Brad Marchand will not win the Hart Trophy this year, nor should he. Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov has had a season for the ages, being the best player on the league’s best team by a mile and he will undoubtedly take home the Hart in June.
But if Marchand doesn’t get a trip to Vegas for the Awards Night, then a lot of voters will have missed the boat on not just how good a season he’s had, but how important it was for the Bruins for him to have it.
The league invites the top three vote-getters in each category to Vegas for a few days of fun in the sun before the red carpet event, and Marchand, in these eyes, should be in those top three for the league’s MVP, maybe even in the top two, right behind Kucherov. Perhaps the only player I’d slip in between Kucherov and Marchand on the ballot would be Nathan MacKinnon, but that’s about it.
While playing on one of the best lines in the league, Marchand has had to deal lengthy losses of both his linemates through the course of the season. Patrice Bergeron missed five weeks in the first half of the season, David Pastrnak was lost for the same time in the second half, but that didn’t prevent Marchand from posting his first 100-point season.
On top of the that, Marchand’s line pretty much had to carry this team offensively for the first half of the season when some rookie hopefuls failed to grab open spots, second-year players went through their predictable slumps and injuries on the back end, especially to Charlie McAvoy, curtailed offensive contributions from the blue line.
If Marchand didn’t have the season that he did, the Bruins might have been playing for their playoffs in their season finale against Tampa on Saturday.
Marchand has not only been a key cog in the Bruins’ top-five power-play in the league, he continues to be a major part of the team’s penalty kill, something none of the other players in the Hart conversation can say, including Kucherov and MacKinnon. That’s unless you count Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, fellow members of the century club who have missed the playoffs again. In these eyes, failing to make the postseason is not an eliminating factor (McDavid’s sublime talent will put him at the bottom this voter’s ballot of five) but it is a significant demerit.
And while some who’ve watched the longtime agitator and his antics from afar all these years might roll their eyes at this notion, Marchand has unquestionably become a leader on this team. That was clear when he took righteous exception to the Capitals’ Lars Eller’s hot-dogging in in the latter stages of Washington’s 7-0 rout of the Bruins on opening night. A drop of the gloves — nearly as rare for Marchand as it is Eller — was due. That may sound a bit barbaric to some of the young folk, but it sure beats what might have been Marchand’s response in previous years.
After that, there was little surprise that the B’s responded with a solid road victory in Buffalo the next night.
Without a suspension or anything close, Marchand made good on his vow last May to examine and correct some of his behavior, and the results show that he was the better player for it.
Marchand has always brought more to the table than his mouth and occasional cheap shots, more than his critics across the league wanted to admit, but this year he was simply one of the very best players in the National Hockey League, no qualifiers needed.
He should be recognized as such.
Wings on track
It’s dangerous to give too much credence to a late season winning streak by a team out of playoff contention. It rarely translates into real success the following season. The Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres, famous for their late season pushes, didn’t even bother to tease their fans down the stretch.
But forgive me for believing that the Detroit Red Wings are at least on the right track. They had won eight-of-nine and beat both the B’s and Penguins when both of those teams still had tangible things for which to play.
That’s not to say that the Wings will be ready to break through the Atlantic Division top three of the Lightning, Bruins and Maple Leafs next year. They still have major issues on the blue line and need to find their next starting goalie. But their first two lines, especially the top unit of Dylan Larkin centering Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi, gave the B’s fits last Sunday.
And the Wings have also been a hard-working, competitive team on most nights, earning their coach Jeff Blashill a two-year extension, despite missing the playoffs the last three seasons. But with the bottoming out of this proud organization inevitable after losses of players like Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, patience to these eyes looks like the prudent path in Blashill’s case.
Sather ripple effect
Glen Sather announced last week he is stepping down as president of the New York Rangers. That naturally called into question the future of GM Jeff Gorton. In an interview with the New York Post, Sather said that Gorton’s job was safe, but who knows what happens a year or two into the new president’s reign if the rebuild’s trajectory zig-zags at all. But with the Blueshirts in the pivotal stages of their rebuild it would seem foolish to allow the new man to jettison Gorton.
After two seasons as sellers at the trade deadline, the Rangers have five picks in the first two rounds of this June’s draft. Considering that Gorton’s fingerprints are still on this Bruins team (Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask) over a decade after his departure from Causeway Street, it’s clear that the Melrose native is a pretty decent talent evaluator. The Rangers should allow him to see the rebuild through to fruition.
Speaking of the Sabres, it looks like the trade of Ryan O’Reilly was the mistake it appeared to be when it was made last summer. O’Reilly enjoyed his best season as a pro, posting 75 points going into the regular season finale on Saturday. He could win the Selke this year. And along with goalie Jordan Binnington, spearheaded the Blues’ second half run through the Central Division after a poor start. The Sabres looked like they’d turned a corner when they won 10 straight, but they’ve been a disaster since then. They’re learning that when an organization tanks as it did four years ago when they got Jack Eichel, it’s not so easy to break out of that losing mindset.