Haggerty: Marchand's Hart Trophy candidacy is very real

Haggerty: Marchand's Hart Trophy candidacy is very real

With each passing game, the unlikely Hart Trophy candidacy grows for Bruins left winger Brad Marchand.

Marchand picked up the second hat trick of his career in a 6-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night at the Rogers Centre and powered home the tying and winning goals in the comeback for the Black and Gold to kick off their Western Canada trip. 

Marchand is tied with Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead with 35 goals and is tied with Crosby for second in the NHL with a career-high 74 points after his four-point effort Monday night.

The real jewel of the third-period goal explosion was the game-winner, where he pick-pocketed Henrik Sedin and stole the puck from the Canucks captain at the half-wall, dangled it through Alex Edler’s legs on his way to the net and then flipped a backhanded bid past goalie Ryan Miller. 

It was the kind of game-winning, tone-setting play that you typically see from an MVP candidate and it’s exactly the kind of thing Marchand has done on a regular basis while scoring 25 goals in his last 28 games bringing the Black and Gold offense to life.

One of constants of so many of those goals has been the 5-foot-9, 181-pound Marchand attacking the net and going to the danger areas despite usually being the smallest guy out on the ice. He also has tied Patrice Bergeron for the B’s team lead with his seventh game-winning goal of the season. Combine that with the improved vision and puck awareness that’s allowed him to rack up a career-high 39 assists this season, and you have an all-around, elite player in the prime of his career creating an extremely worthy follow-up to last season's “career year” with 37 goals.

“You have to learn to adapt and change and you also pick up different techniques that guys use over the years and find different ways to create some space. Now with the game being quicker and the guys being a little more agile, it’s tough to continually cut back on them in the corner, especially most teams swarm down there and have three or four guys,” said Marchand after Saturday’s win over the Flyers. “You know the big thing is to just try to get the puck out of the area and either change sides, go behind the net and try to find some space. Stuff happens quickly out there and you learn to read plays a little bit better than maybe you did early on and it could be a mix of a few things.”

Clearly, it’s going to be a bit of an uphill battle in Hart Trophy voting for a sometimes-pest in Marchand who's gone way over the edge, and paid the price in suspensions, in his past history in Boston. Fellow elite NHL players, like the aforementioned Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid and Brent Burns, are also posting excellent seasons for playoff-caliber teams. None of them has the complicated, checkered past that Marchand does in a league that sometimes wants everything to be a little too squeaky clean.

But Marchand is on pace for 42 goals and 88 points, has spearheaded this Bruins surge to the playoffs and has raised his profile with Team Canada and NHL All-Star appearances already this season. Provided he can finish strong in the final 14 games, the Nose Face Killah is fully deserving of consideration for the Hart Trophy given to the Most Valuable Player in the league and he’ll get it from this humble hockey writer in a wonderful NHL success story of a guy that’s gone from fourth-line annoyance to elite MVP candidate in seven transformative seasons.

The Hart Trophy candidacy for Boston’s trouble-making Marchand might be a little surprising, but it’s very, very real at this point. 

Morning Skate: Do Caps have mental block come playoff time?

Morning Skate: Do Caps have mental block come playoff time?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while thinking about and praying for the people of Manchester, England. It’s obviously an evil, cowardly act to bomb any public place, but to do it at a concert filled with women and children is the lowest of the low.

*The Capitals players are acknowledging that there’s some kind of mental block with the Stanley Cup playoffs. CSN Mid-Atlantic has all the details.

*It’s been a very odd postseason for the NHL where there are so many non-traditional teams still alive with the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Fina, and the Ottawa Senators fighting for their lives in the Eastern Conference Final. On that note, there is a ton of disappointment at the empty seats at the Canadian Tire Centre for Ottawa’s home games in the playoffs. It sounds like there are going to be empty seats tonight for a do-or-die Game 6 in Ottawa. That is an embarrassment for a Canadian city that’s supposed to pride itself on their love of hockey. Let’s hope the Senators fans have a last-minute surge to buy tickets and show some appreciation for a Senators team that’s given the Ottawa fans a totally unexpected ride through the postseason this spring. I mean, Erik Karlsson at the top of his game is worth the price of admission all by himself.  

*The Pittsburgh Penguins have the Senators on the ropes, and it’s been an impressive showing given that they’re doing it without Kris Letang.

*Pro Hockey Talk has the ownership for the St. Louis Blues giving their GM Doug Armstrong a vote of confidence.

*Another early exit from the playoffs is going to start making some players expendable on the New York Rangers roster.

*Here’s a good piece on how David Poile built the Nashville Predators, who have reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Give credit where it’s due: He manned up and made a big move dealing away Shea Weber straight up for PK Subban. It’s really worked for Music City as they’ve stepped to the next level.

*Speaking of Nashville’s rise this spring in a wide open Western Conference, Pekka Rinne has silenced the critics he might have had by carrying his team to the Cup Final.

*For something completely different: Boston law enforcement is on high alert after the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in the UK.

 

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but it appears the Bruins made a mistake buying out veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg from the final couple of years of his contract. 

Seidenberg just finished up a wildly successful stint with host Team Germany at the IIHF World Championships, where he was named Directorate Best Defenseman (the tournament’s best defenseman) after leading all D-men with a goal and eight points. This came after Seidenberg, at age 35, posted 5 goals and 22 points in 73 games for the Islanders, with whom he signed after being cut loose by the B's, while averaging a shade under 20 minutes per game.  Seidenberg also had an excellent World Cup of Hockey tournament for Team Europe last summer (where he was teamed once again with Zdeno Chara), thus managing to play at a high level from September all the way through May.

A faction of Bruins fans thought he was on the serious decline after the 2015-16 season and, clearly, the Bruins agreed, opting to buy him out with two more years still left on a sizable contract extension. (They owe him $2.16 million next season and then will be charged $1.16 million on their salary cap over the next two seasons.) But the B's could have used a durable, defensive warrior like Seidenberg in the playoffs, when they lost three of their top four defensemen against the Ottawa Senators. A rejuvenated Seidenberg, able to play both the left and right side, would have been a better option than Colin Miller.

The Bruins made a conscious decision to hand things over to younger defensemen like Miller, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Joe Morrow in cutting ties with Seidenberg. But they also perhaps miscalculated how much Seidenberg still had left in the tank after his best season in at least three years. 

“Well, at the time we felt like [Seidenberg's] game had really dropped off to where we thought he couldn’t contribute, and we wanted to see if some younger players could come in and help us out,” Bruins president Cam Neely said at the end-of-the-season press conference earlier this month. “I’ve got to say he played well this year for Long Island. But at the time we thought it was the right move. You can’t envision us having three of our top four D’s get hurt [in the playoffs]. We went through a lot of D’s in the postseason. You can’t predict that.”

Neely is referring to the decision made after Seidenberg’s second straight minus season in Boston, when back injuries and a major knee injury had seemed to slow him down a bit. It seemed the only way to properly evaluate some of their other, younger defenseman was to cut Seidenberg loose, but one has to wonder if the Bruins would have possibly done it had they known he was still capable of playing like he did this season for the Islanders. 

Either way, the buyout of Seidenberg is an extremely legitimate second guess of Bruins management in a year where they did a lot of things right.