Over the length of the Boston Bruins’ magical regular season, and even a little in the playoffs, P.J. Axelsson was a sort of Swiss Army knife for the club. He spent a lot of time on the club’s first line and was a longtime member of one of the power-play units. As always, he was at his best when asked to play more of a checking role and was able to focus on his penalty-killing. The cliché says it’s impossible to judge the Swede’s contributions by the stat sheet, and that holds true — although it wouldn’t have hurt for him to put up some better numbers.
Stats: 75 GP, 6-24-30, 16 PIM, minus-1 regular season; 11 GP, 0-1-1, 2 PIM, minus-6 playoffs.
Contract status: UFA July 1
Season highlight: The Bruins beat the Chicago Blackhawks on the road in an Original Six showdown Nov. 12 in a shootout, when unlikely participant Axelsson unveiled a move by which he skated wide to the right and then dashed to the net, stopped and beat goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin with a backhander. In a season that featured him scoring three of his six goals into an empty net, this was a rare offensive moment to remember for Axelsson (who repeated the move to the same result in Ottawa Feb. 5).
Season low light: Down 2-1 in the series to Carolina and facing an early first-period power play against, the Bruins needed something to turn the momentum of the season. Axelsson stole a pass and skated end-to-end, but his backhander at the end of the breakaway didn’t get past Cam Ward. Just once you wished Axelsson could go against type and shock the world with a sniper-like play — but he didn’t and the Bruins were buried by the ‘Canes en route to a 3-1 deficit.
In summation … Axelsson found a home on the fourth line late in the playoffs, and that role suited him to a T. His leadership after more than a decade in black and gold can’t be understated, but his shortcomings in scoring situations showed up way too often.
Grade: B-minus. No player should be able to spend so much time on the first line and the power play and finish with three goals against goaltenders.
The crystal ball says … Axelsson, who’s ticketed for unrestricted free agency this summer, would probably have to take a pay cut from his $1.85 million cap hit in order to stay around Boston. The Bruins might not have players that can fill Axelsson’s role better but they have ones that can do it cheaper and ones that can do it differently. And that might be a sign of progress by the organization, that its expectations for third- and fourth-line wingers are a lot higher these days.