Individual awards are not what this Bruins team cares about. Neither are regular-season records. They have made it clear throughout this historic season that it all means nothing compared to their ultimate goal: Winning the Stanley Cup.
The Bruins are back after dominant wins over Wild, Sabres
That said, when your team is as good as this Bruins team is, you’re going to have some players (and coach and general manager) contending for some individual hardware. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Bruins’ chances of winning some of the NHL’s biggest awards.
Hart Trophy (MVP)
Bruins candidates: David Pastrnak, Linus Ullmark
Projected winner: Connor McDavid (Oilers)
Through 69 games, Pastrnak already has 48 goals and 93 points. If he plays Boston’s remaining 13 games, he is on pace to finish with 57 goals and 111 points. In most seasons, that would make him a serious contender for the Hart.
With 34 wins, a .935 save percentage and a 1.97 goals-against average, Ullmark remains on pace to become just the second goalie in the last 30 years to win the goaltending triple crown. The only other one who’s done it in that time -- Montreal’s Carey Price in 2014-15 -- won the Hart that season, setting a precedent for Ullmark.
Unfortunately for Pastrnak and Ullmark, this is not a normal season when it comes to the Hart race. This is a season in which Connor McDavid is on pace to become the NHL’s first 150-point scorer since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96. McDavid has 30 more points than anyone else in the league and 10 more goals than second-place Pastrnak. It’s a level of dominance that is just impossible to ignore or argue against.
The only way there would have been any opening for Pastrnak or Ullmark would have been McDavid getting hurt and/or Edmonton falling out of a playoff spot. Neither has happened. McDavid has played every game and the Oilers’ playoff spot remains relatively safe, as they’re third in the Pacific Division and nine points above the cut line.
Vezina Trophy (Best goalie)
Bruins candidate: Linus Ullmark
Projected winner: Ullmark
Ullmark can’t compete with McDavid even if he does get the goaltending triple crown, but it should be more than enough to win the Vezina.
His closest competition is Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin, who is also having a great season with a 25-19-6 record, .925 save percentage and 2.37 GAA while making nine more starts than Ullmark and facing 300 more shots. Sorokin is by far the biggest reason the Islanders, who are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference, even have a chance to make the playoffs.
The difference in workload and the quality of team in front of them shouldn’t be ignored, and Sorokin does actually top Ullmark in Evolving-Hockey’s goals saved above expected (43.3 to Ullmark’s 31.3). That is not a foolproof calculation, though. In fact, MoneyPuck, which calculates GSAx a little differently, has Ullmark ahead of Sorokin, 37.0 to 32.7.
Regardless, the advanced metrics are close enough that it’s hard to see any way Sorokin overcomes Ullmark’s sterling traditional stats. I mean, the guy has five regulation losses in 40 decisions and he’s allowed more than three goals just twice.
Norris Trophy (Best defenseman)
Bruins candidates: Hampus Lindholm, Charlie McAvoy
Projected winner: Erik Karlsson (Sharks)
McAvoy has finished top five in Norris voting each of the last two seasons, and this year he’s producing offensively at a career-best rate of 0.80 points per game, which ranks 12th among all NHL defensemen. Unfortunately, missing 13 games after offseason shoulder surgery and taking a little while to really look like himself upon returning probably take McAvoy out of serious consideration this season.
Another Bruins defenseman does deserve some serious consideration, though, and that’s Lindholm. He probably isn’t going to win just because his offense (46 points in 68 games), while very good, doesn’t measure up to Karlsson, who has a chance to become the first defenseman to reach 100 points in a season since Brian Leetch in 1991-92.
But there is an argument for Lindholm. The Athletic’s most recent awards watch has Lindholm in a virtual five-way tie for the Norris using their Game Score Value Added metric, along with Karlsson, Adam Fox of the Rangers, Brent Burns of the Hurricanes, and Rasmus Dahlin of the Sabres. Lindholm is second among all defensemen in Evolving-Hockey’s goals above replacement (18.8), trailing only Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes (19.5).
In both cases, his biggest advantage over the competition is his defensive grade. Lindholm is half of a defense pairing with Brandon Carlo that ranks first in expected goals against per 60 minutes (2.07) among 73 D pairs that have played at least 400 minutes together this season. On the more traditional front, Lindholm leads the NHL in plus/minus at plus-45.
Again, it’s hard to see anyone taking the Norris from Karlsson this year. But could Lindholm finish in the top five in voting? I’ll argue all day that he should.
Selke Trophy (Best defensive forward)
Bruins candidate: Patrice Bergeron
Projected winner: Bergeron
Re. Name. The. Trophy.
Yes, Bergeron is going to win the Selke for a second straight season and a record sixth time overall. And yes, he deserves it.
