Murphy’s Hockey Law: Bruins mid-season awards & looking ahead
The 2015-16 Boston Bruins entered this season with plenty of question marks. After the winds of change blew through Causeway Street leaving a new general manager in Don Sweeney and plenty of new faces on the roster, there was really no telling how better or worse this current squad would be than the 2014-15 edition that finished 41-27-4 with 96 points but failed to make the playoffs. Yours truly picked them to finish in the middle of the pack and miss the playoffs by nine points as opposed to the two shy they were last season. That could every well still happen, but I’ll give credit where it’s due here, this team has been better than expected.
After reaching the halfway point of the season with their 2-1 loss to the Rangers Monday night in New York, the Bruins are 21-15-5 with 47 points and heading into NHL action Wednesday, Boston held the first Wild Card slot in the Eastern Conference and trailed Atlantic Division leaders Florida by ten points. There’s no argument here that with this current roster, the Bruins are still as expected, a borderline playoff or non-playoff team. However, there is an argument to be made that they have been and still can better than many expected and provide for some exciting hockey down the stretch and possibly into the playoffs.
This situation — as it does for many NHL general managers right now — puts Sweeney in a peculiar position as he and his scouting staff make final preparations for the NHL Trade Deadline on February 29. In the aforementioned and linked Bruins Daily season predictions, I suggested that if as expected, Sweeney found himself uncertain of whether to be a buyer or seller at the deadline, he should sell and continue to replenish the farm with prospects. I stand by that suggestion. But according to numerous NHL sources and one Bruins team source, Sweeney is still planning on buying.
The common belief is that if the Bruins can still be holding on to a playoff spot after the All-Star break and injured center David Krejci returns at that point, then Sweeney is most definitely a buyer. But if Krejci is still out and the Bruins are falling in the standings, Sweeney may become both a buyer and a seller, with winger and impending unrestricted free agent Loui Eriksson being his biggest trade chip.
As for what Sweeney will be looking for leading into and at the deadline, a top four defenseman has to be at the top of his priority list as well as some support scoring from the bottom six forward group. Of course if Krejci is still hurt as the deadline nears then a depth center is in order as well.
So as the Bruins appear still poised for a playoff spot and headed into another dog fight to the end for one, it’s time to take a quick look back at the first half and pass out some mid-season awards. At the end of the season, the final winners will be announced.
The Bobby Orr Award (Most Valuable Player) — Patrice Bergeron — If you’ve even just paid a bit of attention to the Bruins this season, this is an easy one. The Bruins alternate, and arguably co-captain if you talk to his teammates and anyone around the team, is having what could turn out to be a career season. As he enters the second half of the season, Bergeron is tied for the team lead in goals (15) with Brad Marchand and leads the team in assists (23) and in points with 38. He continues to arguably be the best two-way player in the NHL, and if the Bruins can have a strong second half and make the playoffs, No. 37 will be in the Hart Trophy conversation as league MVP.
The Ray Bourque Award (Best All-Around Defenseman) — Zdeno Chara — Considering he’s the team’s No. 1 defenseman by a long shot, it’s no surprise that captain gets the nod here. Chara’s speed and agility have clearly taken a hit from Father Time, but the 2009 Norris Trophy winner is finding ways to adjust on most nights. There have been nights where maybe he tries too hard to do so and gets burnt or turns the puck over, but Chara’s hockey sense and size have him playing like the former Bruins captain whose No. 77 hangs in the rafters. Chara enters Tuesday with five goals and 17 assists for 23 points and leads the team with a plus-minus of five.
The ‘Chief’ Award (Most Goals) — Patrice Bergeron; Brad Marchand — In honor of the organization’s all-time leading goal scorer, Johnny ‘Chief’ Bucyk, we give the ‘Chief’ award to the current team’s lamplighter. As the Bruins begin the second half of the season, Marchand and Bergeron will have to share the award as both have 15 goals. If both remain healthy, and Marchand doesn’t get suspended again, they, along with Loui Eriksson (if he’s still a Bruin) — who has 14 goals — could be sharing the award in April and all could reach or surpass the 30-goal plateau.
The Derek Sanderson Award (The Spark-Plug) — Brad Marchand — As noted by many Bruins following their Winter Classic debacle, the team could’ve used their resident spark-plug Brad Marchand to wake them out of their doldrums and prevent them from that embarrassing 5-1 loss. Just as Sanderson did in the days of the ‘Big Bad Bruins’, Marchand, with his agitating style and ability to get clutch goals, has proven to be not only the ‘Little Ball Of Hate’ but the spark his team needs to snap out of funks.
