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Who is the Bruins’ MVP so far this season?

It’s so hard to pick!

NHL: APR 23 Rangers at Bruins Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

American Thanksgiving is often a sort of mile-marker in the hockey season, the time when things shift from “early season” to “the thick of things,” making now a good time to reflect on some performances thus far.

The Boston Bruins’ fantastic start to the 2022-23 season has been a pleasant surprise, given the team’s list of injured players at the outset.

That start would not have happened without key contributions from familiar names and some we might not have expected that much from.

Some of them aren’t even players – shout out to the Bruins’ training and medical staff, as well, for helping key players return ahead of schedule.

But there are three players who have carried the Bruins to the start they’ve had: David Pastrnak, Hampus Lindholm and Linus Ullmark.

Hockey is a team game, but these three players have been invaluable to the Bruins of 2022-23. But there can only be one MVP.

If the season ended today, who would that be?

3. Linus Ullmark

Ullmark deserves to be mentioned in this conversation. Considering how the Bruins’ season began in goal, with Jeremy Swayman struggling and then going down with an injury, Ullmark’s superb play has been an important factor in their success. Still, does it feel like Ullmark has stolen a game yet?

That’s not a mark on his play; it’s more of a positive statement on the rest of the team. Every phase of the Bruins’ game has been stellar, and they have yet to need Ullmark to steal a game.

There have been games where the Bruins have been outshot but have had an efficient enough offense to build and maintain a lead.

The closest the Bruins have come to needing Ullmark to steal a game was their Nov. 10 win over the Calgary Flames. They were outscored (by a goal), outshot, and out chanced in the first period.

They needed help from Ullmark to maintain their one-goal lead later in the game until Pastrnak buried an empty netter with 30 seconds left, but they were never dominated to the point where Ullmark needed to stand on his head. Their stout defense limited dangerous chances and allowed Ullmark to make easier saves.

Monday’s 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning wasn’t quite a steal by Ullmark, but he kept the game within a goal until the Bruins (outshot 12-3 at this point) scored the game-tying goal.

An offensive explosion by the Bruins, beginning in the second period and ending early in the third, provided Ullmark a four-goal cushion on the way to a 5-3 win.

His regular and advanced stats track with what we see on the ice.

His save percentage (.935) is up there in the league rankings with other Vezina candidates like Connor Hellebuyck (.935) and Jake Oettinger (.929).

His goals-against average (1.96) is eye-popping. It’s so low that even though he’s tied for the league lead in games played with 15, his GAA is third-best in the league without selecting for goalies over a certain number of starts.

But when you look at his advanced statistics, you see how the performance of the team in front of him has helped.

According to Moneypuck.com, his “goals saved above expected” (GSAx) of 8.6 ranks him fifth in the league, behind Carter Hart, Hellebuyck, Oettinger and Ilya Sorokin. That’s really good, but he hasn’t had to stand on his head – Hart’s is 14.2. GSAx factors in the quality of chances allowed to determine a goalie’s effect more accurately.

Ullmark’s expected goals-against average of 2.57 (which considers the quality of chance surrendered) ranks him at No. 65 in the league. That places him near mediocre to good starters who play for some of the other defensively dominant teams in the league, like Vegas Golden Knights goalie Logan Thompson (2.58) at No. 64 and Carolina Hurricanes goalies Anti Raanta (2.49) at No. 68 and Frederik Andersen (2.28) at No. 72.

Ullmark has played great, but without a stingy defense and an offense that keeps the Bruins in any game, he might have a couple more losses on his record, not the other way around.

2. David Pastrnak

Pastrnak has been one of the Bruins’ most valuable players for years now, and if he signs a new contract this coming offseason, he will continue to be that. So, Don Sweeney, if you are reading this, pay him.

Pastrnak is having a career-best season. He looks like he’s playing an entirely different sport than half the league, and he’s on pace for a career-best 52 goals and 125 points. His 29 points lead the team, 11 better than Patrice Bergeron and Lindholm with 18 points. He’s one of the reasons the Bruins are the league’s highest-scoring team.

He’s continued to be a force on the league’s third-best power play, both with and without the puck. Teams must pay attention to Pastrnak no matter where he is on the ice, allowing his teammates more time and space to make plays. Pastrnak has become more than just a power play threat. More than half of his points this season have come at 5-on-5.

Finally, much of Pastrnak’s strong start to the season came when Brad Marchand was out of the lineup. That helped buoy a Bruins offense missing another one of its best players.

But the reason Pastrnak has not been the Bruins’ MOST valuable player so far this season is his defensive influence on the game, or lack thereof. Pastrnak has never been as bad a defensive player as he’s been made out to be, but his most important influence on the game is in the offensive zone.

Pastrnak is the finisher. He’s the offensive superstar, while Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are excellent two-way players. The team needs them all.

So why not put Bergeron or Marchand in this conversation so far? Marchand is obvious. He missed the start of the season with an injury. Bergeron is having a very strong season once again and probably could have been mentioned here, but one player has had an even bigger influence on the team’s success.

1. Hampus Lindholm

Lindholm has been the Bruins’ most valuable player up to this point in the season. He’s finally lived up to the reputation he built with Anaheim Ducks, and he’s stayed healthy.

The most obvious factor was his play while Charlie McAvoy was recovering from injury.

In the absence of a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman, Lindholm has played Norris Trophy-caliber defense himself, especially if you’re the type of voter who prefers their defensemen to play defense. His 18 points rank him No. 7 in the league among defensemen and put him in a tie with Bergeron for second on the Bruins.

He’s second on the team in blocked shots with 24, two behind Connor Clifton. He leads all skaters with average time-on-ice skating of over 24 minutes per game. His Corse-for % at even strength is 53.9%.

Considering that coach Jim Montgomery deploys Lindholm so frequently on defensive-zone faceoffs at 5-on-5, the fact that he has such an influence in the offensive zone demonstrates his two-way ability.

He is excellent at retrieving the puck in his zone and initiating a breakout. That, combined with his ability to suppress shots, made him Montgomery’s best defensive weapon when McAvoy was out.

Once he enters the offensive zone, he has been almost as much a threat to score as a forward.

A prime example of Lindholm’s value came against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only did Lindholm have a four-point game, but he also skated coast-to-coast before he sniped the game-winner in overtime.

That game was a statement win for the team and Lindholm. They came back from a 5-2 deficit, and each of Lindholm’s points came in the comeback effort, culminating in the overtime game-winner.

Though it’s just one game, Lindholm’s performance was a microcosm of what the Bruins have been able to do the whole season. When the team is in shutdown mode, Lindholm is one of the major factors; when they need to win a track meet, Lindholm can join in the offense even when McAvoy isn’t on the ice to help.

Finally, while plus/minus isn’t a perfect stat, the fact that it took Lindholm weeks to register a “minus” game is a testament to his play so far.

Ullmark and Pastrnak have had excellent seasons, and they’ve all been major reasons for the Bruins’ success.

But take away Lindholm early this season, and we probably wouldn’t be talking about the team approaching their best start in franchise history.

Poll

Who has been the Bruins’ MVP thus far?

  • 32%
    Linus Ullmark
    (140 votes)
  • 10%
    David Pastrnak
    (45 votes)
  • 52%
    Hampus Lindholm
    (222 votes)
  • 4%
    Other (mention below)
    (18 votes)
425 votes total Vote Now