and totaled just 39 points. It sure felt like he was around for longer than that, but he wasn’t. Almost a year to the day from which he was acquired, Bergeron was traded to Anaheim for a third round pick - the very same third round pick that they had traded to the Oilers in the first deal (that ended up becoming one of the Kirills - Petrov). Bergeron was an Islander just long enough for us to find out his favorite band was/is Nickleback.
He was only a Duck for nine games before being traded that offseason to the Wild, where he spent one season. After that, it was a couple of free agent deals, first with the Canadiens, then the Lightning. I remember him being a big get for a Tampa team that was already very good, and that lost to the Bruins in a 7-game Eastern Conference final that heavily featured another Islander cast-off, Dwayne Roloson. The Lightning traded him to Carolina in 2013, which would be the last NHL time he would see.
After a three-year stint in Switzerland, he signed a two-way contract with the Blue Jackets in 2017, giving hope that the MAB would ride again. Alas, he was never called up and spent the season in the AHL before retiring.
Marc-Andre Bergeron was like a comet; he burns bright, draws the locals attention and then he’s gone and you have to remind yourself years later that he actually happened. The perfect “He was an Islander” for life.