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Lies, Damned Lies, and Bergfors Statistics

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There's been a few troubling developments with Niclas Bergfors since he became an Atlanta Thrasher. When we first picked him up from the New Jersey Devils, he was in a long scoring slump. He hadn't scored in 16 games when he came down south, but it didn't take long for him to get on the scoresheet with Atlanta. Bergfors scored in his second game with Atlanta, and then again in his third. And his fourth. After a quiet fifth and sixth game, Bergfors netted two in his 7th and another in his 8th. That's seven goals in 8 games.

Then he scored just two in the next 19.

Bergfors is a difficult player to analyze because he has been, in his short NHL career, incredibly streaky. He goes on tears and scores consistently for a period and then virtually vanishes.

Over the summer, it took quite a long time to get a contract done with Bergfors. While many Thrashers were already in town participating in optional skates with the team, Bergfors was unsigned. He came into camp and pre-season and, frankly, did not impress.

It's not that Bergfors has been bad: he's not been a minus-player in any of his five games this season. He just simply hasn't done much while on the ice.

That said, it seemed curious when Coach Ramsay decided to make Bergfors a healthy scratch in order to get Jim Slater back into the lineup. After all, Nigel Dawes had been playing very poorly and seemed like a more obvious choice. (Dawes was waived a few games later and was likely being given a couple games to see if he could do something before we waived him.)

It is my sense that Bergfors was scratched simply because he wasn't playing as well and hadn't been skating as long as some other forwards. Thrashers fans, however, seem to feel that Ramsay has some sort of ill will toward Bergfors (or that he's an idiot, or that he's an idiot and Dudley's an idiot and Waddell's an idiot and so on...) A few more sensible folks attempted to show the idiocy by providing some statistics to back up this claim: the team plays better with Bergfors in the lineup because of [insert stat line here].

Everybody stop. Take a deep breath. The Thrashers have only played 8 games this year and Niclas Bergfors has played in 5. You can't compare the 5 he's played in with the 3 he hasn't because it's far too small of a sample size. [In fact, if this blog has seemed awfully quiet at the beginning of this season, it's for the same reason: there's not enough statistical data for us to play with. Yet.]

Statistics, when used properly, can help illuminate difficult situations. They can bring some clarity and structure to sports analysis. There is, however, a risk of over-using statistics. This is one of those cases.

I have no doubt in my mind that Bergfors has more offensive potential than Anthony Stewart or Eric Boulton. However, it is up to Craig Ramsay to decide whether he needs Bergfors' offensive potential or Stewart's forechecking. Keep in mind, when Bergfors was first scratched and Stewart played (to the yells and screams of Thrashers fans), Stewart scored a hat trick against the Anaheim Ducks.

There is a sense of frustration out there and I understand it: I was in the stands for the Buffalo home game and had to watch the Thrashers put up a stinker. I was at the Tampa Bay game for the Stamkos hat trick. These are things we should have expected. This is not just a young team, but a young team with a large number of new guys and a brand new coaching staff with an entirely different system of play. We've also been without one of our starting goaltenders and played a number of games on the road.

Before the season started, we hosted a radio show during which I said something along these lines: October should be bad. If we can get some clutch goaltending and make it through October with a decent record (within a couple games of 0.500), we have a shot at the playoffs. November and December should go much better than October.

I still believe that. Until we get there, everybody calm down: Niclas Bergfors will play some games and he may be a healthy scratch in others. One way or another, he's unlikely to be the difference between a Thrashers win and a Thrashers loss. If there's any single player who will be able to win (or lose) a game for the Thrashers at this point, it's likely going to be Chris Mason.