Among 245 forwards who have played at least 700 5-on-5 minutes this season, Bergeron ranks first in goals against per 60 minutes (1.35), fifth in expected goals against per 60 (2.05), second in goals-for share (70.5%), and second in expected goals-for share (63.2%). He leads the league in faceoff wins (924) and is second in faceoff percentage (60.7%).
Bergeron is also a crucial part of the league’s No. 1 penalty kill, as his 3.51 goals against per 60 minutes while shorthanded is the best mark among the Bruins’ top 10 penalty-killers in terms of time on ice.
Rocket Richard Trophy (Top goal-scorer)
Bruins candidate: David Pastrnak
Projected winner: Connor McDavid (Oilers)
A month ago, this was a race. But then McDavid went on a ridiculous tear that has seen him score 16 goals in his last 13 games. Pastrnak has seven goals in his last 13, which is really good, but not enough to keep pace with McDavid, who is now 10 goals ahead of him.
Jennings Trophy (Fewest goals against)
Bruins candidates: Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman
Projected winner: Ullmark and Swayman
The Bruins are giving up 2.13 goals against per game this season. The second-place Hurricanes are nearly half a goal behind at 2.57. This will be the second time in the last four years Boston wins the Jennings, as Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak took it home in 2019-20.
Jack Adams Award (Coach of the year)
Bruins candidate: Jim Montgomery
Projected winner: Montgomery
If you coach a team that’s challenging for the single-season points record (the Bruins are on pace to tie the 1976-77 Canadiens’ record of 132 as of Tuesday morning), you’re probably going to win the Jack Adams.
Sure, Montgomery took over a very deep, very talented roster. And sure, having a captain as good as Bergeron has made his first season in Boston easier.
But Montgomery still deserves plenty of credit for what the Bruins are doing. He changed their offensive system to get defensemen more involved, create more high-danger chances, and generate more 5-on-5 scoring. Players like Jake DeBrusk and Trent Frederic who were at odds with Bruce Cassidy have thrived under Montgomery.
Other coaches deserve consideration, including Cassidy himself in Vegas and Lindy Ruff with the Devils, but they’re fighting an uphill battle against Montgomery.
Jim Gregory Award (General manager of the year)
Bruins candidate: Don Sweeney
Projected winner: Sweeney
If you build a team that’s challenging for the single-season points record, you’re probably going to win GM of the year.
Like Montgomery, Sweeney has gotten plenty of help, most notably in the form of his top two centers, Bergeron and David Krejci, returning for a total of just $3.5 million this season. Other GMs would kill to have such low cap hits for such a talented 1-2 center duo.
Still, Sweeney has done terrific work everywhere else on the roster, too. Trading Erik Haula for Pavel Zacha over the summer turned out to be a home run. He then signed Zacha to an extension in January. Midseason trades for Dmitry Orlov, Garnet Hathaway and Tyler Bertuzzi made the best team in the NHL even better. And Sweeney locked up Pastrnak on an eight-year extension.
The Mitchell Miller debacle back in November can’t and shouldn’t be ignored, but ultimately it’s unlikely that something that had zero effect on this year’s team -- other than maybe distracting them for one loss in Toronto -- would derail Sweeney’s candidacy here.
NESN Seventh Player Award
OK, this one isn’t a league award, obviously. But Bruins fans like it, and they’re the ones who vote on it, so we’ll throw it in.
The Seventh Player Award, currently run by NESN and formerly run by WSBK (channel 38), has been awarded annually since 1968-69 to the Bruins player “who has performed above and beyond expectations,” as voted on by fans.
There are plenty of candidates this season, because most of the team has exceeded expectations if we’re being honest. We’ll throw out a few that jump out, though: Jake DeBrusk, Pavel Zacha, Trent Frederic and Nick Foligno.
You could certainly make the case that Linus Ullmark, Hampus Lindholm and even David Pastrnak have “performed above and beyond expectations” as well, but picking players who would be part of a theoretical starting six-man starting lineup doesn’t really seem to be in the spirit of the award.
DeBrusk being on the first line could disqualify him for many voters as well, but having a career year after such a tumultuous last couple years warrants at least a little consideration.
Frederic is also having a career year and has come a long way from being a healthy scratch on opening night. You could make the case, though, that he is finally just meeting the expectations that come with being a first-round pick. Prior to his injury, Foligno had certainly exceeded expectations compared to what he was last year, but last year was really disappointing. This season is more like what was expected from the start for him.
That’s why our pick would be Zacha. Most people’s expectations for Zacha were that he would be a really good third-liner and a younger, more versatile upgrade over Erik Haula. He has been much more than that, finding a home with fellow Czechs Krejci and Pastrnak on what has consistently been the Bruins’ best offensive line this season.
Zacha has already set career highs in goals (18), assists (30) and points (48). He is second on the team in 5-on-5 assists (25) and tied for second in 5-on-5 points (38). That certainly qualifies as “above and beyond expectations” in our book.