The way David Pastrnak’s blast hit the pipe, that sound it made – ping! – as it clanked iron before ricocheting behind Carey Price, was the proverbial exclamation point on what has been one of the most dizzying season-starting goal-scoring runs in recent memory. Pastrnak’s tally, punctuated perfectly with an arms-out celebration that will be mimicked in shinny games on outdoor rinks for days, weeks and months to come, was his 25th of the season in the Boston Bruins’ 27th game of the campaign. And it put him in some exclusive company.
With the highlight-reel marker, Pastrnak’s sprint to 25 goals has been faster than all but six players – though Mario Lemieux is on the list twice, so the Bruins winger is the eighth-fastest – in the past 30 years. It made Pastrnak only the 11th player in NHL history to score 25 goals through the first day of December. And it made him the first to score at least 25 goals through his team’s first 27 games in more than two decades. No player has reached the 25-goal plateau in fewer games since Jaromir Jagr did so in 26 games during the 1996-97 season. We’re not quite sure what the Czech version of the English idiom “knee high to a grasshopper” is, but that’s how old Pastrnak, 23, was when his fellow countryman was laying waste to netminders throughout the NHL to kick off that campaign.
As one can assume, Pastrnak’s offensive outpouring through the first quarter-plus of the current season has him chasing some exceptional numbers. Already a three-time 30-goal scorer entering the campaign – in three consecutive seasons, no less – Pastrnak now finds himself five tallies shy of reaching the mark for a fourth season running, 15 goals away from becoming a 40-goal scorer for the first time in his young career and halfway to the 50-goal plateau, which would make him the Bruins’ first 50-goal man since Cam Neely in 1993-94, exactly one quarter-century ago. But more than that, Pastrnak is on pace to do something few players have done.
Though it’s a near certainty his pace will slow at some point, Pastrnak is currently scoring at what equates to a 76-goal clip across an 82-game campaign. If he were to continue to score at this rate, which we cannot stress enough that he almost certainly will not, Pastrnak would become the first player to score more than 70 goals since the twin 76-goal campaigns registered by Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne during the 1992-93 season. If he slows down and reaches 60 goals, Pastrnak will still be one of three players in the post-lockout era to reach the plateau, and one of three since the 1995-96 season.
Suggesting anyone saw this coming, and by this we mean a potential 60-goal, 100-plus point campaign, would be something of a falsehood. Was it expected that Pastrnak would toy with 40 goals and again exceed 80 points? Without question. But the way Pastrnak has scored this season has been otherworldly. And his offensive impact, and arguably his impact in all three zones as part of one of the most dynamic duos and highest-quality trios in the NHL, raises an interesting question about Pastrnak: is his contract now the best-value deal in the NHL?
Consider the facts. In the midst of his lamp-lighting league tour, Pastrnak finds himself in only the third season of a six-year, $40-million pact that carries a $6.67-million cap hit, if we’re rounding up. And despite the fact Pastrnak sits atop the league in goal scoring, five clear of all-time elite scorer and incumbent Rocket Richard Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin, and is tied for fourth in league scoring, nine points back of league-leader Connor McDavid, the Bruins winger has a cap hit that ranks 74th among all skaters, 51st among all forwards and pays him an actual salary of $6.8 million. That puts him behind 50 of his contemporaries.
When broken out into cost per point, too, Pastrnak’s case is stronger. Of the 253 skaters with a cap hit of at least $4 million, Pastrnak currently ranks first in cost per goal ($266,666) and fourth in cost per point ($158,730). Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon’s cost per point is only slightly better ($150,000). And the only players with better cost-per-point rates than those two are Pastrnak’s Bruins teammate Brad Marchand ($142,442) and St. Louis Blues winger David Perron ($148,148).
Of course, the greatest counterargument to the Pastrnak-as-best-value-contract assertion is that the very player with whom he is tied in league scoring, MacKinnon, is the reigning, defending, best-value-deal title holder in the NHL. It’s an argument with plenty of merit, too. Like Pastrnak, MacKinnon is in the middle of a contract signed some years ago, his a seven-year, $44.1-million deal with a $6.3-million AAV. Also, MacKinnon’s actual salary is $6.75-million, which means of the league’s top-five scorers, MacKinnon happens to be paid the least. Add in that MacKinnon is a center and without question the driver of the Colorado Avalanche offense and the scale, in the minds of many, tips in MacKinnon’s favor.
The breadth of Pastrnak’s contributions shouldn’t be discounted, however. His underlying numbers, barring a 49 percent expected goals percentage and 43.3 percent high-danger chance percentage at five-a-side, are stellar, highlighted by an exceptional 63.6 goals for percentage. Only 13 players with at least 300 minutes played at 5-on-5 – and only five who’ve eclipsed 350 minutes at five-a-side – have a greater goals for percentage. When Pastrnak has been on the ice, the offense has been tilted decidedly in the Bruins’ favor. Add in that of his 42 points, 38 are primary points, more than all but Leon Draisaitl’s 41, and it could be argued that Pastrnak’s has had the most value as a pure offensive driver, even more so than MacKinnon, who has 32 primary points.
But be it at the very top or only slightly below, it’s unquestionable that Pastrnak’s continued growth as an offensive weapon has established him as one of the highest-value players in the NHL. And if he manages to meet or even so much as flirt with some of the eye-popping point projections associated with his start, this might be a conversation we have to have all over again come season’s end.
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