BOSTON – It seems only appropriate in a season where the Bruins front office has been openly questioned about trading away two natural-born scorers in Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin, the Boston Bruins emerge with both the President’s Trophy and a pair of 30-goal scorers.
It’s only the second time since the trophy’s inception in 1986-87 that the Bruins have secured the NHL’s best regular season record, and the first time in more than 10 years that the Black and Gold have two bona fide 30-goal scorers on their team. Patrice Bergeron became the second 30-goal guy when he notched a goal in the second period of Boston’s 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden, and gave the Bruins a pair of 30 goal guys for the first time in seven years under the defense and balance-conscious coaching of Claude Julien.
It’s the first time the Bruins have had two players hit the 30-goal plateau since the “700 Pound Line” of Joe Thornton, Glenn Murray and Mike Knuble all did it together back in the 2002-03 NHL season.
The message is simple from the Black and Gold.
Hockey pundits say there is no room for goal-scoring artistry in a defensive system like the one Julien preaches, and that is the reason talents like Kessel and Seguin are eventually viewed as imperfect fits for the Bruins way of doing things. Both players hit a career-high 37 goals for the Leafs and Stars respectively this season, and Seguin has led Dallas to a playoff berth in an impressive campaign that’s worthy of some Hart Trophy consideration.
It’s actually beneficial that hockey trades work out for both sides, and that has clearly happened for both Boston and Dallas. Seguin and Rich Peverley have given the Stars speed and star-power, and pushed them over the top as a bottom seed in the playoffs.
Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith are part of a rebuilt right side among the forward group that’s made the Bruins as balanced, and deadly, as they’ve ever been on their top three lines.
Clearly both players were viewed as good fits at intermittent points throughout their Boston careers: the Bruins wanted to re-sign Kessel to a manageable second contract in the $4 million range before he shot his way to Toronto, and the Bruins liked Seguin enough at the time to commit six years and $34.5 million to the former No. 2 overall pick. But in both instances Chiarelli made the ballsy call that the Bruins could survive without their shootout specialists and game-breaking scorers. They traded the two players four years apart from each other for draft picks and more appropriate fits within the Bruins way like Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith.
Those decisions led to two players in Bergeron and Jarome Iginla each potting 30 goals within the Bruins system, and doing it while playing a balanced two-way game with balanced ice time among all players.
“We always seem to be at least in the top six [in the NHL] for goals scored. I guess our scoring is spread out more. Maybe some players that normally, on other teams, would play 22, 24 minutes a game are playing 17 to 19 [for the Bruins],” said Julien. “Give them those extra five minutes—maybe they get those goals, too.
“But as we mentioned before, we’re team oriented. We focus on the big goal, and what it takes to get there. Our guys have bought into that. They don’t really care. I think 30 [goals] is exceptional, and we’ve got two of those this year. [Patrice Bergeron] even said to me he didn’t care at one point whether he got 30 or not. If he went and got the [30th goal against the Sabres] he wouldn’t have cared about staying behind for tomorrow’s game [against the Devils]. That didn’t matter to him. His words to me were the big picture, and that is what I’m worried about right now.”
Those “big picture” decisions have also led to a Bruins team that’s been in the Cup Final in two of the last three years, and is primed for another long run after toasting their President’s Trophy following Saturday’s win over Buffalo.
Clearly it should have been expected with Iginla given that he’s reached 30 goals in each of the last 13 full NHL seasons he’s played – he did fall short during last year’s 48-game lockout season – but Bergeron is the real story. He’s blossomed offensively now that he doesn’t have to play defensive babysitter with Seguin on his line, and has a couple of capable two-way performers on his line in Marchand and Reilly Smith.
It would also seem that his Olympic experience in Sochi has brought his playmaking confidence to a different level. Bergeron is looking to make plays in the offensive zone, but still have the presence of mind to fall back defensively if things quickly change going in the other direction.
His own teammates have noticed the difference while watching him ring up 11 goals and 17 points in his last 13 games, including the sniper strike from the right wing circle in Saturday’s win. In the past Bergeron might have missed on that shot or been weighed down by his defensive responsibilities, but he’s currently in a zone where he’s flowing almost effortlessly from defense to offense, and vice versa.
His teammates have definitely taken notice of this new, confident Bergeron that’s deadly in the offensive zone. He perhaps looks a little more familiar to those that remember Bergeron the prodigy potting a career-high 31 goals for the Bruins back in 2005-06 at the ripe young age of 20 years old.
None of the current Bruins were on that team, and around to witness it firsthand when he was running on a line with Marco Sturm and Brad Boyes.
“I’m happy for him. Before the break he didn’t look like he was going to crack 30 [goals], but after [the] Olympics he came back just like a different player,” said Krejci. “He’s been playing extremely well, so it’s good to have two guys [with] 30 [goals]. Hopefully he can stay hot throughout playoffs.”
Bergeron ranks second behind teammate David Krejci in the NHL in plus/minus with a plus-38 this season, but only Iginla and Anaheim Ducks stud Corey Perry are in the 30 goals/plus-30 club this season. The plus/minus isn’t the end all, be all for hockey statistics, but that combined with prodigious goal-scoring shows off players that showing plenty of attention at both ends of the ice.
For comparison sake, Seguin is a plus-17 this season and Kessel is a minus-5 while they fill it up offensively for their teams. Neither of them is going to be considered a defensive factor like Bergeron, and this humble hockey writer’s guess is that both of them will be golfing by the end of April.
“To me, a player who scores 30 and who is so good defensively—to me, a player that excels at both ends of the ice—those guys are far and few in between. To have that kind of player and see what he’s accomplished this year, [it’s been an] unbelievable year for Bergy,” said Claude Julien. “He’s been outstanding with us. He was outstanding with Team Canada—anybody who watched him at the Olympics. He’s been a great player this year. [This is] probably one of his better years so far.”
That’s right, Patrice “Mr. Perfect” Bergeron is actually improving.
So let’s all stop perpetuating the notion that goal-scorers can’t function or excel in Julien’s system, or co-exist with the selfless, team-oriented dressing room that Chiarelli and Bruins President Cam Neely have helped carefully construct over the last seven years. Bergeron and Iginla might not be at the top of the offensive charts at the end of the season, but the hunch is their team will be playing hockey long after the players with gaudier numbers have been bounced from Lord Stanley’s tournament.
That’s really what it’s all about in the “big picture” final evaluation of trades, free agent signings and team-building, isn’t it?