Above: Boston's team MVP in the first half. I know, you're shocked.
It's time, once again, for that most hackneyed of articles: the midseason grading report. I'd love to tell you that I'm a talented enough writer to craft a fresh approach to this, but that would be an insult to your intelligence, oh wise and learned readers...and Corny.
I'm grading this on a curve. For instance, Zdeno Chara is obviously playing better than Steven Kampfer. But because we all expected a Norris Trophy caliber season from Chara, and absolutely nothing at all from Kampfer, Kampfer (spoiler alert) grades out higher. I'm also looking at the entire season to this point, and not just the last few weeks.
Patrice Bergeron - He had a slow start, but wow, has he turned it on after that. The Selke Trophy hype is a bit much, but he's still a fantastic three-zone forward, and has definitely been Boston's best skater after the first month of the season. He's absolutely carried the Bruins offense over the last couple weeks, too. A
Gregory Campbell - Can't imagine anyone misses Steve Begin right now. Soup provides most of what you want from a fourth line center: a little scoring punch, provides energy, kills penalties, and isn't afraid to drop the gloves...even if he doesn't do it particularly well. I'd like to see him fare better in the faceoff circle, though, considering his line is usually out there to buy some time for the big guns to rest. B-
Nathan Horton - He had a tremendous start, but he's cooled off hugely. And to my absolute surprise and dismay, he's now well off a 30 goal pace. No regrets about the Horton/Wideman trade, but Horton needs to play more consistently. B
David Krejci - Another guy who started hot and has cooled. Krejci's season, once again, has been cut a little short by injury, so his 5.0 GVT is a bit lower because of those 7 games he missed, and also because of poor shootout performance. He's also been surprisingly poor on faceoffs. B
Milan Lucic - Like his linemates from the start of the season, Looch has cooled from a hot start, but unlike Krejci and Horton, Lucic can still make his presence known without the puck on his stick. He led all Bruin skaters in GVT for most of the first half, until Bergeron overtook him after that hat trick against Ottawa and didn't look back. He needs to play with more discipline, but it's sometimes hard to get a player like that to rein it in and not lose the aggression that makes him so good in the first place. A
Brad Marchand - My only complaint with Marchand is that he's still got #63, so I'm afraid to buy his jersey until he gets a real number. He started the season as a fringe fourth liner and is now skating with Patrice Bergeron. It is impossible to expect more. 4.6 GVT from a guy like that is excellent for a full season, let alone half. A
Daniel Paille - Lost his job to Marchand and shows no signs of getting it back. They miss him on the penalty kill, but Paille just doesn't do enough other things to merit ice time. D
Mark Recchi - This old fart's going to be scoring tip-in goals 5 years after he's dead. B
Michael Ryder - His even +/- rating (as of this writing) is a little deceiving, since he does so much of his damage on the power play. Even so, if Ryder isn't scoring, odds are good that he's not contributing. He is what he is: a dangerous scorer who will have hot streaks alternated with weeks at a time where he does nothing. Placing him on the Savard line is an interesting experiment, and not a bad idea. C+
Marc Savard - I want to cut him a good amount of slack, because he's obviously had a lot of rust to shake off. But we're at 22 games now, and he's not playing well at all. He's got the worst GVT on the team, and the Horton-Lucic combo suffered mightily since he took back first-line center duties, to the point that they moved Lucic to another line. Geez, maybe the Bruins should have pushed the NHL harder to void his contract, after all. F
Tyler Seguin - The kid has had the rookie ups and downs, and unlike Taylor Hall, he hasn't been given unlimited ice time to work through everything. But he's learning. He's becoming more responsible in his own zone, and has shown some evidence of the promise the Bruins are looking for. The toughest guy on the team to grade, because expectations varied tremendously for him coming in. My own expectations were modest, so let's call his performance a C+.
