Bruins

It's time for Bergeron to get some love for the Hart Trophy

It's time for Bergeron to get some love for the Hart Trophy

BRIGHTON, Mass – Ask modest, team-oriented Patrice Bergeron about any potential consideration for the Hart Trophy at year’s end, and you’ll get a player that’s understandably uncomfortable at talking himself up.

“I don’t have any thoughts on it, to be honest with you,” said a fairly sheepish Bergeron. “I’m not really thinking about it. There are 30 games left. I’ll leave that up to you guys to discuss. To me it’s not really something…it’s a team game, and that’s how I want it to be.”

But the good thing for the 32-year-old Bruins superstar is that he’s got a whole host of teammates, coaches and bosses in upper management that are more than willing to sing endless praises about Bergeron, and why he’s so valuable to the Black and Gold. 

“I would love it. It would be awesome for him. He is a terrific person,” said Cassidy. “The Selke [Trophy] is basically his to lose every single year with no disrespect to [Anze] Kopitar and [Jonathan] Toews, they’re both great players. But Bergeron has put his stamp on that trophy, and it would be nice to do that with the Hart. 

“It tends to go for more scoring players, so that will be a hurdle that he’ll have to get over. But hopefully he’ll have won over enough people around the league in terms of being up there with the point totals. It’s tough because there are great candidates every year. I don’t think there’s ever a bad choice to win the Hart, but it’s great that he’s in that conversation. It’s great that [Brad] Marchand was in it last season.”

And why not for all of the things that go into the Bruins center being one of the ultimate winning players in the entire NHL, and for this season where Bergeron has exploded with 13 goals in 15 games since the beginning of January. 

Bergeron is on pace for a career-high 40 goals and 75 points this season, and that goes along with his customary high-effort, two-way play and his continued mastery in the face-off circle. Essentially No. 37 has taken this humble hockey writer’s early season notion that he might be starting to show some signs of decline, and shoved right back in my proverbial pie-hole.

Whether going by conventional stats where Bergeron ranks third in the NHL with a plus-26 and just outside the top-10 with his 24 goals or going by fancy stats where No. 37 really jumps off the page with his puck possession dominance, the offense and defense has been in perfect balance for the perfect player this season.  

So it really should be that Bergeron finally gets serious Hart Trophy consideration in a season that might turn out to be his best on a Bruins team that might just wind up with the President’s Trophy at the end of the season. 

“He gets rewarded and acknowledged for the Selke Trophy every year and rightfully so. He’s by far the best two-way player in the league. But I think a lot of things with him go unnoticed. He could easily get 100 points a year if he just wanted to cheat and be an offensive player,” said left winger Brad Marchand, who has been Bergeron’s running mate for the last seven seasons. “He’s still up around a point-per-game, and he’s definitely up there in the league if you’re looking around for an MVP. He deserves to be recognized, and I think it goes unnoticed a bit just how important he is to this team…and what he brings to the table each and every game. 

“A lot of guys realize it when they have to play against him, and consistently play against him game after game. It’s very tough to do with how hard he plays, the plays he can make and how he plays defensively. It is time that he gets recognized as one of the best players in the league and as an MVP…because he is [one].”

It will probably take Bergeron continuing to remain pretty hot offensively down the stretch and sticking right around the 0.91 points per game clip that he’s at right now to remain in the conversation. That shouldn’t be much of a problem considering he’s centering the best 200-foot forward line in the entire NHL with a couple of electric offensive talents on either side of him. 

The bottom line is this: This should be the season that a player like Bergeron is recognized for who and what he is, one of the NHL’s best players at both ends of the ice. The Bruins center should have been invited to NHL All-Star weekend last month in Tampa Bay, and now Bergeron should absolutely be in the mix for the Hart Trophy given his massive role in powering all facets for the NHL’s best regular season team.   

There’s no reason No. 37 shouldn’t be the first dual Hart Trophy and  Selke Trophy winner since the great Sergei Federov back in 1994.

While the B’s alternate captain is too focused on teams goals to say it, this humble hockey writer certainly will: It’s time that Bergeron gets his just due in the Hart Trophy voting this season when we’re evaluating just how valuable individual players are to their respective clubs.

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Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

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Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

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Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

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