The NHL used to be defined by dynasties, at the team level and in some award categories.
The League's recent history has shifted toward parity. No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champion since 1998, and no player has successfully defended a major individual trophy (Hart, Vezina, Norris, Adams and Selke) since Pavel Datsyuk won the Frank J. Selke Trophy for a third straight year in 2010.
Patrice Bergeron has won the Selke twice in the past three years, and he is NHL.com's preseason favorite to earn the honor in 2014-15. Should he do so, Bergeron would become the fifth player in League history to win the Selke three times, joining Bob Gainey (four times), Guy Carbonneau, Jere Lehtinen and Datsyuk.
Bergeron has earned his place as the premier two-way center in the NHL, a claim buttressed by the rise of analytics in the sport that point out his brilliance. He led all forwards in Corsi-for percentage at even strength in 2013-14, as the Boston Bruins had 61.2 percent of the shot attempts when Bergeron was on the ice.
It was Bergeron's third straight season with a Corsi-for percentage of better than 59 percent. That alone is remarkable, but Bergeron also starts more shifts in the defensive zone than at the offensive end and he absorbs the team’s toughest assignments based on quality of competition.
Simply put, Boston coach Claude Julien deploys Bergeron against the opposing team's best players and the Bruins dominate those situations. This also allows David Krejci's line to not face the same situations, and that line is able to dominate as well.
Bergeron's repeat bid could be derailed by a lack of good health or Boston's eroding depth, but the Bruins still are expected to be the class of the Eastern Conference and one of the biggest reasons is Bergeron.
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings -- Bergeron, Jonathan Toews and Pavel Datsyuk have won the Selke six of the past seven seasons. Kopitar should be a landslide favorite to be the next player beyond those three to claim the award.
Those four are a cut above the rest among dominant, two-way centers. Kopitar has moved to their level, and there’s a reasonable argument that he is the best. Bergeron and Kopitar were the only two forwards to finish 2013-14 with a Corsi-for percentage at even strength of at least 61 percent, and each player dominates despite facing the toughest assignments.
While "Is Toews better than Sidney Crosby?" became an amusing discussion early in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, "Is Kopitar better than Toews?" became a more reasonable one by the end. Given the age and injury history of Bergeron and Datsyuk, Kopitar and Toews are the best bets to be long-term contenders for the Selke. But it says here Bergeron is going to win at least one more time.
Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks -- Hossa has almost no chance to win the Selke, and that's a problem. He is one of the best defensive players in the NHL, a two-way wizard in all three zones on the ice.
The reason he can't win is he doesn't play center. No forward who doesn't primarily line up in the middle of the ice has won the award since 2002-03, when Lehtinen won for the third time.
While it is true centers typically have more responsibilities in the defensive zone, Hossa's ability to be a menace in the neutral zone is a significant advantage for the Blackhawks. It also is hard to distinguish Hossa's true value to Chicago because he usually lines up next to Toews, and they work in tandem to stifle opponents.
ALSO IN THE MIX: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks; Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings; Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames