In this week's Bruins mailbag, we offer a midseason assessment and prediction, thoughts on Tim Thomas and his future in Boston, and ideas on Peter Chiarelli's next move.
Give me the following Bruins awards at the All-Star break:
Team MVP; Biggest surprise; Biggest disappointment; Biggest question for the second half.
-- Matt (Connecticut)
A. Good question! Always fun to hand out midseason awards and I think some of mine may surprise you. Here they are:
* Team MVP: To this point of the season, Patrice Bergeron would be my team MVP. Yes, this may be bold, but if we're talking Hart Trophy as the MVP of the NHL, I put Bergeron in the top five. Yes that's right. Despite having 43 points, he is still being viewed as a second-line center. But Bergeron has been the Bruins' No.1 center this season on a more consistent basis than David Krejci -- whom many view as the top pivot, centering Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. But Bergeron has developed unbelievable chemistry with linemates Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, and as always has been the best two-way player on the team. Just as he did in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, he has become -- as Claude Julien recently termed him in a piece by Scott Burnside of ESPN.com -- the "go-to guy in all situations." He is also a more vocal leader both on and off the ice. All those attributes, combined with the offensive flair he has found again, have made him the team MVP so far.
* Biggest surprise: Tyler Seguin -- and his breakout season so far -- has to be the biggest surprise. Seguin leads the team in points (43) and goals (19) and has provided an extra offensive weapon the Bruins weren't necessarily planning on having. Seguin has found his game through hard work on and off the ice. He learned from a disappointing rookie season, when he had only 22 points in 74 games and was a healthy scratch numerous times. In just his second season, he is already realizing his potential yet still has plenty of room to grow as a soon-to-be 20-year-old.
* Biggest disappointment: I'd say that even though he has played better lately, Nathan Horton isn't the force he was in his first season in Boston when he had 26 goals and 53 points, then 17 points in the playoffs -- including three game-winners and two series-clinchers. Yes, he was coming off that horrific concussion he suffered in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals, but he and the team insisted he had recovered. On that basis, I believe he has underachieved. Now we'll have to see how this latest concussion affects him.
* Biggest question for the second half: I think there are actually two. The first : Can Tuukka Rask usurp Tim Thomas again as the No. 1 goalie? Rask (11-5-2; 1.82 GAA; .938) has been sensational this season. For most of the first half, Thomas (20-9-0; 2.12; .933) was once again Vezina Trophy-worthy, but in three of his last four starts he was very un-Thomas-like, allowing three or more goals in each. Couple that with his boycott of the team's White House visit and the ensuing turmoil, and it will be interesting to see how Thomas bounces back. But knowing Thomas and the way he has overcome adversity, it won't be surprising to see him go on a tear.
The other question: How healthy can the team remain? To this point, the Bruins have been relatively unscathed by the injury bug. The severity of Horton's concussion is termed mild right now, but one can never tell with concussions. It will also be interesting to see how the Bruins handle the grind of the season and where they are physically by March. They are in the meat of their schedule right now, and after three "heavy" games -- as Claude Julien and his players like to call them -- against New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia, they were clearly worn out in the 5-3 loss at Washington on Tuesday night.
Q. I'm getting more and more frustrated with the B's taking blows to the head and being on the wrong end of the penalties. Either the refs need to do a better job or they need to stay out of the way and we'll police our own. Also, since Nathan Horton appears to have a head injury, will there be any supplemental for Tom Sestito, or does that rule count for everyone but us too? -- Andy (Pittsfield)
A. I understand your frustration over that head shot on Horton by Sestito and the fact that Horton got a penalty retaliating. The referees missed other calls as well, but they missed plenty both ways. And like it or not, the Bruins' inability at times to pick their spots for retaliation has hurt them.
Q. Now that we are at the break, what positions do you see Peter Chiarelli looking for? Any names in mind that he can be targeting? Will he make a move before the deadline? -- Eugene M. (Bronx, N.Y.)
A. As colleague Pierre Lebrun has reported on ESPN.com, the Bruins are actively looking for a depth defenseman and depth forward. In talking to numerous NHL scouts, two Carolina Hurricanes continually come up as possible targets: forward Tuomo Ruutu and defenseman Tim Gleason. But right now I am told the asking price is very high and that the Flyers are pursuing Gleason as well. I definitely think the blue line can use some depth, and if Horton's concussion proves to be worse than originally thought, then a forward would help.
Q. Is there any chance the Bruins would name Patrice Bergeron co-captain? Not that Zdeno Chara isn't a good leader, but Bergeron clearly deserves to wear the C as well. -- Terry H. (Tampa, Fla.)
I don't think we'll ever see Bergeron also wear a "C" for captain, but the alternate captain is already viewed as a co-captain among his teammates and that's all that really matters. Bergeron is a true leader regardless of the letter on his jersey and I think such a move would just cause unnecessary controversy. That being said, if it wasn't written into Chara's first contract with the Bruins that he has to be captain, I would've asked him to relinquish it to Bergeron long ago.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.