Bartkowski Focused on Consistency After First Full-Time NHL Role
BostonBruins.com - Matt Bartkowski has been a Bruin for four years.
On July 15, after the restricted free agent was signed by the Bruins to a one-year deal, he's headed for his fifth.
"I'm grateful to be able to sign with the Bruins' organization because I know we have a chance to win every year," said Bartkowski, speaking with media on a conference call Tuesday afternoon.
"It's been nothing short of just spectacular, awesome, whatever adjective you want to use for it, but we have a great group from the top down, from the management down to the teammates and everyone, just a great group of hockey people."
"I was lucky enough to be here as a Black Ace when they won the Cup and the past few years, we've fallen a little short, but every year we have a chance to win, so there's nothing more you can really ask for."
With the contract (worth an annual cap figure of $1.25 million), the defenseman and the Bruins avoided the arbitration process. Bartkowski was Boston's only RFA to file.
"There wasn't any hesitation to file for it, but there wasn't any doubt in my mind that we weren't going to have a deal before we got to that stage [with the hearing]," he said. "I didn't want to go to arbitration. I filed for it just as a protective measure, but I think it was mutual that we knew that something was going to get done."
General Manager Peter Chiarelli, whom the defenseman made sure to thank on the conference call, felt the same way.
"It’s always good if you can come to an agreement before the hearing," said Chiarelli. "I think it sends a positive message to Matt that we want to have him back."
It's been a steady progression for Bartkowski in Black and Gold, beginning when he first signed with the team in in the summer of 2010, following two seasons at Ohio State. The Bruins had acquired his rights at the 2010 trade deadline from the Florida Panthers, along with Dennis Seidenberg, in exchange for Byron Bitz.
For three seasons, he cemented himself as a 'go-to guy' on the Providence blueline. From 2010-13, the defenseman had call-ups to the big club that resulted in 20 NHL games.
With a veteran back end in Boston highlighted by Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference, and plenty of room to grow, Bartkowski didn't fully establish himself as an NHL player until the 2013 postseason, when he had to step in due to injuries.
He played his first eight Stanley Cup Playoff games in the first and second rounds, and scored his first NHL goal in his second game.
Through the first few months of the season, the defensemen rotated being healthy scratches. When injuries came up, and Seidenberg lost for the season with a torn ACL/MCL, it opened the door for younger players like Bartkowski and Kevan Miller to get playing time.
Bartkowski finished 2013-14 having suited up in 64 games, with 18 assists and a plus-22 rating.
"I think last year was a good step," he said. "I think going forward, the main thing would be consistency. Along the way, I'd have a stretch of games and then maybe a mix-up here or there, which I think happens to every younger player in his career. If I can work on the consistency, if you can show that you can play every night, then anybody should have a long career doing that."
"So I think being able to prove that I can do it, and make some more strides, and just be 100 percent consistent is the ultimate goal."
At 26 years old, Bartkowski knows he still has much more to prove.
"I think there's definitely time," he aid. "Twenty-six as an age is not necessarily young, I guess, but career-wise, if you look at games played and all that, it's still young in the career and I think there's always room to improve."
"I just need to keep focusing on the things I need to do better, and get better at them. It's that simple."
Bartkowski's skating is his strongest asset. When he has the confidence to lead a rush and skate out of trouble, he can push the pace and make strong plays up to the forwards. He's still working on developing defensive habits.
"He’s still relatively young," said Chiarelli. "I thought that when Dennis Seidenberg got hurt, he was able to come in and play some real solid minutes. He’s the type of player that can really push the puck well."
"A lot of people remember the couple of blips in the playoffs, but he gave us very good service during the course of the year with Seidenberg out, and it’s a tough position in the League, defense, and there are nuances that the’s still learning and I expect him to continue to improve."
Bartkowski saw the brunt of attention during the second-round series against Montreal, when he took penalties that resulted in game-breaking goals for the Habs. When reporters questioned him about it, he said more discipline and better positioning would have easily prevented the situations.
"I don't think any mistake is acceptable," Bartkowski said on the conference call. "It's more, I think that when you're younger, I guess it's more expected in some areas, but it's definitely not acceptable. It's when they become a habit that you really need to be worried. If you look at the veterans, they're not going to have the habits of making consistent mistakes."
Through his time in the playoffs, he's learned the more mental side of the game.
"Mainly, it's just trying to achieve that consistency and not trying to beat yourself up too much," he said.
The positive for Bartkowski is that he's been in Boston's system during the development process, learning from Providence Bruins coaches and former defensemen Bruce Cassidy and Kevin Dean, former Bruins defenseman Don Sweeney, and Claude Julien and Doug Houda in Boston.
"Just being able to be around those leaders, it's a huge, huge help for younger players, especially in the minors," said Bartkowski.
"And then moving up through the ranks, all of them, just from a defensive standpoint, it's great place to be and a great place to learn."
Even if that same process has given the club nine NHL-caliber defensemen on their current depth chart, the always easy-going Bartkowski never lets that aspect phase him.
"I really don't pay too much attention to it. There's no real reason to," said the defenseman, who doesn't spend much time focusing on the white noise.
"I think it's only just a hindrance, to worry about where you'll end up and all that. You just prepare for what you can for the team that you're on, and if it happens, it happens, it's out of our hands. Like I said, there's really no reason for me to worry about it. I just try to focus on my summer workouts and being as ready as I can for next season."
As for the Bruins' depth, that's what helps drive Bartkowski to come into training camp with his sights set on competing for a job.
"It keeps you pushing every day to keep your job and earn your spot, so all around, it's a great thing to have," he said.
And when the 2014-15 season commences, he expects himself to be an impact defenseman.
"When I say expect to play, that's what I expect out of myself," said Bartkowski. "You have to expect it out of yourself, because other than that, what's your motivation? What are you playing for?"
"You want to be able to help the team every way you can, and I think expecting [that] out of yourself, being able to play well night in, night out, is the best thing you can do."