Picking a Bruin of the Year for 2008 couldn’t have been any more difficult.
The Boston Bruins had a fantastic finish to the ’08 portion of the 2007-08 season and then started historically hot this season. A number of players had career years last season and were on pace to smash their personal-best numbers (if they hadn’t already) by the time midnight struck to signal the start of ’09.
But when it came time to pick the player responsible for the most positive production for the Bruins between January and December ’08, my eyes couldn’t wander beyond the goal crease. Every team tries to build its winning foundation from the net out, and in Tim Thomas the Boston Bruins have that building block that makes everything easier to pile on top.
In ’08, Thomas silenced all the critics that said he wasn’t good enough to regularly play in the NHL and wasn’t stylish enough back bone a team. He not only led the Bruins to their first postseason berth in four years but was a rock between the pipes in the thrilling seven-game playoff series. Thomas, who earned his first NHL All-Star selection in January, finished the calendar year with a record of 33-13-6 in 54 games with a .924 save percentage and 2.32 goals-against average. In the postseason — his first taste of the playoffs at the NHL level — he compiled a 2.65 GAA and a .914 save percentage.
As of games played before New Year’s Eve, Thomas ranked third in GAA (2.04) and second in save percentage (.935) while joining forces with Manny Fernandez to give the Bruins the most dominant goaltending duo in the NHL.
As I mentioned, the competition was fierce for this honor. It was hard to overlook the leadership and heart captain Zdeno Chara displayed in ’08. In addition, he posted 19-31-50 totals and a plus-25 rating in 75 games. The Bruins never would’ve improved as much as they did without Chara returning to the form that prompted them to lavish him with $7.5 million a year to being with.
Marc Savard improved his play at the defensive end without missing a beat with the puck. He posted a plus-26 rating in 63 games, not to mention 19 goals and 63 assists for 82 points.
Phil Kessel had some rocky moments — a benching in Pittsburgh, then three healthy scratches in the playoffs — but he more than made up for those indiscretions with a great performance in Games 5 and 6 vs. Montreal and the ’08 portion of the current season. His numbers read 31-26-57 in 80 games. Five of his goals have been game-winners. And he’s posted a plus-20 rating.
Finally, Dennis Wideman had a huge hand in the Bruins taking the next step. His development into a legit No. 2 defenseman can’t be discounted. Neither can his 16-29-45 totals and plus-32 rating in 79 games.