The ‘Taz’ (The Grittiest) — Matt Beleskey — Beleskey was one of the big free agent signings last summer and coming off a 22-goal season, there were expectations he could get 25, maybe even 30 goals this season. Well, after a 13-game scoring drought earlier in the season and now mired in a six-game slump, it appears with only seven goals, it’s even a reach for him to match his 22 goals last season with the Ducks. But while Beleskey hasn’t been lighting the lamp, he has been a wrecking ball, and with the exception of Bergeron, maybe the team’s hardest working forward. Beleskey’s physical and tenacious play, much like that of Bruins great Terry ‘Taz’ O’Reilly, earns him the midseason award of team’s grittiest player.
The ‘Rat’ Award (Best Pest) — Brad Marchand & Zac Rinaldo — Ken ‘The Rat’ Linesman was arguably the best pest in the NHL during his career that spanned over 15 years. The former Bruin and Stanley Cup Champion (with the Oilers), had an uncanny knack to get under not just an opposing player’s skin but the collective skin of an opposing team. That’s exactly what Marchand and Rinaldo have been doing this season, and like Linesman, Marchand continues to prove he can score as well. While both have crossed the line at times this season — with Marchand getting suspended for three games recently, and Rinaldo coming close earlier in the season — overall, they have done their job of being agitators and drawing penalties from opponents. With more power play opportunities, the Bruins had the best power play in the league, scoring at a 28.1 percent clip after 41 games.
The Brad Park Award (Best Offensive Defenseman) — Torey Krug — With 40 points in 2013-14 and 39 points last season, the 24-year old blue liner has shown he can produce offense from the blue line and he appears ready to match or surpass those totals this season. Krug has three goals and 17 assists for 20 points at the halfway point. He continues to prove he can be the type of defenseman that knows when to jump into the play and how to generate offensive chances as he helps carry the puck into the offensive zone.
The Adam Oates Award (Best Playmaker) — David Krejci — Despite missing the last six games with an upper-body injury, Krejci is still third on the team in points with 33 and second in assists with 22. Like Adam Oates did in his career, Krejci, at times, seems to have eyes on the back of his head, and always seems to know where to put the puck. His hockey instincts are incredible, and he continues to be the best playmaker on the team. Ryan Spooner — who has been filling in for Krejci — is starting to develop into a solid playmaker too and deserves mention here.
The Cam Neely Award (Comeback Player Of The Year) — Loui Eriksson — After playing just 22 games over the course of two seasons thanks to a variety of injuries, current Bruins President Cam Neely made a story book comeback in the 1993-94 season when he scored 50 goals in 49 games. Eriksson hasn’t even come close to suffering through the injury hardship that Neely did in the last five seasons of his Hall of Fame career, and he won’t be scoring 50 goals in 49 games or even 50 goals over 82 games. But he has made a solid comeback from an underwhelming first three seasons in Boston. With the fact he became a Bruin in the Tyler Seguin trade forever hanging over him and then suffering from concussion issues, Eriksson just couldn’t find his stride in Boston. But now, as he heads into unrestricted free agency this summer, Eriksson has 14 goals and 30 points, seemingly poised to surpass his best Bruin goal total of 22 and hit pay-dirt on the free agent market.
— The Bruins aren’t the only team slumping through the dog days of the NHL season, and they can be thankful they’re not their arch-rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. In a span of four days, the Canadiens organization — who prides themselves as being one of the classiest in sports — found themselves dealing with controversy on top of their recent struggles on the ice. On Saturday, defenseman P.K. Subban let his frustrations boil over in a profanity-laced rant and on Monday afternoon, he stood by his words but did regret the profanity. Have to say, this scribe loves Subban’s passion and has no problem with him letting it show!
On Tuesday, the controversy the Habs faced was much more serious than some naughty language as news broke that the girlfriend of Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk was arrested after police were called to Galchenyuk’s apartment room in a downtown Montreal hotel to break up an all-night party. The Journal de Montreal reported that Galchenyuk’s girlfriend had shown up and found him in bed with two other women. After a heated argument, she reportedly punched the Montreal winger and the third pick overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in the nose. When the police arrived, Galchenyuk had a bloody nose and his girlfriend was arrested.
Montreal Gazette sports editor and writer Stu Cowan had Max Pacioretty speaking about the incident and how to deal with temptation and fame as a Canadien in Montreal.
— The Canucks ended the Panthers’ recent win streak at 12 games Monday night, and after Daniel Sedin scored the overtime winner, he almost ignited an old school bench-clearing brawl. Here’s the Panthers broadcast version where color analyst and Hall of Famer Dennis Potvin loses it in a peanut butter laced rant.
— Finally, embedded below is a moving and inspirational tweet from Boston Pride player Denna Laing, who suffered serious spinal injuries and trauma in the New Year’s Eve game at Gillette Stadium between the Pride and the Montreal Les Canadiennes. Get well, Denna!
— Denna Laing (@dlaing14) January 12, 2016
Is it any surprise who we feature in ‘Puck Rocks’ this week? RIP David Bowie. Thank you for inspiring all of us to be ourselves and think outside the box!