|Loui Eriksson Entering Contract Season||Judge Berman to Rule On Brady Within Next Two Days||Connelly’s Top Ten: Red Sox Can’t Bunt, Brady Scares New England, Decorated War Vets Come to Boston||Joe Kelly and His Moustache Continue to Impress|
With 50 games in the books, the 2010-2011 Boston Bruins season has already past its halfway point. It seems like just yesterday that the team was over on their season-opening European trip, kicking off the season with a pair of games in Prague, splitting them with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Months later, your hometown hockey squad sits atop the NHL’s Northeast Division with 63 points, four better than second place Montreal. They are on a 103-point pace, which would be a 12-point improvement over last season. Currently sitting in the third seed in the hotly contested Eastern Conference, the Bruins rank right up there with the other big guns of the East, with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, and upstart Tampa Bay.
So with the All-Star festivities now behind us, now seems as good a time as any to assess how each Bruin has performed so far this season. While I still don’t see this Bruins team bringing home their first Stanley Cup in nearly 40 years, at least as their roster is currently constituted, I think Bruins fans have to be pleased with their success rate thus far this year. A move or two before the February 28th trade deadline, and maybe come June, the team will be parading through the streets of Boston on the Duck Boats, with an NHL championship to their credit. A boy can dream, can’t he?
(Disagree with any of these grades? Feel free to yell at me in the “Comments” section!)
The team’s points leader finally looks like he’s completely symptom-free of any and all post-concussion after-effects. He’s the most versatile player on the roster, adding positive contributions in power play, penalty kill, and even strength situations. He just makes everyone better around him… and he’s still only 25 years old.
He’s already set a new career high with 20 goals, and he’s got 32 more games left to play. His 18.9% shot percentage is a team-best, and without his offensive production, who knows where this team would be in the standings.
One of just seven Bruins to play in all 50 of the team’s games, Thornton’s provided a spark offensively from the fourth line, already setting a new career high with seven goals on the year. On top of the unexpected offense, he’s still maintained that “enforcer” status, leading the team with 81 penalty minutes, always willing to drop the gloves when the time is right.
At 42 years old, Mark Recchi continues to do things on the ice that players half his age, literally, still dream of accomplishing. He’s third on the team in assists, fourth on the team in points, and he leads the team with six game-winning goals. He maintains that this is his last season of hockey, but at the rate he’s going, why stop?
Tyler Seguin was clearly the Bruins rookie with the most hype coming into the year, but as the All Star break came and went, it’s Brad Marchand who has climbed the ranks as Boston’s next up-and-coming star. Marchand has split his time between the fourth line with Thornton and Gregory Campbell and the second line with Bergeron and Recchi, adding energy and pop to wherever he’s asked to play in the lineup. Big things are expected from him now, from here on out.
I’ve long been a Ryder hater, but this season he hasn’t been as awful as I usually expect… maybe because it’s a contract year and he’s playing for a new deal. Nonetheless, #73 leads the team with seven power play goals, and while we’ll probably never see him score 30 goals in a season ever again like he did twice in Montreal, he’s at least on pace to fly past his putrid 33-point total from last season.
Coming in from Florida with Nathan Horton, as the son of NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell, I was ready and willing to dislike Gregory Campbell from the start. I thought of him as a “throw-in,” and would’ve rather seen one of the young centers in Providence, like Joe Colborne or Zach Hamill, get a shot at the NHL level instead. But I was wrong about Campbell: I’ve liked every part of his game, especially his talents on the penalty kill. He has definitely been an upgrade over the fourth line centers of the past… i.e. Steve Begin and Stephane Yelle.
I really want to like Blake Wheeler as a player, I really, really do. But like Ryder, I am always left wanting more when it comes to Wheeler. At 6’5”, he’s got the potential to be a force on the ice, but instead, he seems ok with just being a mediocre second/third-line winger who will give you maybe 15-20 goals a year. He’s improving year to year, but I was just hoping for so much more from him.
He started the season off great, playing like the top line center he’s been hyped up to be. But after a concussion caused him to miss a few games, Krejci hasn’t seemed to get the scoring touch back. He has just seven goals, the same amount as fourth-liners Thornton and Campbell. If the B’s are going to make any noise in the playoffs, guys like David Krejci will have to elevate their game and start producing at a higher level.
I was as supportive of the Horton/Campbell-for-Wideman/draft pick trade as anyone, but Nathan Horton has to be the most frustrating player on the Bruins roster right now. He scored seven goals in his first 12 games, and he had me thinking that this trade was the steal of the century, but with five goals over his last 38 games, Horton’s going to have to kick it up a notch if he’s going to reach the 20-goal plateau for his sixth straight season.
The highly touted rookie was sure to have some bumps in the road during his rookie campaign, but all in all, Tyler Seguin has been an adequate member of the Bruins this season. No one can doubt his speed and his puck-handling ability, and I think it’s only a matter of time before his production takes off. Finding a permanent home on a consistent forward line would probably be a benefit for him, instead of jumping from line to line, and from wing to center.
