The Bruins handed out their 7th player award tonight. For those who don’t know, this annual award is voted by the fans to the Bruin player “who has performed above and beyond expectations”.
Over the years, I think this award has become more of a popularity contest given to the team’s best player and not necessarily the most deserving per the official definition. This season’s winner, Tuukka Rask, I feel is no exception.
Going into tonight’s game, Tuukka leads the team in wins, leads the entire league in goals against average (2.02) and is tied with Buffalo’s Ryan Miller in save percentage (.929) so he was obviously a solid candidate. But ever since the June 2006 trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs, all we’ve heard is “how this kid is the best goalie coming out of Finland” or “how he will be the next great NHL goalie”.
Yes, the organization has made a serious effort to bring Rask up slowly as he played in Finland in 2006/07 and then two full years in Providence for the Baby B’s to get used to the North American style of hockey. During his time in Providence, he had one callup each season, playing in four games two years ago and one memorable 1-0 shutout against the Rangers last season.
In looking at his stats, he’s always been over .900 with his save percentage with the exception of his very first year as a professional in Finland and his four game call up in 2007/08
So my question is this. Do these stats for this year look drastically different than the rest of his career? Based on the press he has received and his statistics is this the Bruin player “who has performed above and beyond expectations”?
I have to say no. It’s an excellent season and one he should be proud of. He has to be a legitimate contender for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year and this season, that is a very deep talent pool with players like Tavares (NYI), Duchene (COL) and another goalie, Jimmy Howard (DET) to name a few. I mentioned he leads the league in goals against average and save percentage and based on those stats, one could put up a legitimate argument for the Vezina. One negative to the Vezina argument is even if he plays in the final six Bruin games, he will “only” play in 46 total games for the season. Six of those were in relief of Tim Thomas.
I’m glad I have witnessed as many games as I have and had the chance to speak to him on many occasions but I don’t think his play is above expectations. Bruins team MVP? Absolutely. Hart Trophy winner? I don’t know if I go that far. Vezina? Like I said, that could be argued but I think I’d lean to Buffalo’s, Miller. Calder? I’m biased – I vote for the kid.
OK, so now that I’ve ripped the decision for Tuukka. Who did I vote for? Well, I considered Johnny Boychuk and Daniel Paille as my two candidates. Boychuck has had a five year minor league career. In those five years, he played for five different teams. As he matured, his offensive stats improved and last year in Providence, he scored 20 goals and 45 assists. He started the year with the Baby B’s but lasted only two games before he was called up. He’s been a solid contributor on the back line and has worked his way up from the #3 defense pair to the #2 pair. Realistically, with Chara and Seidenberg he won’t make the #1 pair unless one of those two go down with an injury.
My other candidate was Daniel Paille. Unlike Boychuk, he didn’t even start the season in the Bruin organization. At the time of the trade with Buffalo, the Bruins penalty kill was near the bottom of the league. Since he arrived, the Bruins have sat in the top 5 in the league for the penalty kill and at times have had the #1 overall PK.
I feel both of these players have performed above and beyond expectations of the coming into the season. Full disclosure – I voted for Paille. I think, with his speed on the ice and his outstanding work on special teams. Plus his all around defensive play on this offensively challenged team allows the team to stay in games like tonight’s 1-0 loss to the Florida Panthers was the reason why I went with Paille.
Losing to the Panthers tonight was disappointing to say the least. The only things good about the loss is the fact that Atlanta, two points behind the B’s, lost as well. A win would have put the B’s 4 points up over them with only five games to go. As well, the Philadelphia Flyers continued their limp to the playoffs with a loss to the New York Islanders. The Islander win allowed them to stay three points up on the Maple Leafs in the race for a draft lottery pick. The Panther win keeps the Leafs back three points as well.
Next up for the Bruins. The dreaded Toronto Maple Leafs. This game is obviously a big one for the B’s. First, for the Bruin playoff chances. They are in the 8th seed – they control their destination. Win and the Thrashers and Rangers can’t get in. Winning keeps pressure on the Flyers and Canadiens. Currently, it’s tiebreakers deciding sixth, seventh and the eighth seeds in the east. Lastly, beating the Leafs keeps them down in the bottom of the league. Keeping them there this year, insures the Bruins getting a lottery pick in the LA Draft this June. Since Peter Chiarelli didn’t replace Phil Kessel during the season, it makes that Leaf draft position that much more important for the future of the Black and Gold.
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Written by Jim Mulligan