By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If we weren’t in the dog days of August, we could probably elicit a vintage Jack Edwards rant out of the Bruins’ play-by-play mouth by showing him the Bovada odds for 2018-19 NHL Most Valuable Player.
Thirty-four players are listed, from Edmonton’s Connor McDavid at 10/3 to four players (including Boston’s David Pastrnak) at 100/1 to win the Hart Trophy. But one major name from Bruins territory is missing – Patrice Bergeron.
Oh, the humanity!
I’m sure at some point ole Jack will have something to say about the oversight, just as I’m sure I wouldn’t have to search too hard on Twitter to find plenty of rants from Bruins fans and other journalists on this matter. It is kind of an odd snub considering Bergeron had 27 goals and 27 assists in 54 games when he left the lineup with a fractured foot following a loss in Buffalo on Feb. 25. The Bruins center was playing his usual brand of Superman-level two-way hockey, and with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on his wing, they formed the most dangerous line in the NHL last season.
Bergeron was on all the experts’ top-three or top-five lists for the Hart, and many had him winning the award for the surprising Bruins. Had he not missed 13 games in March with an injury, Bergeron probably would’ve gone to Las Vegas in June in contention for more than just the Selke.
Now five months after being a Hart favorite before having his campaign derailed by an errant puck to the foot, Bergeron isn’t even able to crack the top 34? I guess what happens in Vegas stays there, and a lot of it is unexplainable.
Nonetheless, the Bruins have two players on the list, and they just happen to be Bergeron’s linemates from one season ago. There’s the aforementioned Pastrnak, who is tied for the longest odds with Vegas’ Jonathan Marchessault, Florida’s Aleksander Barkov and Dallas’ Alexander Radulov. I’m not in any way, shape or form encouraging you to wager your money on anything, but Pastrnak might be able to improve his odds this season if he’s given the keys to drive his own line.
The Bruins undoubtedly will try to pry Pastrnak away from the Bergeron/Marchand pair this fall at training camp. With the way their lineup is shaping up, that’s the best Plan A to balance out their lines. Until injuries ran rampant through their lineup during camp last fall, Anders Bjork was going to fill the right side of Bergeron/Marchand and Jake DeBrusk was going to be the left side of Pastrnak/David Krejci. We know how things went from there, as the Bruins had to mix and match and coach Bruce Cassidy became reliant on the almost automatic offense of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak.
In the playoffs against Tampa Bay, the Bruins’ structure met its match and the Lightning were able to render the Bruins’ secondary offense nonexistent.
Pastrnak, who had 80 points (35 goals, 45 assists) in 82 games last season, is entering the second year of his six-year contract worth $6.66 million per season. As I expressed at the time he signed that contract last fall, that type of money shouldn’t get allocated to a player who is going to ride shotgun with the Bruins’ two other best offensive players. The Bruins have to spread the wealth and, even as a wing, Pastrnak has to help turn the Bruins into at least a two-line force.
It’s become cliché to say Krejci needs a talented, steady wing, but every center regardless of talent level needs that to thrive. Putting the ultra-skilled Pastrnak with Krejci, regardless of their past misconnections, could be just what it takes to make sure Krejci, at 32 years old, is able to play at his highest level on a nightly basis. The Bruins have to at least give DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak another shot this fall. If Pastrnak can be a point-per-game guy on line 1B, he’ll be in the conversation for the Hart.
And then there’s Marchand, the other Bruin on Bovada’s list, at 25/1. There’s not much to say here. Marchand ranked 13th in the NHL with 85 points (34 goals, 51 assists) last season and he was among the top 10 or so Hart candidates from start to finish. Of course, his five-game suspension for elbowing Marcus Johannson disqualified him on some writers’ “choir boys only” list of MVPs. Long after the ballots were cast, Marchand went on his kissing and licking binge in the postseason, further tarnishing his reputation.
Before he left for the summer, Marchand vowed to grow up and clean up his act. If he does that and stays healthy, you’re looking at a 40-45-goal scorer with defensive skills that should have already earned him more Selke attention than they have. Whether you agree that Marchand’s extracurricular activities should cost him consideration, voters are human and they’re going to be easily influenced when someone’s picking off opponents’ heads with elbows or low-bridging players on a yearly basis.
A clean-cut Marchand, however, should be in the thick of the MVP race right up until the final minutes of the regular season.
Of course, if Marchand is having the type of year the Bruins hope, Bergeron will probably be his right-hand man along the way. Bergeron may be off the board in the eyes of Vegas, but that won’t keep him from possibly having another prolific season and making it difficult for Hart voters to ignore him.
The way Bergeron’s career has gone, you can almost bet on that happening.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.