His offensive production outpacing his career average, his overall play as tidy and near-perfect as ever, Patrice Bergeron suddenly is squarely in the Hart Trophy discussion as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.
Such is the value, or at least the boost of bright lights on Broadway, of national television.
Bergeron, 32, a veteran of 946 NHL games, was the talk of the NBC Sports Network telecast Wednesday during the Bruins’ 6-1 thumping of the Rangers at Madison Square Garden when he picked up his 23rd and 24th goals of the season.
Bergeron’s gifts are not new to Bruins watchers. He was among the key reasons the Bruins finally won a Stanley Cup in 2011, ending a 39-year drought, and he is a four-time Selke Trophy winner as the league’s top defensive center, all of those collected over the past six seasons.
“He is by far the best two-way player in the league,” said his longtime linemate, Brad Marchand. “But I think a lot of things go unnoticed. He could easily get 100 points a year if he wanted to cheat and be an offensive player. And he’s still up around a point a game.”
Bergeron, now is his 14th NHL season, began 2017-18 with 671 points in 899 career games, averaging 0.75 points per game. This season, centering a top line with Marchand and David Pastrnak, he is delivering at virtually a point per game.
Headed into Saturday’s matchup with the Sabres at the Garden, Bergeron stands 24-22—46 in 47 games.
“If you are looking for any MVP for a team, he’s definitely up there in the league,” said Marchand. “He deserves to be recognized. I think it goes unnoticed a bit, how important he is to this team, how much he brings to the table every night. A lot of guys realize, when they consistently have to play against him game after game, it is very hard to do.”
The Bruins have not put a name on the Hart Trophy since 2005-06 when Joe Thornton went on an offensive tear after being dealt to the Sharks on Nov. 30 of that season. Prior to Thornton, Phil Esposito won it with the Bruins in 1973-74.
“It would be awesome for him — he’s a terrific person,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “To get acknowledged for his all-around game . . .
“The Selke is basically his to lose every year. And that’s no disrespect to [Anze] Kopitar and [Jonathan] Toews — they’re all great players — but Bergy’s put his stamp on that trophy, and it would be nice to be on the Hart.”
Typically, noted Cassidy, players with greater offensive production tend to win the Hart. Based on their offensive pop, the likes of Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), Connor McDavid (Edmonton, last year’s winner), and Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay) could be Bergeron’s stiffest competition for the top honor.
“Hopefully,” said Cassidy, “he’s won over enough people around the league in terms of not being up there with the point total. That’s tough, because there are some pretty good candidates every year.
“I don’t think there’s ever a bad choice to win the Hart, because there are so many good players. It’s great he’s in that conversation.”
Out of the lineup the last six games with a lower-body injury, right winger Noel Acciari skated through the full workout Friday morning, and his availability for the Sabres game will be assessed Saturday morning. “He’s getting closer,” said Cassidy. The lingering list of injured includes Frank Vatrano, Anders Bjork, and Kevan Miller, all of whom did not skate Friday and will be reassessed Sunday . . . Tuukka Rask, who hasn’t lost a start since the invention of molten rubber, going 19-0-2 since Nov. 26, will start against the Sabres. Anton Khudobin, the winner vs. the Rangers, will be the starter vs. the Devils Sunday in Newark . . . The game within the game Saturday night: faceoffs. Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly ranks No. 1 in the league with 786 wins at the dot, with an outstanding 61.6 percent win rate. Bergeron, perennially at the top of the heap, has won 563 this year, with a 56.2 percent success rate. The two likely will be going head-to-head for 20-25 faceoffs.
With just over two weeks remaining until the Feb. 26 trade deadline, the Bruins aren’t expected to chase a significant deal. Keep in mind, their only free-agent pickups last July were Kenny Agostino and Paul Postma. One from the pizza stand: Perhaps a swap with the Rangers, sending Matt Beleskey to the Blueshirts for defenseman Brendan Smith. Both now toil in the minors, with Beleskey due two more years at $3.8 million, and Smith three more years at $4.35 million. Perhaps the clubs could split the cost of Smith’s third year. The Bruins need help and size at left defense. A lefthanded shot, Smith is 6 feet 2 inches, 211 pounds, and is only 29 years old. Beleskey isn’t likely to get another shot at the varsity here, and perhaps a change of scenery will tease out some of what the Bruins thought they were getting upon hiring him in July 2015.
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