Caron was unfortunately the odd man out when some of the Bruin veterans got healthy and returned to the lineup. The rookie played in 20 games for the big club, racking up seven points before being sent down to the Baby B’s in Providence. There’s no doubt Caron will be a Boston Bruin next season, once the likes of Recchi, Ryder, and Wheeler are potentially all off the books and on to free agency, but for now, a little more grooming and fine tuning in Providence probably is a good thing for the young winger.
I’m starting to doubt that we’ll see the Marc Savard that was one of the league’s top playmakers ever again. Savard, again sidelined with another concussion, his second in less than a year, has the rest of his season in doubt, and maybe, that’s for the better. He’s been a shadow of his former self, he has just a pair of goals in 25 games played, and ranks a team-worst -7 in plus/minus. Sad to say, but giving Savard a huge, new contract before the season may turn out to be a decision that haunts the B’s for years to come.
Maybe the saddest part of Savard being injured again is the fact that it means that Daniel Paille has to be in the lineup instead. Again, I’d much rather see his roster spot manned by someone like Caron, Colborne, or even Jamie Arniel, but instead, Claude Julien opts for Paille, a guy that hasn’t lit the lamp once this season, and seems to contribute nothing to the team that someone else can’t handle instead. All for a $1.1 million cap hit the next two seasons. Bummer…
Statistically, the captain may not be having his best year as a pro, but ask any opposing forward that goes against him and they’ll tell you, Zdeno Chara is a force that few enjoy reckoning with. His record-setting slap shot speed aside, Chara’s talents go far beyond what you see on the stat sheet, shutting down his side of the ice with ease, pinning opponents to the boards, poking pucks away with his huge reach, and anchoring the league’s top defensive unit, allowing a league-best 2.14 goals against per game. Chara’s +22 plus/minus rating ranks him tie for fourth in the NHL, and the team’s success is largely because of the stellar play of their captain.
There’s a lot to like about Seidenberg’s game. He’s fearless when it comes to blocking shots, leading the team in that department, and ranking among the tops in the league for yet another year. He does a lot of the little things it takes to be a successful NHL player, a lot of the dirty work that many hockey players just aren’t willing to do. Very underrated, in my opinion.
He has quickly become one of my favorite Bruins, and that says a lot, seeing that I had never heard of the guy before the preseason. Just 22 years old, Steve Kampfer has 25 games under his belt now as a Bruin, and his play has made it very difficult for Peter Chiarelli to decide to throw him back to Providence. Keep it up, and the former Michigan Wolverine standout will have a roster spot with his name on it from here on out.
Stop the presses! Andrew Ference has only missed three games this season! He has been hurt so much as a Bruin over the years, it was mind-boggling why the Bruin front office handed the fragile Ference a three-year, $7.75 million contract heading into the season. But to our surprise, Ference hasn’t disappointed, armed with a +18 rating and helping to provide some veteran leadership to his younger blue line brethren.
Once Matt Hunwick was sent packing to Colorado to free up cap space, Adam McQuaid had himself a full time job in Boston, and he hasn’t taken that for granted one bit. While he hasn’t found the back of the net yet this season, the young defenseman has contributed in other ways… namely with his fists. His physical, gritty play has made him a favorite of a Boston fan base that loves that style like no other.
The sophomore slump has hit #55 this season, as Boychuk hasn’t had much success building off the impressive rookie campaign he put together last year. If he doesn’t improve soon, some of the other youngsters on the back end, like Kampfer and McQuaid, may leap-frog him on the depth chart and leave Boychuk up in the press box as a healthy scratch.
I can’t see Mark Stuart as a Bruin much longer. Granted, he’s battled injuries this season, limiting him to just 29 games, but even when Stuart has been on the ice, he’s seemed to lack that energy and edge he’s been known for through his career here in Boston. With just a few months left on his contract, Stuart will have to turn up the intensity to A) avoid being scratched from the lineup, and B) avoid being sent packing, either to another team or down to Providence.
Clearly the team MVP to this point, if he keeps it up, the league may have to consider giving him the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP as well. Thomas has come back from off-season hip surgery this year to lead the NHL in nearly every major statistical category, namely his miniscule 1.81 goals against average and stellar .945 save percentage. Without Thomas, there is no doubt the Bruins would be at least 10 points lower in the standings, guaranteed. He’s playing at a level where he can single-handedly steal a playoff series from a team with more talent than the Bruins have. The Vezina is his to lose, and seriously, that Hart Trophy may also have his name on it when the season is through.
Put him on almost any other NHL team and he’d be their #1 goalie. But instead, Rask has been the tough luck loser in so many of his starts this season. The 4-10-1 record is very misleading… the Bruins just don’t seem to give Rask the same goal support as they do for Thomas. Rask’s .923 save pct. still ranks 9th in the league and his 2.67GAA puts him ahead of several #1 goalies around the NHL. He might not be having the standout season he had a year ago, but as far as I’m concerned, his best days as a Bruin are still yet to come.