Theme: “The unforgivable crime is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly.”
-- Theodore Roosevelt
Matt Bradley might not be the greatest fighter in the NHL; he might not be the biggest hitter. But if you’ve ever watched “Band of Brothers” or “Saving Private Ryan” or “The Pacific,” he’s the guy in the foxhole or the beachhead the other guys want by their side, because he’s going to be the guy who will lay all he has on the line for his teammates.
The bonus for Bradley this year is not that he won a fight, if was that he set a personal best for goals scored (ten), assists (14), points (24), and game-winning goals (five). In fact, the game-winning goal total put Bradley in the top 25 in the league in that measure and was a greater number than such as: Marian Gaborik, Ilya Kovalchuk, Mike Cammalleri, Pavel Datsyuk, Bobby Ryan, Mike Richards, and Jonathan Toews, among others. In fact, five of the last seven goals Bradley scored this season were of the game-winning variety.
Bradley’s tens suggested he was going to have a sluggish finish, but he did ramp it up over his last five games with a pair of goals (both game-winners) to get that career high…
Bradley wasn’t saving himself for the tamata cans of the league, either. In 37 games against teams that would make the playoffs, he was 6-7-13, plus-5. The mystery was how he came to be 0-0-0, minus-6 in 11 games against the Islanders, Maple Leafs, and Lightning.
Bradley also had a strange split in this regard – he was 5-7-12 in 39 home games and 5-7-12 in 38 road games. He difference was that while he was a plus-9 on the road, he finished a minus-3 at Verizon Center. And, he was an “every other day” sort of player… 10-10-20, plus-13 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and 0-4-4, minus-7 on the other four days of the week.
Perhaps the oddest number in Bradley’s season is this –12. Although Bradley had a respectable 47 minutes in penalties this season, only 12 were earned as minor penalties, and one of those infractions was an instigator penalty that he earned when he stepped between Alex Ovechkin and Steve Downie in a game against Tampa Bay on January 12th. Otherwise, his minor penalty rap sheet looks like this: holding, high-sticking, slashing, and a pair of tripping calls. When he took two minors in a three-game stretch in mid-March, it was the Bradley equivalent of a crime spree. Certainly an unexpected result for one whose game is predicated on creating a certain level of havoc. That is, until one realizes that it is not out of the ordinary… Bradley took seven minors in 2008-2009, 12 in 2007-2008, and six in 2006-2007.
One of the things that got some play on Twitter this season among Caps fans was the whole #needsmorebradley theme. Well, maybe there was something to that, at least in the playoffs. Game 1-3, Bradley averaged 12:14 of ice time and was 1-2-3. The Caps were up 3-1 in games. In Games 5-7 Bradley averaged 8:24 in ice time, went without a point, and the Caps lost all three games. Just sayin’…
Bradley is one of only seven roster forwards under contract for next season (although that likely becomes eight when the Backstrom deal is announced later today). He and Jason Chimera are probably the only roster forwards coming back next season who can provide a measure of grit to their game that will make opponents uncomfortable. Bradley plays physically (fifth on the club in hits despite barely 11 minutes a game), plays within the rules, plays responsibly (a takeaway/giveaway ratio of 3.4:1), and pots the timely goal. His $1.0 million deal looks like something of a bargain heading into next year. He might need the money after losing this gig…