Looking back and ahead: Zdeno Chara
|05.22.12 at 11:08 pm ET|
With the Bruins’ season in the books, WEEI.com will take a look at each player on the roster one-by-one to provide some perspective on what went wrong this season and what the future holds for the 2011 champions.
2011-12 stats: 79 games played, 12 goals, 40 assists (career-high), 52 points (career-high), plus-33 (tied career-high)
Contract status: Signed through 2017-18 season ($6,916,667 cap hit through 2016-17 season, $4 million cap hit in 2017-18)
Looking back: Chara had the best offensive season of his career and was once again one of the most dominant defensemen in the league. He averaged 25 minutes a night, which is right around his average over the last three seasons.
What was uncharacteristic for Chara, however, was his midseason slump. Though the Bruins as a whole were not playing their best hockey, the B’s captain didn’t look like himself in many of their losses. From Feb. 8-19, Chara finished with a negative rating in five of six games and was an overall minus-9 in that span. He was a minus-3 on three separate occasions in February and March after only having a rating worse than minus-2 once in the previous season.
Despite some bad nights from the captain, the 2011-12 season marked the second consecutive and third overall campaign in which Chara finished with a plus-33 rating. That was tops amongst NHL defensemen and third amongst players, and he had a lot to do with the fact that the five best ratings came from Bruins this season (Patrice Bergeron led the league with a plus-36, followed by Tyler Seguin‘s plus-34, Chara’s plus-33, Chris Kelly‘s plus-33 and Brad Marchand‘s plus-31).
After skating with Johnny Boychuk in the regular season, Chara was paired with Dennis Seidenberg for the playoffs. Though he was beaten a couple of times and finished the postseason with a minus-1 rating, Chara teamed with Seidenberg to limit Alexander Ovechkin for the most part and keep the games low-scoring.
In the end, it wouldn’t be surprising if Chara’s season earns him his second Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, but in the interest of full disclosure, my top vote went to Nashville’s Shea Weber. While there’s no denying that Chara is the best defenseman in the league, his midseason struggles made it tough to say that this was truly a full campaign of vintage Chara.
Looking ahead: While other players get plenty of accolades too (Tim Thomas‘ save percentage record, Seguin’s points, that Selke Trophy that should finally be making its way to Bergeron this summer), there is no doubt that Chara is the Bruins’ best and most important player.
Chara may be getting up there in age, but he is truly one of the few players in the league a team should be happy to have signed through his 30s and into his 40s. There might not be a better-conditioned player in the league, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a player more dedicated to his training, both from a work and diet perspective.
With Boychuk re-signed, you can assume that Claude Julien will continue to play Chara with Boychuk, at least to start next regular season. The guy who has the best chance at breaking up Chara and Boychuk might be youngster Dougie Hamilton, but don’t expect that to happen next season. Hamilton needs to show he can handle 20-plus minutes a night before he can be paired with a guy like Chara, but the idea of a Chara-Hamilton pairing could really put the Bruins’ blue line over the top. Hamilton could be the offensive presence on the back end that the team has been seeking for years.
Getting back to Chara: The offensive numbers may go up and down, but he’ll be the first to tell that while he likes to score, he prides himself on not letting the other team score. In a nutshell, that’s what he is. He’s the guy who will play close to half the game, be a nightmare for opposing teams’ offensive stars, and keep opponents off the board. Then there’s that slapshot.