Shawn Thornton - I still have misgivings about having a dedicated enforcer, but if you're going to have one, Thornton's the type you want. He's responsible in his own zone, backs down from no one, his teammates love him and holy crap, HE'S GOT SEVEN GOALS! He could break his hand on Mark Stuart's Rushmore-esque jaw in a bar fight and he'd probably still get an A for the year. A
Blake Wheeler - OK, it's becoming clear that he's not going to become the superstar the Bruins hoped for. Decent in his own zone, Wheels needs to be more consistently assertive on offense, and at this point, I'm not sure it's happening. To be fair, he's played better the last couple weeks, but we've seen that before from him. C+
Johnny Boychuk - He's been pretty solid in his own zone, but has provided no offensive value whatsoever. That's surprising for a guy with a shot so hard that SCoC's favorite announcer has dubbed it "Johnny's Rocket". C+
Zdeno Chara - He's had a good season so far, ranking 2nd among Bruin skaters in GVT, but more was expected. I trace much of the struggles of the defense to Chara having an okay season instead of a Norris Trophy caliber one. Maybe that seems unfair, but then, Chara makes more money than any three other Bruin defensemen combined. Second half improvement must begin with him and Savard, two pillars of Boston's revival in the late 2000's. (The third, Tim Thomas, is doing just fine.) So far, Chara has held up his end of the deal and has kicked some serious ass the last couple weeks. C+
Andrew Ference - Ference has done two things this year that have amazed me: first, he's been good in his own zone, and second, he has played every single game. I am in grave danger of having to give up veal next season. B
Steven Kampfer - Boston's age-old search for an offensive defenseman may have come to an end. Kampfer has played just 19 games, yet is already fourth in GVT, and third in offensive GVT among Bruin defensemen. He's made some own zone turnovers, but he's been very good moving the puck and attacking on offense. He's really added balance to a defensive corps that has been heavy on house painters and light on artists. A-
Adam McQuaid - He was playing better a month ago, but seems to have settled in as kind of a 3rd pair/7th D/Piker type. You could do much worse than McQuaid in that role. C+
Dennis Seidenberg -The shot blocker extraordinaire has 101 blocked shots, 7th in the NHL, and the team leader by a country mile. He's contributed about as expected, with a very respectable 3.3 GVT and has provided stability to the defensive corps by anchoring the second pair and freeing up Big Z to bolster lesser defensemen. B
Mark Stuart - Rough year for Stewie, who has suddenly become a rather injury-prone player. He's near the bottom in team GVT (0.4) and the defense has looked much better with Kampfer in and him out. D-
Tuukka Rask - Tuukka has been a victim of circumstance this year. (The first person to make a comment about him "not knowing how to win" will be shot at sunrise.) He's gotten middling goal support and has seen more rubber than a quality control inspector in a condom factory. He ranks 6th in the NHL in save percentage, despite the so-so GAA and decidedly unimpressive record. Best of all, my 2 year old daughter loves saying "Tuukka!", which is a great way to indoctrinate her into Bruin fandom. B+
Tim Thomas - He's only been the NHL's most valuable goaltender in the first half, leading the NHL in save percentage, GAA, and shutouts. He also leads the league in GVT (in fact, his GVT is higher than the next four Bruins combined), and might be a legitimate candidate for the Hart AND Vezina Trophies. In his 29 starts, the Bruins have garnered points in all but 4 games. He's been the runaway team MVP so far. A+
Claude Julien and his staff have taken some heat from time to time, but I'm not sure it's justified. The Bruins are in first place in the Northeast, and are probably a better team than their record indicates. Their +38 goal differential is 2nd in the NHL, although they are just 6th in points. (By comparison, Montreal, nipping at their heels in the Northeast, has a mere +6 goal differential and the consensus seems to be that Jacques Martin walks on water.) There are a couple problems, sure. For one, the Bruins have not played as well this year as last when playing against a man advantage in their zone (whether that's 6 on 5, or 5 on 4). I would attribute some of that to Paille losing his regular shift, some to the decline in faceoff percentage, and some to a defense that hasn't been as good in its own zone this year. For another, Julien has taken some criticism for his handling of young players, such as not giving Tyler Seguin and the since-demoted Jordan Caron a regular shift. But that's the balance any coach on a contending team must strike; they want to develop talent, but they want to win now. On the other hand, the team has been playing more open, fast-paced hockey, something they didn't always do last year. That leads to more goals, and thus the moribund offense of 2009-10 has gone by the wayside. Oddly enough, though, it's the defense that needs to tighten up. It's been better lately, but they're still surrendering a lot of shots, partly because of that more open approach to hockey. B