- Tim Burke
The Three Stars of the Bruins Historic First Half
The Boston Bruins are 32-5-4 to start the year. It's been a historic first half for the Bruins. They are on pace to be one the greatest regular season teams in history. Barring a major dropoff in their game, they will win the President's Trophy for the first time since 2014-2015. They have lost just once in regulation at home. I have never seen a more dominant hockey team. In review of the first half, the performances of these three players have stood out to me. Here are the three stars of the Boston Bruins historic first half of the season:
Third Star- Hampus Lindholm
It was difficult not to give the star to Patrice Bergeron. He is the captain of this team and at the age of 37 is still an elite player in this league. A sixth Selke trophy is his for the taking. At this point, they should name the award after him. Many believe Bergeron will retire at the end of this season. He could play another five years if he wanted to. He continues to be the smartest hockey player in the National Hockey League. Yet the third star of the Boston Bruins through the halfway mark is Hampus Lindholm. It shows you how incredible this Bruins team is when it is this difficult to pick the three best players through the first half of the year. Hampus Lindholm is one of the most underrated players in the NHL. Hampus Lindholm has had a solid ten-year NHL career. He spent nine seasons with the Anaheim Ducks, where he was their best defenseman. Since arriving in Boston, Lindholm has taken his game to another level. This year, Lindholm has five goals and 23 assists for 28 points. He has spent time running the first and second Power Play Units from the blue line and has significantly improved the offensive side of his game. Lindholm's previous career high in points is 34 in the 2014-2015 season. He is six points away from matching that total. Not only will he likely surpass his career high in points, but he is also on pace to shatter his previous record. Lindholm is currently on track to score 56 points this season. On defense, he has been equally terrific. Lindholm's 55 blocked shots are third on the Bruins, his +29 ranks first in the National Hockey League, and his overall defensive metrics are outstanding. Lindholm's 23:19 ATOI ranks first among all the Boston Bruins. He will not receive many votes for the Norris Trophy. The league is filled with supremely talented defensemen like Cale Makar, Adam Fox, and Erik Karlsson, but Hampus Lindholm deserves national recognition. He has been the best defenseman on both sides of the puck for the best team in the league. Trading for him at last year's trade deadline is the best trade made by Don Sweeney. in his tenure as Bruins General Manager. He is in the first year of his eight-year deal with the Bruins that has him in Boston through his age-36 season. That is a massive contract but I wrote earlier this season that Lindholm's hockey IQ is the most impressive aspect of his game. He always seems to make the right play. He will always be an intelligent player, and with the salary cap expected to go up in the coming years, I do not believe this contract will age poorly. Hampus Lindholm will be a dominant force on Boston's blue line for a long time.
Second Star- David Pastrnak
David Pastrnak has been phenomenal for the Boston Bruins. The 26-year-old winger is on pace for his first 100-point season; he would be only the 11th Bruin to do so. Pastrnak is also on pace to score over 60 goals this season. The last Bruin player to achieve that mark? Phil Esposito in 1974-1975. Considering today's NHL is much faster and features much more athletic goaltenders, Pastrnak scoring over 60 goals in the current NHL would be the most impressive offensive season by a player in Bruins history. This year, Pastrnak has been the best player on the best team in the NHL. His dynamic offense, increased physicality, and outstanding work ethic has allowed Pastrnak to wear an A for the Boston Bruins. The Bruins winger is also in the hunt for his second Rocket Richard Trophy and could enter conversations for the Hart Trophy. The last player to win the Hart Trophy while wearing a Bruins jersey? Phil Esposito in 1974. The unfortunate part for the Bruins is that this is Pastrnak's contract year. The Bruins did not extend him before this season, and now he is having a historic season. There are rumors that Pastrnak may seek to become the highest-paid player in NHL history, but Pastrnak has publicly stated that being the highest-paid player in the league does not interest him. Realistically, Pastrnak's best comparison when configuring his next contract is Rangers forward Artnemi Panarin, who received a seven-year $81,500,000 contract from the New York Rangers with an AAV of 11.642. I don't think there's a chance David Pastrnak takes anything less than that, especially when you consider that Panarin has never been as dominant as Pastrnak this season.
Despite the massive payday, Pastrnak is in store for; I would be surprised if he leaves Boston. Pastrnak and his agent are in constant communication with the Boston Bruins on a new contract. The team has plenty of opportunities to get this contract done, and at the end of the day, I believe Pastrnak will remain a Boston Bruin. Players as offensively gifted as Pastrnak do not grow on trees. If he stays in Boston, Pastrnak will likely become the franchise leader in goals scored and go down as the greatest goal scorer in Bruins history. He is a special talent that the Bruins can not afford to lose. He makes everyone around him better and is the player the Bruins need to build around for years to come. There's no reason the number 88 shouldn't be hanging from the Garden's rafters among the best hockey players in Boston history.
First Star- Linus Ullmark
The Bruins have been blessed with outstanding goaltending for over a decade now. Tuukka Rask was the greatest goaltender in franchise history. Before him, the Bruins had Tim Thomas, whose 2010-2011 season is the greatest season by a goalie in NHL history. Linus Ullmark is playing at a very similar level to Thomas's historic season. The numbers are nearly identical. Through his first 27 games this season, Ullmark has a record of 22-2-1 and ranks first among goaltenders in Goals Against Average 1.88, Save Percentage (.938) and Goals Saved Above Expected (22.7). His performance this season earned him his first All-Star game selection. His stellar play has led to the Bruins playing with more confidence. He is the biggest reason why the team has been so successful this season. Ullmark’s dominance has surprised a lot of people. The popular belief was that Jeremy Swayman would take the next step in his development and become the Bruins #1 goaltender. That has not been the case. Instead, Ullmark is having the best year of his career. Ullmark’s rise has shocked the hockey world. He was written off after a bumpy start to his Bruins career but Ullmark has always been a talented goaltender. He posted solid numbers on some terrible Buffalo Sabres teams. He initially struggled to start his Bruins career but posted a .923 SV% after the All Star break. Unfortunately, Ullmark suffered a concussion just before the playoffs. This season, Ullmark has adjusted to Boston and is quickly entering the mix of best goaltenders in the world. I know a great half season is not enough of a sample size to warrant such a bold claim. But like I said, Ullmark was a solid goaltender in Buffalo. Since the start of the 2019-2020 season, Ullmark ranks third in Save Percentage behind only Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin, who are widely considered to be the best goaltenders in the world. Former NHL Goaltender turned ESPN analyst, Kevin Weekes had this to say about Ullmark “He has, right now, for me, the best glove in the National Hockey League.” That is high praise from a fellow Goaltender. In my mind, Linus Ullmark has shown that he belongs to be considered amongst the game’s elite goaltenders. This is not just some hot streak. Linus Ullmark is genuinely one of hockey’s best goaltenders.