By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
This one should make the boys from north of the border roll their eyes and make a large percentage of voters from the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association throw up in their mouths a little bit.
Bruins forward Brad Marchand deserves your consideration for the Hart Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the National Hockey League. Don’t think on that one too long, folks, because it’s the truth.
Even before the first game was played this season, talking heads and writers – especially of the Canadian variety – were already narrowing the Hart race down to Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. Crosby leads the NHL in goals with 34; McDavid leads in points with 74. San Jose’s Brent Burns is having an amazing season as a defenseman, with 67 points in 65 games, and he earned his status as the annual midseason party-crasher in the Hart discussion.
All three of the above-mentioned players are valuable in a multitude of ways, but it’s hard to make the case that they’re all more valuable than Marchand.
After scoring twice in the Bruins’ 6-1 destruction of Detroit on Wednesday at TD Garden, Marchand has 70 points. He’s tied for second in the NHL scoring race and is two off the goals pace being set by Crosby. Marchand is the first Bruins player to reach 70 points since Marc Savard (88) and David Krejci (73) surpassed that total in 2008-09.
If he keeps up his current pace, Marchand can be the first Bruins player to average a point per game since Savard. But he’s not getting too far ahead of himself.
“It’d be a huge accomplishment,” he said after the Bruins stayed within four points of Ottawa for second place and moved four points ahead of Toronto in the Atlantic Division standings. “It doesn’t happen very often but we’re still a long ways away from that. I’ve gone 15 games without a goal, that could be the rest of the year. Hopefully that doesn’t happen. Hopefully with the way our team is playing right now and guys stepping up every night we’re not going to have to rely on that.”
Marchand was streaky in the past but this season he’s been a model of consistency. He hasn’t gone more than two consecutive games without getting at least one point. He has six goals and 10 points in his past seven games, and 13 goals and 23 points in his past 15 games.
The Bruins are 16-4-4 when Marchand scores a goal and 27-13-6 when he records a point. Pretty impressive for a player who just six years ago started the season on the fourth line and was once expected to not be more than a middle-line grinder with some speed and a penchant for pissing people off.
Marchand admitted he didn’t expect to be considered among the League’s elite when he was working his way up the organizational depth chart.
“I think again I’m just playing with elite players and in our group you’re expected to play the same level as those guys. And I’ve been fortunate enough to play with great players for a long time now,” Marchand said.
Somewhere along the way the brash “little ball of hate” became a modest mouse. Given the opportunity to publicly declare his greatness and the fact that he’s proven all the pundits wrong, he passed. So it’s left up to others to sing his praises, including his new head coach, who’s 9-3-0 thanks in large part to Marchand’s march to the top of the scoring charts.
“So it’s certainly not a surprise with the time and effort he’s put into improving his game, both on and off the ice,” Bruce Cassidy said. “And he’s a leader on our team, he’s a guy we rely on to play in all situations. We’ve built up his power play role this year, that’s helped his offensive game as well – those little plays around the net. But the other parts of his game – his penalty killing has always been solid, he can play against anybody, will play against anybody and can probably play with anybody.”
Marchand seemingly turned his reputation around at the World Cup, but once he got back in a Bruins sweater he got back to agitating opponents almost as much making them pay with his speed and hands. He earned a fine for a slew foot in January, and days later was involved in a collision that didn’t even warrant a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety but raised some eyebrows. No matter how much he matures, Marchand is never going to be the choir boy Crosby and McDavid are made out to be.
But that’s the way the Bruins want Marchand to play and it’s worked out well for both sides. In a game that prides itself on toughness as much as skill, Marchand should get more credit for mixing it up with his body while still producing at such an elite level. And that’s why when you’re talking about the Hart, you have to include Marchand.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.