Bruins Round Table: 7th Player Award

Every season, New England Sports Network presents one Boston Bruin with the 7th Player Award an honor given to the player who most exceeded expectations as voted by fans. The award has a rich history – it was first given to longtime Bruin Ed Westfall in the 1968-69 season and has been awarded to a player in every non-lockout season since.

Recently, the award has been given to high-profile names (David Pastrnak won it in two of the past four seasons despite already high expectations), but it has historically recognized an underappreciated player for an unexpectedly strong season. Bruins general manager, Don Sweeney, was a recipient of the award back in his playing days. He was given the honor for the 1992-93 season, when he broke out with 34 points after notching just 14 the season prior.

This season, Bruins fans will have an awfully tough decision to make. Strong arguments can be made for a player in every position, including goaltender (the last netminder to win the award was Tuukka Rask in the 2009-2010 season). The Bruins writers at The Hockey Writers have decided to offer our take on the most deserving player in 2018-19.

Cam Hasbrouck – Matt Grzelcyk

When it comes to the 7th Player Award, there are usually a few obvious players battling it out for votes. This season, however, there are endless options.

Jaroslav Halak has had a fantastic bounce-back campaign and has carried the Bruins through portions of the season. Brandon Carlo has really stepped into his role as a shutdown defenseman, and local favorite Chris Wagner has captured the hearts of many fans with 18 points in 67 games. Even high-profile center David Krejci has a strong case, as he’s on pace for his first 70-point season in ten years.

Matt Grzelcyk - Bruins
Matt Grzelcyk has been a very valuable asset for the Bruins this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ultimately, however, I think Matt Grzelcyk is the most deserving of the award. In just his second full season, the former Boston University standout has been a rock on the Bruins’ blue line. He’s cemented himself as a reliable defenseman in his own end while providing a strong offensive presence as well. His 16 points rank third among B’s defensemen, behind offensively-minded Torey Krug and fellow former B.U. Terrier Charlie McAvoy.

For a player that many expected to be fighting for ice time this season, a strong argument could be made that Grzelcyk has been the Bruins’ best all-around defenseman. His boost in ice time, from 16:44 last season to 19:08 this season, demonstrates how much trust he’s built with the coaching staff.

Drew Johnson – Brandon Carlo

Brandon Carlo has earned the 7th Player Award. Throughout the 2018-19 season, No. 25 has been Boston’s No. 1 defenseman. He doesn’t have the offensive flair of Krug, McAvoy, and Grzelcyk and he’s not as rough and rugged as Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller. However, he has played the best and most consistent shutdown defense on the team this season.

Carlo doesn’t get the appreciation he deserves because he is so under the radar. He doesn’t make highlight-reel plays unless you count falling on his face while shooting at an empty net. However, he crashes the boards, boxes out his man, wins puck battles, and clogs passing lanes. The young blueliner does just about all you can ask of a defenseman. I’m not saying fans haven’t noticed his superb performance, but it’s about time Carlo receives the recognition he deserves.

Brandon Carlo - Bruins
Brandon Carlo’s lock-down defense has been key to Boston’s success this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Chris Wagner is also a good candidate for the award. The local-born winger has come up big, especially in the second half of the campaign. He’s played the role of both a penalty killer and a grinder while contributing offensively – more so than originally expected. Wagner is also deserving of the 7th Player Award, but we will soon see who the fans think is the true surprise of the season.

Cameron Burgess – Jaroslav Halak

I have a soft spot for goalies but even without my bias, what Halak has done for the Bruins this season is spectacular. The expectations for a backup goalie are never very high. Typically, the hope is that they can play anywhere from 20 to 25 games, but Halak has already started 31 games while compiling an 18-10-4 record. His .924 Sv% is tied for sixth among goalies with over 20 games played, while his 2.33 GAA ranks seventh in the league.

This season, Halak has allowed Boston to give Rask some extra rest, including earlier in the season when Rask took a short leave of absence from the team. It’s obvious that the Bruins are confident that they can win with either goalie between the pipes, but when the backup is among the top goalies in the league statistically that deserves a bit of extra recognition.

Brandon Share-Cohen – Matt Grzelcyk

Like clockwork, the 7th Player Award is awarded to a player who may have “exceeded expectations” but didn’t truly embody what the award is about. While it is easy to give it to a big-name player (as we’ve seen in recent years with Brad Marchand, Pastrnak and McAvoy winning it in each of the last three seasons despite the expectation that they’d play crucial roles), I opted for players who truly stepped up and exceeded expectations.

Charlie McAvoy
Charlie McAvoy won last year’s 7th Player Award despite high expectations as a rookie. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The obvious name here would be Halak, who has stepped in and not only been a saving grace for the Bruins but also one of the best goaltenders in the NHL this season. Another option is Carlo who took the biggest step forward that we’ve seen in his young career. Wagner who’s having a career year and Sean Kuraly who stepped up his game have also crossed my mind.

Instead, I’m going with Grzelcyk who has not only played better than the bottom-pairing role he’s been assigned but has arguably been the Bruins’ best and most consistent blueliner all season. While he isn’t going to be a No. 1 shutdown defender like Chara and he isn’t likely to score 50-plus points a season like Krug, his all-around play and versatility make him truly deserving of this award. He’s exceeded expectations and then some.

Bryan Murphy – Jaroslav Halak

The Bruins signed Halak in free agency this summer to replace veteran Anton Khudobin. His job was to back up Rask and give him some rest when needed. Given his numbers with the New York Islanders, no one expected him to perform at an elite level. And certainly, no one expected him to take over as the starter.

Jaroslav Halak Boston Bruins
Jaroslav Halak is among the top ten NHL goalies in stats despite his role as a backup. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

By mid-November, the net was Halak’s to lose. Rask had a slow start to the season and Halak came in and performed exceptionally well. From the start of the season to Nov. 13, Halak was posting a .945 save percentage to go along with a 1.77 goals-against average (GAA) and a 6-1-2 record. Rask slowly started to return to form and took over the starting job and since then, has been extremely reliable in goal.

As of now, Halak has played in 35 games and Rask has played in 39. Halak’s purpose was not to come in and split games with Rask. The fact that he has, goes to show how important he is. If Halak had not taken over and kept the Bruins afloat while Rask struggled, who knows where the team would be. Halak sports an 18-10-4 record with a 2.33 GAA and a .924 save percentage. For a veteran backstop to come in and do what he has done is beyond anyone’s expectations.