SUNRISE, Fla. — David Pastrnak is on a pace for 58 goals and 113 points this season and is currently leading the NHL with 47 goals scored through 67 games played this year.
The 23-year-old right winger will be the first Bruins player in nearly 30 years to hit the 50-goal mark when it inevitably happens this month, and could be just the third NHL player to hit the 60-goal mark in the last 20 years joining Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos.
Given all the above and with a month to go in the season, the Bruins right winger certainly should be in the discussion for the Hart Trophy, handed to the NHL’s most valuable player. With a strong finish, Pastrnak should absolutely be one of the three finalists for the league’s most prestigious award.
So why does it feel like No. 88 is being given the Rodney Dangerfield treatment for the Hart Trophy across the league where he can’t get any respect for the NHL’s top prize?
It feels like all the talk from national media is about Leon Draisaitl already having the award locked up, and if it’s not him, then it should go to Nathan MacKinnon or Artemi Panarin.
Pastrnak has four hat tricks, is second in multi-point games to Draisaitl and has opened up games with a goal on 15 different occasions this season, ranking only behind St. Louis Blues great Brett Hull in NHL history in that single-season category. Pastrnak scores big goals at big times in games for the Bruins and he’s done it all season.
Certainly, nobody within the Bruins organization is downplaying Pastrnak’s candidacy or worthiness as a Hart candidate. Bruce Cassidy was asked about it earlier this week and answered as one would expect about a dynamic game-breaker who’s consistently brought offense to the Bruins from beginning to end this season.
“He should get some consideration. There are different ways that some people look at that and whether he’s the most valuable player on the team. If you took that player off the team, are they [going to still be good]? I think we have a lot of good players that we rely on to perform, but he’s certainly done his part and more,” said Cassidy, when asked about Pastrnak’s candidacy for the Hart Trophy. “I think it’s a lot to do with his physical development where he’s stronger on pucks and able to absorb more hits. He gets into traffic and almost initiates contact. He can get through that a lot easier than he did maybe two or three years ago.
“Confidence within the league and chemistry on his line, I think, contribute to all of that too. That’s grown over time and allowed the goal totals to grow for sure.”
In Edmonton, the talk is about what to do with two worthy Hart Trophy candidates in Draisaitl and Connor McDavid on the same Oilers roster. It would seem like an NHL roster with two Hart-level players would at least be leading a weak Pacific Division for most of the season, but that really hasn’t been the case in Edmonton.
Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon and New York Rangers winger Artemi Panarin will get strong consideration as well, and Toronto center Auston Matthews and Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin are going to finish with massive numbers when it’s all said and done.
Either way, Draisaitl is most definitely the front-runner for the Hart Trophy and rightfully so. He’s the only player who's got over 100 points already this season and with a strong finish, his final numbers could be in the 50-goal, 130-point range.
He leads the NHL in assists (65), points (108), power play points (44) and is tied with Pastrnak with 10 game-winning goals on the season. Both Draisaitl and Pastrnak derive roughly 40 percent of their offense from the power play, so they are about equally reliant on special teams for their offensive numbers.
Certainly, the offensive totals will be difficult to ignore or cast away, just as Draisaitl’s role on some excellent Edmonton special teams units can’t be ignored either.
But there are some other things to consider with the German-born Oilers forward.
The vast majority of his offense includes major involvement with McDavid and much of it has come on a power play with McDavid this season. Draisaitl and McDavid would be the only candidates to receive consideration who have negative plus/minus totals this season and Draisaitl would be the first player in NHL history to win the Hart Trophy as a minus player.
That’s right. No player with a negative plus/minus has ever won the Hart Trophy in the history of the NHL.
Certainly, there are people that discount plus/minus completely and Draisaitl still has time to at least claw into the positive numbers with a month to go in the season. Ovechkin won the Hart Trophy in 2013-14 with a paltry plus-2 rating.
Naysayers or not, plus/minus is a time-honored reflection on even strength play and defensive ability, like it or not.
As for Pastrnak, he’s accounted for 21.3 percent (47-of-220) of his team’s goal-scoring output this season while clearly driving the offense for the rest of the Bruins.
Draisaitl is at an even 20 percent with 43 of Edmonton’s 214 goals scored on the season, and MacKinnon is at a distant 15 percent (34-of-226) of Colorado’s 226 goals scored this season. Pastrnak also has 18 more goals than the next Bruins player down the list (Patrice Bergeron at 29 goals) while Draisaitl has just 11 more goals than McDavid.
It’s clear that Draisaitl and McDavid are a fairly equal 1-2 punch. It is just as clear that the dynamic Pastrnak has consistently driven the Perfection Line to essentially outscore opponents by a 2-to-1 margin this season when they are on the ice. Both Bergeron and Brad Marchand are very good players, but Pastrnak has been a cut above them for the entirety of this season, scoring in myriad ways.
"Yeah, I don't think there's any doubt that he can be MVP," said Charlie Coyle. "He's that good of a player. We're lucky to have a guy like him. He's a heck of a player. He just has fun with it. (He has) so much skill, and when he works with that skill, it's a deadly combination.
“Just how he reads the game and jumps into plays, the moves that he has in his arsenal. He has so much, and you never know what he's going to pull off. He's got a couple good linemates to play with and they just complement each other so well, so they can play kinda free. They do a lot for us."
There’s also the argument that Draisaitl plays in all situations for the Oilers while Pastrnak doesn’t play on the penalty kill for the B’s. This is technically true, of course. But can you really trumpet Draisaitl’s PK work when he ranks 11th on the Oilers in shorthanded ice time? Essentially, he takes face-offs for the Oilers on the penalty kill and then gets off the ice in short order while averaging 53 seconds of shorthanded ice time per game. It’s a mark in the Edmonton center’s favor, but it’s not a decisive one at all.
Some of it actually comes down to Pastrnak breaking the stereotype of expectations for a Bruins player.
Nobody in Black and Gold has won the Hart Trophy since Phil Esposito in 1973-74 and nobody in a B’s uniform was putting up big offensive numbers during the 10-year period when former head coach Claude Julien was slapping the blinders on his offensive players with a defense-first mentality. They won a Cup playing that way, but nobody on the Bruins roster was ever going to rack up video game numbers.
There’s a reason nobody on the Bruins scored 100 points or finished among the league leaders in goals scored during Julien’s tenure in Boston, and it all came down to his system and the way he deployed his players.
It’s a different era for the Bruins now with Pastrnak doing things hitherto undreamt of in a Black and Gold sweater while plopping himself in the middle of the Hart Trophy conversation.
It’s way past time that Pastrnak earned that respect around the hockey world and is prominently included in the Hart Trophy conversation.