Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak may have won the All-Star MVP award this past weekend, but he should set his sights much higher.
Pastrnak’s League Lead in Goals
Granted, the 2019-20 season is just past the halfway mark and a lot can change. However, for the time being, Pastrnak’s case to win the Hart Memorial Trophy, as the most valuable player during the regular season, is just about as good as anyone else’s. His league-leading 37 goals obviously stick out, with him on pace to score just shy of 60 by the end of the regular season.
Of course, a lot of the credit for Pastnak’s success goes to his linemates, Patrice Bergeron, a regular Frank J. Selke Trophy winner, and Brad Marchand, who has evolved into a well-rounded threat and a regular name dropped in any conversation revolving around the best in the league. This season at least, the spotlight has shifted to Marchand’s opposite wing in that regard and justifiably so.
The “Perfection Line,” as it is called, is widely considered to be one of if not the absolute best trios in the NHL. If so, Pastrnak, who leads the line and all of the Bruins in scoring, must logically be considered one of the best overall. So much so in fact, the theory is Pastrnak could drive a separate line alongside David Krejci.
Pastrnak’s Clutch Play
To illustrate the point, one key differentiator between him and his linemates is his clutch play. He has a team-leading six game-winning goals on the season, prompting the question: Where would the Bruins be without Pastrnak? It’s a valid question, if for no other reason than how the trophy is given “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.”
Take away Pastrnak’s game-winners and the Bruins would have been poised to lose at least one of those six games: Oct. 14 vs. the Anaheim Ducks, a game in which Pastrnak scored all four Bruins goals and they won 4-2. They also would have been tied at the end of regulation Nov. 21 vs. the Buffalo Sabres and Dec. 14 vs. the Florida Panthers. That’s another two fewer hypothetical points, not to mention the countless others Pastrnak’s additional markers have helped the Bruins earn.
Even if the Bruins lead the Atlantic Division right now by a healthy eight points, the streaking Tampa Bay Lightning have three games in hand. So, by the end of the regular season, it’s entirely realistic the Bruins will need every single point Pastrnak will have put the Bruins in position to get.
Admittedly, Pastrnak is only third in the league that one statistical category. He trails David Perron (eight) of the St. Louis Blues and Leon Draisaitl (seven) of the Edmonton Oilers. There’s a case against either one, though.
As impressive as Perron has been, his game-winners arguably represent most of his entire resume this season, whereas Pastrnak’s are a single feather in his cap. Meanwhile, Draisaitl isn’t even the most valuable player on his team.
Obviously Connor McDavid deserves consideration there as the league-leader with 76 points. However, the Oilers are barely in a position to make the playoffs, just three points up on ninth place. The last time someone won the Hart without making the playoffs was in 1988 (Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins) and it’s only been awarded to a non-forward once since 2002 (Montreal Canadiens goalies Jose Theodore and Carey Price; 2015).
Pastrnak vs. MacKinnon
So, Pastrnak’s only real competition, at least at this stage? Nathan MacKinnon, whose 72 points are an unbelievable 35 more than the Colorado Avalanche’s second-leading scorer, Cale Makar.
In that sense, Pastrnak’s only real hope is that voters (Professional Hockey Writers’ Association members) notice the development of his defensive game (from ‘After years of offensive brilliance, David Pastrnak is honing the defensive side of his game’, theAthleticNHL – 9/14/19). Not to mention his plus-16 rating compared to MacKinnon’s measly plus-seven, because everyone knows how much weight fancy stats carry in the minds of the media when to comes to awards like this.
In all seriousness, MacKinnon of course has the edge at this juncture. However, that this assessment is coming just after the All-Star Game works both ways. A lot can change over the next few months. Pastrnak could make up a lot ground and, in the end, just like the All-Star MVP, that he is at least in serious running for the Hart is a telling sign of his potential.
I mean, why stop there? The Conn Smythe Trophy is the MVP award that truly matters most. It comes with the Stanley Cup. Sights sufficiently set.