Sitting among what Bruins radio color man Bob Beers referred to as the NESN "Think Tank" — a group that consisted of NESN Bruins play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards, NESN rinkside reporter Naoko Funayama, NESN Bruins broadcast producer Brian Zechello and The Instigators guest and Bruins radio play-by-play man Dave Goucher — the topic of who will win the NESN 7th Player Award was the center of discussion.
The annual award that dates back to the 1968-69 season is given to the Bruins player who has performed above and beyond expectations, and this year's edition will be handed out before Thursday night's game. In recent years, however, this award hasn't necessarily been given to the player that fits that criteria, with the perfect example being Bill Guerin in 2001-02. Guerin, as expected, led the team in goals and was more of an MVP than a 7th Player Award winner.
Since then, the fans have gotten better and awarded the likes of Tim Thomas in both 2006 and '07, Milan Lucic in 2008 and David Krejci last season. So with that in mind, who should be this season's winner? Here's a look at the top three candidates for the 2009-10 season:
The NESN Think Tank came up with more candidates than expected on a team that openly admits it has performed below expectations. But as Edwards pointed out: "Where is this team without Patrice Bergeron?"
The reply, of course, was: "But wasn't that expected?"
As Edwards pointed out, could anyone have expected Bergeron — only two seasons removed from suffering a Grade 3 concussion that nearly ended his career — to be "taking this team on his shoulder"?
If not for Bergeron, this team would be battling the likes of the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs for a lottery pick and possibly be picking No.1 and No. 2 in the NHL draft this June. Some may argue they'd be better off doing that instead of battling for the right to play the Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins or Buffalo Sabres in the first round. There is no argument, though, that without Bergeron rediscovering his game and being the team's MVP on many nights, the Bruins wouldn't be battling for the latter.
Bergeron has played a consistent two-way game that he showed signs of doing before Randy Jones hit him from behind on Oct. 27, 2007 forcing the Bruins' alternate captain to miss the rest of that season. With Marc Savard battling injuries all season this year and David Krejci not finding his game until recently, Bergeron has been the team's saving grace, becoming the de facto top center and also a heart-and-soul-type player both on and off the ice. His game-winning goal in New Jersey on Tuesday was the epitome of the player he has developed into. He started and finished the play, not giving up at all, and he hasn't given up all season, cracking the 50-point mark a lot sooner than most expected.
The next candidate is someone who wasn't expected by most fans to be the team's third-leading scorer heading into action on Thursday night. Mark Recchi has 40 points, and there is no denying his presence on and off the ice is a major boost for the Bruins. The future Hall of Famer is always skating and is exceptional at parking down in front of the opposing goalies in order to create havoc and redirect shots from the point. He has, by far, exceeded expectations.
The third candidate has to be — as SportsDesk anchor Cole Wright likes to call him — the Rask Behind the Mask. Tuukka Rask will start Thursday's game against Florida with a 19-11-4 record, 2.02 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage, the last two stats both tops in the NHL.
The Finnish netminder is now mentioned as a possible Calder Trophy candidate as the rookie of the year. He's been a critical element of the Bruins' staying afloat in the playoff hunt while last season's Vezina Trophy winner, Tim Thomas, has struggled at times. Whenever the Bruins seem to crumble, it has been Rask who usually stops the bleeding — as witnessed when he came into Monday's 3-2 loss against Buffalo and stopped all 19 shots he faced while giving the Bruins a chance to win after falling behind 3-1. You're truly psychic if you expected him to play well enough to usurp Thomas as the team's No.1 goalie, but he has definitely played well enough to do just that.
The pick here is Recchi. While Bergeron has been the team MVP, we all knew he was capable of becoming that at some point. Rask and Recchi are more worthy of the definition of the award, but the veteran gets the nod here. While the selection has already been made by the fans, let's see what NESN.com readers think as the Bruins enter the final six games of the season.